Lino Rivera: ‘Lintek na mission yan’

'.... no matter what happens, even in death, He will always be with me, always will take me to a better place'

Lino with other Young Public Servants, in a photo from Demy Cruz, Jr. who's beside Lino

Lino Rivera (left) with author, as co-sponsor in the wedding of Geoann Hernandez and Fred Yang

I do not recall the first time I actually met Lino.  It was probably way back in high school at the Ateneo de Manila.  He was the batch mate of my brother Jim,  two batches ahead of me.  During that time the student population was not as big as it is these days. At the very least, one would know of each other through casual introductions and meet-ups.  At that time, there were also very few twin brothers roaming around the campus, so Lino and Lito could not avoid the attention of the student body when one would be mistaken for the other (as to who is better looking, I leave it to the eye of the beholder).  So at best, Lino Rivera was really more an acquaintance then.  I lost contact with him after high school since he went to the University of the Philippines for college while I went to Ateneo.

With Lino during one of the celebrations of the victory of the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the UAAP men’s basketball league

Sometime in the mid-’90s, as I was beginning my work in the Aquino Foundation, I needed to consult someone to help me in reorganizing the foundation to establish and promote the post-presidency advocacies of Auntie Cory.  It was during that time that Doji Lopez referred Lino to me, who at that time was coaching the former on the organizational development of a tech start-up he was managing.

Reintroduced then, I was going into the meeting to explore a straightforward professional engagement, with him as paid consultant.  But as I explained the task at hand and of course, after I introduced him to Auntie Cory, I already knew right there and then that he would help us on a pro-bono basis.  As Father Bobby quoted Mike Alba’s text to him, Lino was indeed fiercely loyal to the Aquinos.  Aside from his confession that he was star-stuck meeting Auntie Cory face to face, I also learned in the course of our engagement how deeply involved he was in the resistance against the abuses of the dictatorship during Martial Law years.  He was a labor organizer then and worked among grassroot organizations.  I suppose beyond the initial awe of meeting Auntie Cory, Lino found a profound and intimate connection with a leader who truly shared his cause. Kaya ayun, free consulting services!!!

Since then, Lino and I have collaborated on so many other fronts to support Auntie Cory’s post-presidency life.  Beyond the regular work we did for the foundation, we became Auntie Cory’s alalays and hawi boys whenever she took to the streets to call out her successors whenever they crossed the line in undermining the fragile democracy she sacrificed to restore and strengthen.

When Auntie Cory passed away, I sought Lino’s help again to figure out what we could do in the foundation to perpetuate the memory not only of Uncle Ninoy but also Auntie Cory.  It was then that I discovered Lino’s gift as a formator when he spearheaded the design of the Ninoy and Cory Aquino (NCA) Leadership Journey, a leadership retreat patterned after the “Days with the Lord” weekend retreat, which was very close to Lino’s Ignatian heart.  It was Lino who underscored that the NCA Leadership Journey must be an authentic experience of a leader’s self-realization of God’s unsolicited and unconditional love that must move himself or herself to love back—the same authentic experience that defined the leadership legacy of the Aquino couple.

On hindsight, undertaking this program together was also probably the time that Lino and I began our spiritual companionship and began our pilgrimage together as (what our Jesuit mentors would refer to) “contemplatives in action.”  Since then, we have viewed the lives of the Aquinos not only as prominent and iconic leaders that helped shape our country’s history, but more as fellow pilgrims.  Pilgrims who struggled with the Lord’s constant invitation to also unconditionally love others as He has done so.  Pilgrims who willingly said yes to the invitation and, with much fidelity, embraced their crosses until the end.

As we pursued the next chapter of the Aquino foundation, Lino and I found ourselves working again with another Aquino in 2010, when Noy made a late decision to run for the presidency.  After the successful campaign, Lino was actually set to return to full-time consultancy, but he also told me to let him know if there was anything he could do to help Noy beyond the campaign.

As Noy was putting together his Cabinet, he asked me to get in touch with Brother Armin to ask him if he could be Education Secretary.  This offer came as a surprise to Brother (especially since the invitation was coming from an Atenean).  He initially declined the offer and told me to tell Noy if he could just help look for other options,  to which Noy said, he was not thinking of other options. After much prodding and after I told him that I would look for other people to help him, Brother Armin eventually relented.

He fell in love with his work there because he found so many others in the Department of Education and in the schools all over the country who loved their work even more

As early as then, I already thought that Lino would be a perfect partner to Brother Armin (Luistro) given his OD and formation background which I believed was vital for the Department of Education.  When I broached the idea to Brother Armin, he wasted no time in invting Lino to be one of his undersecretaries.  Lino loved his work in DEPED because he again found himself around people who shared his cause for reform and change within the department.  He also would tell me often that he fell in love with his work there because he found so many others in the department and in the schools all over the country who loved their work even more.  He loved it so much that, despite a quintuple heart by-pass in the middle of his term, he still decided to go back to department work even if many others like me told him that maybe it was time to take it easy.

Lino as DepEd undersecretary and Apl de Ap, with the author, in the turnover of classrooms donated by the Aquino Foundation and Apl de Ap

Looking back, I surmise that witnessing together the ups and downs of Auntie Cory’s journey, the campaign and Presidency of Noy, and the unfolding history of our country and our people, may have shaped our shared sense of mission.  All those years we would occasionally check in on each other to find out how we were doing in our respective journeys.   More often than not, I would be the one to initiate the contact, probably because I had more doubts and questions, and was unconsciously seeking counsel from a trusted and more spiritually grounded friend.

The author with Gigi de Villa, Lino and Jim Lopa at the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Leadership journey session for Young Public Servants, from the office of former Vice President Leni Robredo

Allow me, therefore, to share one of our last check-ins, which perfectly demonstrates Lino’s gift as formator and spiritual companion.  Thanks to modern-day technology, I was able to save this verbatim exchange through our stored text messages last April 14, 2022, Holy Thursday, a month before the May 2022 elections:

Me: Earlier today, I started the online retreat of Fr. Johnny Go which I highly recommend.

In the beginning he used the Last Supper narrative and asked if there was any new realization while this familiar passage was being read again. 

As I read through the verses again, this particular part triggered a new insight.

“But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on this table.” For the Son of man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”

Imagining Jesus as he was saying this, I could feel a certain sadness and frustration in His heart. Knowing that the end is near, He could have been feeling disappointed that He has not fully fulfilled His mission to convert souls towards what is good which was the Father’s will. This feeling of mission failure even became more real when He realized that even among His closest friends and disciples, He is unable to convince everyone to follow His way despite all the teachings He has shared with them through his wise words and selfless deeds.

This is a familiar feeling to me these days, knowing that there may be very little time left for me in this life journey of mine. Questions like, have I done enough to change my ways and also help others find their way towards our Lord? Have I embraced my calling and my mission fully as Jesus did?

These questions are very timely and they come at a very critical point in our country’s future. Partisan politics aside, we are facing the very difficult battle of hearts and minds as we approach the May 9, 2022 elections that will elect our new President and other national and local leaders.

This coming election is much more different and complex than any previous election I have actively participated in since the late ’70s and ’80s.  Modern-day technology has been weaponized to spread lies on a scale that has brainwashed a vast number of our people into believing untruths as facts. Such hi-tech weapons have been so powerful and effective that there is a likelihood that the people who have chosen to perpetuate such massive deception could actually be elected back to power.

Amid this dark and gloomy possibility, however, we are also seeing that there are many hearts that are moved to courageously face this daunting challenge of pushing back against such dark intentions and motivations. Many are fighting this battle not in a confrontational and condescending way but in a very humble, open-minded and loving way of truth telling. They are engaging in face-to-face dialogues and are sincerely listening to each other to discover their respective realities first hand, away from the blur of virtual realities that have been shaped by the weaponized social media platforms. Like Jesus, they have chosen to be physically present for each other.

I am witnessing a lot of Filipinos from all walks of life breaking out of their comfort zones and generously sharing of themselves, with each other with much respect, empathy and love despite their differences and shortcomings.

There is really no guarantee that hearts and minds can change in time for the very crucial and important choice that we as people will make in May. But maybe, like Christ, we must choose to just respond to our Father’s call to love regardless of the possible disappointments and betrayals that will come our way —or as we often refer to these days as the call to love radically.

Definitely, Good Friday will be upon us not only tomorrow but in the coming days, weeks and months ahead. I am certain that it will even extend beyond the May elections. Please pray for me as I promise to pray for you so that we will all bravely choose to carry our respective crosses and together believe that all things will be new in the Easter of our lives.

Wishing everyone a meaningful and peaceful Holy Week.

Probably sensing my distress and seeming erosion of energy and motivation to continue the good fight Lino then responded by texting:

LINO: Thank you for sharing your reflection on today’s points.

I resonated and stayed longest on the very first point: the song that best describes how I’ve been. To my surprise immediately upon reading the points, these lyrics popped into my head, “like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down”.

Strange, I don’t even like the song but it seemed to be perfect for me. I couldn’t even remember the title of the song or who sang it. I thought at first it was James Taylor. A search on YouTube revealed the song was sung by Simon and Garfunkel. And I listened to the song again and again. I had tears in my eyes. It was as if Jesus Himself was singing me the song, taking me back to how anxious I was when the reality that I was finally going to have the dialysis Dinky and I dreaded. And the reassuring grace that followed. And through the series of health challenges, I was given the grace of faith, of trust—that no matter what happens, even in death, He will always be with me, always will take me to a better place.

I also remember how I feared that my being ill would make me useless as God’s instrument. To my complete amazement, a few people have approached me to talk to them about faith because they see it in me. And I know, it’s not me! It’s God’s grace working.

The past year, therefore, He has reinforced ever so strongly his love for me amid all the hardships; secondly, he made me realize that Truth, that weakness can actually be strength, defeat can actually be victory.

So, I approach the May 9 elections that way. I am sure to be very disappointed, disgusted even, to see the Marcoses back at Malacañang, but if that happens so be it. We, in the academe, shall continue to be bearers of Truth vs the campaign to miseducate our people. A defeat in the May 9 elections is but a temporary setback. In the end, God will make sure that goodness and love triumphs.

“Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down” . And at the end, “Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will ease your mind”.

After a few minutes he sent a series of follow-up text messages:

There is something common in our reflections: the desire to fulfill the mission, the desire to be useful.

I was reflecting on that more. Where does it come from? I can almost see and hear God say: “Relax guys. You don’t have to. I love you whether you fulfill mission or not. Can’t you just rest on my love for you? “

Can’t we just rest on being blessed without this anx to fulfill mission?

 Haha! Kakabit ng pag-ibig I guess. 

Even all these I am doing to be healthier-headed for transplant, at the back of my head it is so that I can fulfill my mission!

And in classic Lino Rivera style, he ends the exchange by saying:

Haha! Lintek na mission yan! Haha

Thank you my dear friend for always taking on my burdens as your own even if the weight of your burdens were clearly much heavier than mine (no pun intended Lino).  I will surely miss these check-ins, but I trust that you will still be able to find ways to reach me (huwag ka lang mag pakita sa dilim).

For Lino, it was truly a life filled with love and a life emptied by loving back.  As such, I will be remiss if I do not take this opportunity to thank Jingle, Sam, Ina, my inaanak Gogo, Kuya Lito, Tes, Peter, Ninang Fely and the whole Rivera and Nicolas family.  Lino would always tell me how much a blessing you are all to him.  We truly felt your love for all of us through the moments Lino sacrificed the time he could have spent with you so he could be with us.

While we cannot fully occupy the physical space that Lino leaves behind, know that we will also be present for each one of you when you need us.

Lino and his family joined by the author at dinner; beside Lino are his daughters Sam and Ina; beside the author are Lino’s wife Jingle and his son and the author’s godchild Gogo

In the morning of July 31, before his fateful fall, Lino texted me one last time:  @Rapa Lopa pakisabi kay Boss sorry hindi ako makakapunta sa misa para sa kanya mamaya. May dialysis ako. But I shall say a prayer for/to  her.

I responded by saying:  “Will do. Pero bukas pa misa.”

Later that day, I received the text from Jingle saying that they were rushing Lino to the hospital after a bad fall that rendered him unconscious.

Lino was indeed so fiercely loyal to the Aquinos.  So fierce that he chose to join them in the same month that they also reunited with their Creator.

Now that you’re up there with Auntie Cory, please pray together for all of us and tell the boss we will continue the mission!

About author


He is the author of “To Love Another Day,” the memoirs of democracy icon Corazon Aquino. He continues to work with NGOs—evidently one of the Filipinos who continue to believe in the Filipino.

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