Tomorrow, it will be a month since former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III passed away in his sleep due to renal failure, his death largely shocking the nation that was unaware of the gravity of his illness.
Even to those close to him, Noynoy’s death was so unexpected. After all, are we ever truly prepared when a loved one passes away?
His family has found some comfort. His sister Pinky Abellada told me, “Some family members and close friends have dreamt of him where he is happy and healthy.”
“Since June 24, so many messages received have made us feel truly loved. The love that can no longer be given to Noy is showered on us, his sisters. Thanks to my Kuya’s selflessness, we are basking in the glow of his remarkable legacy,” his sister Viel Dee, who delivered a response on behalf of her sister during the ninth-day novena Mass for her brother, said in her eulogy.
I remember my last sit-down interview with PNoy, which was how the late president wanted to be called by kith and kin alike during his term.
He hosted us in his home on Times Street in Quezon City, which he inherited from his parents Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and former President Cory Aquino. It had undergone a renovation because the old house needed some structural repairs. On the front wall of the house is a historical marker honoring its former residents, Ninoy and Cory. (Perhaps, the marker will be edited now to include Noynoy’s name.)
We — The STAR’s Bum Tenorio Jr., Aurea Calica and myself — were warmly welcomed by PNoy. After the interview, he even treated us to a heavy merienda of ham and cheese and spaghetti with meatballs, prepared by Yolly Yebes, his household assistant since 1994. Since it was Aurea’s birthday, he surprised her with a cake. This was in July 2017.
The Friday before, news broke out that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales had ordered graft charges filed against the former president for his role in the Mamasapano operation in January 2015. Morales, however, dismissed charges of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide against him.
PNoy recalled that an outpouring of support followed the news.
“And it included people I didn’t know. People who are supportive of my father and my mother. They conveyed it to people they knew, who would get it to me, and what actions they were doing. And they are waiting for calls as to how they can support. Really touching,” he told us.
He said he felt “very good” about it. “Remember the famous line ‘Hindi ka nag-iisa’? In a sense, we felt that when my father died. At least I’m still alive and feeling it already so, thank you more.”
Someone from our group asked him, “Malungkot ba dito?”
“Actually I stay in my room on the second floor. Kasi klaro naman dapat paghandaan ‘yan, one year di ka pwede mag-participate in an industry you used to regulate. Ano bang di ko ni-reregulate? Para safe, all.”
He said he doted on his dog, Apollo, and helped train him. “Nilalaro ko ‘yung aso ko, German Shepherd. He is a very intelligent dog.”
He revealed that if the case before the Ombudsman did not transpire, he would have set up a small business.
“When you are in government, you affect the entirety of the nation so it gets difficult to see the effects, positive or negative, on each individual. If you set up a business, you are able to see on an individual basis whether or not you are assisting these people or not. It’s more direct, it’s more concentrated, you are able to see the results of your efforts.”
What I have done for our people is my gift to them. What they do with what I had given them is their gift to their children.
Unfortunately, after the one-year ban on his taking on a job and hurdling all the cases he faced, his health took a turn for the worse.
He is missed.
His friend of 44 years, Ayala’s Rene Almendras, who also served in his Cabinet, says he will remember his former classmate Noynoy, “as a good friend who wanted and did the best he could for as many people as possible.”
According to Fr. Manoling Francisco SJ, when he asked PNoy how he felt when his hard work was being undermined, the latter replied, “What I have done for our people is my gift to them. What they do with what I had given them is their gift to their children.”
Long-time family friend, lawyer Joy Rojas, whose parents were also close friends of Ninoy and Cory, shares, “I would remember him as a simple and humble person, who gave his all and time and love to his immediate family; an introvert who loved to read, listen to music, drink Coca-Cola and enjoy meat dishes only; and as a president who never wanted to advertise his achievements. You will be missed, Mr. President.”
According to Bloomberg, the Aquino administration brought forth an economic surge not seen since the ‘70s.
Aurea, who covered the former president since he was a a senator till the years after he stepped down from office, remembers PNoy as “someone who could make you feel worthy, even in small ways. If a president could treat people properly, then every person should deserve no less. As a public servant, he was always mindful of what he was doing. Nahihiya kapag kakain siya bago kayo, mas lalo na po siguro sa tao, lagi niyang iniisip ang publiko. It’s rare to meet someone so patriotic and I was blessed to have seen him do whatever he could for the Filipinos.”
Most visitors to Times Street would know Yolly Yebes, PNoy’s faithful household assistant. She was the one who found him lifeless in his room in the early morning of June 24.
Reminiscing about her late boss brought tears to her eyes, she said. She said she would remember PNoy for the way he treated the members of his staff. “Ang pagiging simple at maalalahanin niya sa aming lahat. Katulad po noong last Christmas, sabi niya sa akin, mag handa ako ng pang Noche Buena yung magugustuhan at masisiyahan ang buong tropa. Yung kahit may sakit na sya kami pa din ang inaalala nya…”