[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Aquino and members of his family pray in front of the tomb of his parents, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino, at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City yesterday to mark the first anniversary of his mother’s death. MANNY MARCELO]

MANILA, AUGUST 2, 2010 (STAR) By Joanne Rae Ramirez - - In the same gymnasium where former President Corazon Aquino lay in repose a year ago just hours after succumbing to colon cancer, one of her closest spiritual advisers urged her only son President Benigno “Noynoy”Aquino III to focus on his own legacy, saying, “Do not forget June 30, 2016.”

“Make it easy for your successor,” Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Monsignor Socrates “Soc” Villegas, former secretary to the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, urged in his homily at a concelebrated Mass marking the first death anniversary of Mrs. Aquino at the St. Benilde Gymnasium of the La Salle Greenhills yesterday.

“You know how hard it is to inherit a corrupt system. Don’t do it unto your successor,” Villegas urged President Aquino as the crowd in the gym, clad in their trademark yellow, roared their approval. There were no more tears in yesterday’s religious service, and the mood, though not jubilant, was cheerful.

Mr. Aquino accepted the bishop’s challenge and at a press conference after the Mass, vowed that the burdens of state will be “lighter” when he turns over the reins to his successor in 2016. In an earlier speech, the President also called for people power against corruption and said that in this struggle, there should be, “no bystanders.”

Villegas said Mr. Aquino should not lose sight of the “sunset of his presidency.”

“The problems will also end. At the sunset of your presidency, you will be only be judged according to how much you have loved this country. In the end, only love will remain,” Villegas pointed out. He praised the President’s mother for her detachment to power.

Villegas said that as his mother was the country’s “most prayerful president,” he wished President Aquino to be “our most available and loving bachelor-president.”

Though he gave the new President the burden of great expectations, Villegas also praised him for his achievements in the month he has been in office.

To resounding applause, he thanked the new President for restoring trust in government and “for showing that public officials are indeed honorable people.” He said Mr. Aquino’s “indifference to the embellishments of power” was both “edifying and almost incredible.”

In his first month in office, President Aquino has won popular approval for giving up some of the obvious perks of his office --- sirens for his motorcade, among them.

Aware that the weight of responsibilities on the President’s shoulders would be shared by his immediate family, Villegas addressed his sisters Ballsy Cruz, Pinky Abellada, Viel Dee and Kris Aquino as well.

He thanked them for having “the prayerful piety” of their mother. He cited them for keeping their mother’s simplicity and “indifference to the glitter of popularity.”

He exhorted Kris, whose popularity has hit record high, “Remember all of this will pass.”

“Your beauty and talent are not yours, they are God’s.” The President’s youngest sister was seen nodding as Villegas gave his advice.

He urged her also to find real happiness, as her mother did, “Not by being in the limelight, but by being the spotlight lighting the face of Jesus.”

Among those in the audience was the President’s girlfriend Valenzuela City Councilor Shalani Soledad, whose absence during Mr. Aquino’s State of the Nation Address last July 26 triggered speculations that they had broken up. According to published reports both the President and Soledad have denied the rumors.

Also seen in the gym, which was given a historical marker for being the venue of many pivotal moments in history, was Mr. Aquino’s running mate in the May elections former Sen. Mar Roxas. It was his first public appearance since Congress declared Jejomar Binay as the duly elected vice president.

His described his feelings yesterday as, “bittersweet.”

“I am sad because we lost Tita Cory, but gratified to have her only son as our President because he makes us believe again in the future of our country,” Roxas said.

Villegas said that a year after Mrs. Aquino’s passing, “the grief is still fresh.”

“The tears in our eyes have dried, but not the tears in our hearts,” he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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