Former President Benigno S. Aquino III, “Noy” to family, and PNoy to his constituents, died in his sleep on June 24, 2021. His death shocked the nation, because though he had not been seen publicly, few knew his illness was life-threatening. His closest friends, like former Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, said it was the former President’s choice to keep his suffering private.
“What I miss most about Noy is knowing we could run to him for whatever problem we may have and he would do everything he could to help us,” his oldest sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz told me in a text message, with an emoji of a face with a tear.
PNoy had always felt responsible for his mother and sisters as the man in the house after their father Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was incarcerated in 1973 in Laur, Nueva Ecija, (“Son, bahala ka na sa Mommy mo at sa mga kapatid mo,” his father tearfully told him), and especially after his father’s death in 1983.
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But his second sister Pinky Abellada is happy that he is now reunited with their father, and their mother, former President Cory Aquino.
“Actually, I’m happy that he is together with my parents, that he is free from pain and that he is in a much better place,” says Pinky.
The only brother also left a lot of fond memories with his sisters.
“I miss his texts inviting us to try a resto he recently discovered and enjoyed,” shares Ballsy, PNoy’s “Ate.”
Viel, for her part, reminisces, “I miss visiting Kuya Noy in Times and bringing him food that he likes. It was a thrill when we’d find something he enjoyed even if what we brought was not exactly good for him.”
“If there is something I miss, maybe (it’s) trying out new restaurants and dishes with him and the family,” adds Pinky.
“Food was his love language,” explains Susan Reyes, who was PNoy’s Social Secretary when he was President.
The late President loved chicharon, which he washed down with Regular Coke. (He didn’t drink even a drop of alcohol, but made sure those who did were served it during Palace dinners).
He was just there present, looking and at times checking his phone. That was his way of showing his love and care. I kept thanking him for his visit.
I remember that just before his miting de avance in 2010, he gave me an exclusive interview in Times St. and before I could ask the first question, he offered me ice cream. “Please join me for ice cream. It’s Haagen-Dazs and it’s chocolate!”
Susan shares in the e-book Salamat PNoy (Vol. 2), “Yes, food was his love language and in his graciousness, he wanted everyone who set foot within the Palace to be fed. For example, for the wake of Secretary Jesse Robredo, which was held at the Kalayaan Hall of Malacañang, his specific instruction to me was to make sure there was food for all paying their respects, VIP or not, and especially for those who had to line up outside.
“During the times when I joined his party outside the Palace for whatever reason, there was always a meal to cap the day before we went our respective ways. This was his way of showing his appreciation and gratitude to us. And mind you, this was always at his own private expense and never charged to his office’s account.”
Rochelle Ravago-Ahorro, who worked with PNoy for 30 years and was his Appointments Secretary, says she misses most her late boss’ birthday greetings.
“Every year, without fail, he would be my first greeter,” Rochelle remembers. “He would ask everyone, from his security to his househelp, to greet me and to text me na mag blow-out daw ako.”
One of his spiritual advisers, Fr.Arnold Abelardo, also shares in the e-book, “What I know about PNoy is that he is not a sentimental or expressive person. But he never forgets and he really cares about people. I will never forget when I was operated on my spine. It was Dec. 25, Christmas Day and there was a knock on my room where I was confined at the Philippine Orthopedic Center. When the door opened, it was PNoy visiting me. It was a surprise visit, a great Christmas present. He just sat there beside my bed asking me how I was doing and if I was feeling pain in my back. We did not talk about politics or the government.
“He was just there present, looking and at times checking his phone. That was his way of showing his love and care. I kept thanking him for his visit.
“Later, the nurses in the ward came to me and told me that PNoy passed by the nurses’ station and thanked them for taking care of me. And to their Christmas joy, they told me that PNoy gave them P1,000 each.”
One of his then speechwriters Gian Lao, who has shifted to a career in strategic communications, shared in the e-book: “People often asked me whether he spent a lot of time playing video games, to which I would always say: ‘I wish.’ He pushed himself. He would take calls at 2 or 3 a.m., like when the Arab Spring broke out — and he had to help ensure safe passage for OFWs who wanted to go home. He read briefers and intelligence reports diligently…
“He knew by heart all the numbers that defined his administration: 4.4 million households receiving Conditional Cash Transfers — up from 800,000 in 2010. $6.2 billion in net foreign direct investments, up from $1.07 billion. 66,800 classrooms. 12,184 kilometers of national roads. This was when we saw that he was Ninoy’s son — how much he read, how much he remembered, how much he cared.”
Gian quips that after a night visit to the Louvre in Paris, which lasted for only one hour, PNoy “was excited to bring us to the Chinese place next to our hotel to get siomai and spring rolls... in Paris — a restaurant choice we all secretly resented.”
Proudly remembering the Aquino administration, Gian wrote, “We also climbed every possible global index of success — the World Economic Forum’s Competitiveness Rankings, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, among several others.”
Gone too soon.
You are missed, and appreciated, Mr. President.