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‘Namatay siya sa pagkakahimbing’: Longtime driver recalls moments before Noynoy was rushed to the hospital

By BṺM TENORIO JR., The Philippine STAR Published Jun 25, 2021 1:33 pm Updated Jun 25, 2021 3:38 pm

On the night of June 23 before he passed away, former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was still able to request for what he wanted for breakfast the following day. He would normally have bacon in the morning, prepared by his longtime help Yolly Yebes, according to his 65-year-old driver Nory Mariano.

On Thursday, June 24, recalled Mariano, a little after 6 a.m., Yebes entered Aquino’s room in Times Street in Quezon City and discovered the former president still sitting on his recliner. His position was exactly the same as she left him the night before.   

“Kuya Nors! Tingnan mo nga si Sir. Parang hindi na siya humihinga. Kung paano ko siya iniwan kagabi sa La-Z-Boy niya, ganon pa rin siya,” Mariano recalled his early morning conversation with Yebes.

He dashed to Aquino’s room. Worried but hopeful. In Mariano’s heart and mind, a fervent prayer. “Tiningnan ko ang tiyan ni Sir. Hindi na gumagalaw.”

An ambulance came in a jiffy to bring Aquino to the Capitol Medical Center. At 6:30 a.m. yesterday, Aquino, 61, was pronounced dead. Cause: renal disease secondary to diabetes. 

That night was silent. There was no buzzer.

“Namatay siya sa pagkakahimbing,” Mariano, holding back his tears, said.

Peaceful death
Mariano was up early on Thursday. Like his usual routine, he would approach the two guards outside the room of the former president to check on Aquino through them.

“Kumusta si Sir? Hindi ba siya namuyat? Hindi daw sabi ng dalawang bantay,” Mariano recalled his brief conversation with the two men stationed outside the room of Aquino. 

Nory Mariano was Noynoy Aquino's longtime driver who had been with him since 1977 when the former president was still a first year college student in Ateneo. (Photo by Büm Tenorio)

He said Aquino, in the middle of the night, would use the buzzer in his room if he would request for a late-night snack or if something was physically bothering him.

But that night was silent. There was no buzzer. Aquino died peacefully in his sleep. 

Noynoy missed his dialysis twice
Last June 21, according to Mariano, Aquino was supposed to undergo a dialysis treatment.

“Pero sabi niya, ‘Hindi ko kaya. Mahina ang katawan ko’,” Mariano quoted Aquino as saying.

Despite that, the following day, Mariano added, Aquino was a bit in high spirits as he was able to ask him to have his car brought to the casa to change the oil. 

On June 23, he missed again his dialysis treatment because “hindi pa rin kaya ng katawan niya.”  

Like Noynoy’s brother
“Sobrang lungkot ang pagkawala ni Sir,” Mariano said. “Sa katunayan ang tawag niya sa akin ay ‘brother.’ Ang turing niya sa akin ay kapatid. Araw-araw kaming magkasama.”

Mariano has been with the Aquino family since 1977, when “Noynoy was in first year college in Ateneo.”

Mariano said his most memorable experience with Aquino happened in 1987. In August of that year, Aquino narrowly escaped death after he was seriously wounded in an ambush staged by rebel soldiers near Malacanang gates during a coup against President Cory Aquino. He still had a bullet embedded in his neck from that ambush.

A story about the ambush on Noynoy appeared on the front page of the August 29, 1987 issue of The Philippine Star

“Dumating siya sa Arlegui. Ibinaba siya sa tangke. Buhat-buhat siya. Sa kusina siya idinaan. Puno ng dugo ang mukha niya. ‘Pakipunasan mo naman ako,’ sabi n’ya sa akin. Sa taranta ko, may nadampot akong basahan, iyon ang pinampunas ko sa mukha n’ya. Binabanlawan ko ang basahan pagkatapos kong punasan ang dugo sa mukha n’ya. Noong pangatlong banlaw ko, sinangga na niya ang kamay ko. ‘Brother, palitan mo na ang pamunas. Malansa’.”

Lessons from Noy
Mariano said he learned many things from Aquino. He was one of the president’s three drivers when Aquino became the tenant of Malacanang in 2010. He later on requested if he could not be part of the pool of drivers anymore every day because “tumatanda na ako” (advancing in age). Aquino agreed but requested Mariano to be his driver for his out-of-town trips, which were rare, when he was president.

“Sa totoo lang, ang turing na kasi nila sa akin ay pamilya. Noong president siya, pinatira n’ya ‘yung pamilya ko sa Times. Anim kaming miyembro ng pamilya ko na nakatira sa Times. Asawa ko, mga anak ko. Pati yung nag-a-alaga sa apo ko, doon na rin pinatira ni Sir,” Mariano recalled.

When Aquino became a private citizen, Mariano drove for him every day. 

Kapag nag-beat ako ng traffic light, sinasabihan niya ako. Very particular siya sa pagsunod sa traffic light. Simpleng batas na dapat sundin . Ayaw niya nang hindi sumusunod sa batas trapiko.

Because he had a front-row seat of his presidency and his private life, Mariano was privy to the former president’s management style.

“Ang pagpapatakbo niya ng bayan natin ay parang sarili niyang kumpanya. Hindi puwedeng gagamitin mo yung pera ng basta-basta na lang. Aalagaan mo ang pera. Kung may gagastusin siyang personal, personal niyang pera gagastusin niya,” he said.

There were also times when Aquino scolded Mariano.

“Kapag nag-beat ako ng traffic light, sinasabihan niya ako. Very particular siya sa pagsunod sa traffic light. Simpleng batas na dapat sundin. Red, stop. Green, go. Lagi n’yang sinasabi ‘yon. Ayaw niya nang hindi sumusunod sa batas trapiko,” Mariano recalled.

Aquino, according to his long-time personal driver, was a stickler for responsible road usage.

“’Brother, ‘yung lines sa kalsada, yan yung guide mo, hindi drawing yan. Bawal lumampas ang gulong sa guhit. Hindi atin ang kalsada. Marami tayong gumagamit nito. Kaya irerespeto natin ang ibang road users’, ” Mariano recalled his “brother” Noynoy Aquino told him.

“Ma-mi-miss ko si Sir. Nakakahinayang. Bata pa siya. Malungkot na malungkot kami,” Mariano ended. 

There was mist in his eyes. And dignity in his tone. He takes pride that he served a good, incorruptible man.

Scene at the wake of the late President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III at a chapel inside the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig before his remains were cremated (Photo by Büm Tenorio)

Scene at the wake of the late President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III at a chapel inside the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig before his remains were cremated on Thursday (Photo by Büm Tenorio)

Honor guards stand at attention beside the urn containing the ashes of the late president (Photo by Miguel de Guzman / The Philippine Star)

Honor guards stand at attention beside the urn containing the ashes of the late president (Photo by Miguel de Guzman / The Philippine Star)

Scene at the wake of the late President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III at a chapel inside the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig before his remains were cremated (Photo by Büm Tenorio)

Scene at the wake of the late President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III at a chapel inside the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig before his remains were cremated on Thursday (Photo by Büm Tenorio)

Honor guards stand at attention beside the urn containing the ashes of the late president (Photo by Miguel de Guzman / The Philippine Star)

Honor guards stand at attention beside the urn containing the ashes of the late president (Photo by Miguel de Guzman / The Philippine Star)

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(Thumbnail and banner photo from Noynoy Aquino's official Facebook page)