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‘Maybe I just have five years to go’

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 02, 2021 6:00 am

The late former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III died a hopeful man, and was not about to give up just yet.

On June 19, Father’s Day, five days before he died in his sleep on June 24, he told his older sister Pinky Abellada that “maybe” he had “five years to go.”

Not five days, but five years. At the time, he had been getting regular dialysis, had lost weight, and was awaiting a kidney donor for a transplant.

And yet he said five years. Five years, for a man who kept a close watch on numbers, was hopeful.

 A young Noynoy with Ballsy and Pinky.

“And he really didn’t want us to worry too much, and he would tell doctors not to tell us everything. But we found ways,” Pinky says. “Even the nightly report the nurse shared with us, we assured the nurse she would not get into trouble, but we had to know. And she understood.”

In mid-May, when he was about to undergo a medical procedure, the country’s 15th President dropped 'hints' to his family.

It was the nurse who broke the devastating news to Pinky that her only brother was gone in the early morning of June 24, after his long-time housekeeper Yolly Yebes found him without a pulse on his recliner in his bedroom.

According to Pinky, till the end, Noynoy refused to have anyone, not even a nurse or a security aide, sleep in his bedroom. He would just buzz if he needed something. He valued his independence.

“After I spoke to the nurse, we just kept on walking around the room like crazy and I told (my husband) Manolo, shouldn’t we dress up and go to the hospital?” Pinky recalls the morning her world turned upside down.

“We picked up Viel, I guess we needed to be together for strength.” (Noynoy was the middle child and had four sisters. Ballsy Cruz, his “ate,” said they were referred to as “the witches”: Ballsy, Pinky, Viel Dee and Kris Aquino.)

But in mid-May, when he was about to undergo a medical procedure, the country’s 15th President dropped “hints” to his family.

He told Pinky, “I just want to make sure; I don’t want to leave any unfinished business. Send me the matters to be decided.”

“Even if I felt I knew what he was hinting at, I said, ‘What can we do to lessen your burdens?’” Pinky recalls.

Noynoy texted back, “Honestly, you have done enough. I do not want to leave any of you with any burden.”

In late 2009, when Noynoy was at the cusp of announcing his candidacy for president, Pinky told him, “Pwede kang mamatay dito, you are putting so much at stake. But if you are at peace with God in prayer, you know you have made the right decision.”

They — Noynoy, Ballsy and herself — were then in the living room of their parents’ Ninoy and Cory’s house on Times St. in Quezon City. After arguments were tossed to and fro, Pinky, in an interview with me in 2010, recalled Noynoy telling them, “Hindi ako bingi.”

According to Pinky, that convinced her that her brother had weighed things carefully about running for president and had “the purest of intentions.”

Pinky would like to remember PNoy (which was how Noynoy wanted to be referred to during his presidency) as a beloved brother, “laughing, joking, eating, and him enjoying the kids.”

Perhaps that was why it was on Father’s Day that he expressed the hope that he would live “five more years.”

Diet Coke & Hershey’s

According to sources, fifth on Noynoy Aquino’s list of people to call when he passed away was Rochelle Ahorro, his long-time executive assistant and his appointments secretary when he was at Malacañang.

Rochelle started working with PNoy in 1987. Except for a gap from 1993 to 1995, she has never left his side.

She remembers her late boss’ humor. Once, she was slightly late for work (PNoy was in the office by 10 a.m., she recalls) and when she walked in, the President teased her, “O, bakit bumubula pa ang buhok mo?

 PNoy with Rochelle Ahorro, his long-time executive assistant and appointments secretary.

He was also a caring boss. During the wake of Rochelle’s husband, PNoy, then already with health issues, stayed at the wake till midnight.

Curiously, during the last few weeks of his life, he often requested Rochelle for dishes that the in-house chef of Malacañang used to serve him — simple dishes like adobo, beefsteak and dumplings. He wondered if his own personal cook, Yolly, could have the recipe since he was craving them.

He also had heeded his doctors’ orders re his favorite drink, Coke Regular. He asked Rochelle to look specifically for Diet Coke, which Rochelle couldn’t find even if she scoured Quezon City for it — only Coke Zero and Coke Light. But PNoy just wanted Diet Coke, she says.

 Rochelle with Gina de Venecia and daughter Carissa Evangelista during PNoy’s wake at the Church of the Gesu at the Ateneo de Manila.

Then he also asked her for Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, the plain one. Rochelle filled a candy bowl in PNoy’s private Malacañang office with chocolates, and he munched on a couple of them on late afternoons.

Not a coffee drinker, PNoy probably found that chocolates gave him a perk at the end of the day.

In his final days, PNoy didn’t miss the trappings of the presidency. Instead, he missed his comfort food while still at Malacañang, while he was battling the day-to-day problems of governance.

And as he was fighting his final battle, he longed for them, too.

He was as human as you and me.