PNoy was my Clark Kent

Perhaps in death as in his life, he can light that fire again.
All I know is that his sudden exit has left me desolate.

After he stepped down from the presidency, PNoy and the author during a casual meeting (Contributed photo)

My Chair Rocks

JUNE 24 used to be a fun day.

I lived in San Juan, and everyone who lives there knows that it is “basaan” day, in celebration of John the Baptist.  If you went out on that day, you had to be ready with a change of clothes, because commuters and even those riding in private vehicles were at the mercy of the celebrators and their buckets of water.  I hated that some people used dirty water.

But all the kids, and even the not-so-young, looked forward to that one day in the year they could do mischief and get away with it.

But this year, June 24 was not fun.  It was a terrible day.

I woke up to the news about PNoy.  And I prayed, God please make it fake news.

It wasn’t.

PNoy is gone.  And I feel like a light has gone out from our midst.  Our sky has darkened.

He was not your dazzling, blinding light, far from it. He didn’t know how to dazzle. He was simply a bright, steady, firm beam of light.  It did not turn on with fanfare.  That was not his style.

But the light was there as a reassuring presence that promised that the world was not such a dark place after all, and that indeed, it could be better.

PNoy was quiet, reserved.  He had no airs, no swagger, and yes, no wang-wang.

There were several instances in his six-year term when I wished he had been a bit more aggressive, explosive. I wanted to see him angry, maybe even lose his temper. Perhaps in private he did, and those who were close to him may have witnessed those moments.  But in public, he kept his composure, carried himself with an air of calm determination.

In close quarter accounts, they tell us he was hard-headed.

But I think he just took extra pains and time to analyze and contemplate, and not arrive at hasty or emotional conclusions.  He was passionate about the rule of law. He also believed that any decision made in anger was bound to be a wrong one.

He had no airs, no swagger, and yes, no wang-wang

PNoy was a private person. Even after he left office, he kept his feelings to himself.  On numerous occasions, I wished he would call out his detractors.  But he took it all.  Even his family thought he should speak up.  But he answered a friend who was exasperated at his reluctance to defend himself, “I still sleep well at night.”

In the funeral mass he celebrated for PNoy, Archbishop Socrates Villegas said: “His silence after his presidential term was a silence of dignity.  As he brought dignity and honesty to his service to the nation as our president, he preserved that dignity after his retirement.  It was the silence of noble statesmen now rare and forgotten. It was the silence of Daang Matuwid.  It was the silence of nobility, that sense of dignity that we truly miss now. “

Much has been written here and abroad about what he did for our economy.  I don’t know much about numbers or the status of the national debt.  But I do know when we are doing poorly. And this I remember: the world once regarded the Philippines as the sick man of Asia. But under PNoy’s watch, we became the darling of Asia, the rising tiger.

I rest my case.  And suddenly I wonder what they call us now.

When PNoy won the 2010 Presidential election, I was in the Atlanta, Georgia, visiting family.  Before leaving, I had campaigned as hard as I knew how, which meant talking about his qualities to everyone I could, about Daang Matuwid and what it meant, and why I believed PNoy was the only one who could walk that talk.

And so when news came that he had topped even our most optimistic surveys, I lifted my glass of frosty Southern sweet tea and toasted to what I believed would be the start of our economic and moral recovery. And I was not wrong.

I had never met PNoy in person.  It was my fondest wish to one day meet him face-to-face.

I met his father Ninoy when I was in high school. His sister Maur (Lichauco), who was my classmate and close friend, introduced us in their Arlegui house. He was from San Beda College, popular, making a name for himself, and he had a naughty sparkle in his eyes.  Some of us had crushes on him. But he never gave us the time of day.

I saw him again many years later, but only in the news, always in the headlines. And then he had become a martyr, a hero.

I met his father Ninoy when I was in high school. Some of us had crushes on him. But he never gave us the time of day

I have met many celebrities in my time, many of them when I was writing for the Manila Chronicle. It was always a thrill. Allow me to name-drop a few.

Charlton Heston, Moses himself! Tyrone Power, Harry Belafonte. All gorgeous men!

Don Claro M. Recto.  I was happy to just sit quietly in his office and listen to him speak, in English, in Spanish, in Tagalog.  It didn’t matter.  His eloquence knew no limits ,and his wisdom and love of country inspired. He had an aura of greatness.

President Elpidio Quirino. His daughter was a close and dear friend.

President Ferdinand Marcos, before and during exile.

Oh, and I shook hands with US President Eisenhower. He was also my first front-page by-line. What a thrill.

But I wanted to meet PNoy.  It was something I needed to do. I wanted to say thank you for bringing back honesty in public service; that I admired his values, shared them, and that I wished him well.

On a side note: three of my children were privileged to perform for different state visits in Malacañang several times during PNoy’s term.

On one of those occasions, Gina did the creative concept, Vicki was emcee/host, and Martin sang for the 21 heads of state that attended the APEC meeting.  They saw President Barack Obama in the flesh, and breathed the same air as several international luminaries.

But they came home totally captivated and charmed by the resident of the Palace, PNoy.  Their comment: “He is so friendly.  So real. So humble.” They were ecstatic that after the presentation, “the President jammed with us.” Unforgettable!

When we did meet, PNoy was no longer President. It didn’t matter. I had so looked forward to it.  I had pestered my editor/boss/friend to make it happen.  For six years!

We were about 10 around a cozy dinner table in the mezzanine of a Makati restaurant.  I was seated next to him.

He quietly thanked me for a piece I had written about his last SONA. Actually, his sister had sent me a thank-you message the next day. She found a way to send her appreciation through a mutual friend.  I was touched.

I suddenly felt like taking care of him. I wanted to take his hand and tell him: We need men like you. You must keep well.  Stop smoking

At dinner, I wanted to ask PNoy so many questions.  I had prepared myself for a side-by-side “ambush interview” of sorts. Instead, I suddenly felt like taking care of him. I wanted to take his hand and tell him: We need men like you. You must keep well.  Stop smoking. You did a fine job.  You made me believe again.  Thank you.

But I did neither. It was not the time nor the place.  And so I relaxed and enjoyed the easy banter of old friends. The meal was delicious, and my dinner companion was thoughtful, solicitous. He made sure I sampled his favorite chicharon.

After dinner we listened to music at a lounge in Greenhills. We quietly took a table in the back. But word got around.  People respectfully approached just to say, “Thank you, Sir.”

We stayed for two sets. At almost midnight, we said goodnight. My driver was awestruck when he saw PNoy take me to my car.  It took him a while to get over the thrill of seeing “Ang Presidente ko.”

Now he is gone.

The news of PNoy’s passing caught us all by surprise.  It seemed so sudden, so unexpected.

And now people ask, is there a message in his untimely demise?

I know that God has His reasons, that He works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. I suppose He decided that PNoy’s mission on earth was accomplished, that he had earned his reward.

In the sad aftermath, we pause to ask: Who walks on Daang Matuwid?  Is there someone else who stayed the course, besides PNoy?  Maybe someone who was stubborn enough and patient enough to keep trudging on, against all odds, all in the name of truth and honesty?

They tell me that the road is now deserted.  Maybe PNoy saw that and it broke his heart.  Can we get back on it? Is it still possible?

Archbishop Villegas lamented: “Sayang! He still had much to teach us about decency and integrity.  He still had so much to teach us about good governance and professionalism.  He still had so much to teach us about self-sacrifice and simplicity.  Maybe, and I do hope, his death will spark another fire within us to resurrect his example of decency and integrity.”

We can only hope and pray.

Each one has a story to tell about PNoy. Members of his old Cabinet have shared warm and candid anecdotes.  They spoke with love, respect, and admiration. You could almost feel their hearts breaking at the loss of their friend and hero.

Because everyone needs a hero.  At any age. Even at 88.

When PNoy ran for office in 2010, I was at that point in my life where I had lost faith in anyone in the political arena.  I was like “up to there” with politicians and their false promises and bombastic lies.

But when he decided to go for it, someone said, “Puede ulit mangarap.” And I thought maybe there was hope again.

Perhaps in death as in his life, PNoy can light that fire again.

I don’t know. All I know is that his sudden exit has left me desolate.

Because President Benigno S. Aquino III, squinting behind his glasses, always with a half smile on his lips, who walked with an almost awkward gait, a bit shy, modest before an admiring world, quiet, unassuming, self-effacing even—he was my Clark Kent.  I so wanted him to be Superman.

Read more:

My one year in captivity: Where are we?

My friend Nenuca wanted to go home

Biden inaugural: I ached to hear words that spoke to the soul

Wait for the dawn of a new day—can we do that?

Holy Ghost College: I lost my way home

I want my Christmas—now!

About author


She was once a journalist with Manila Chronicle, a book author. She is a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother whose wisdom and graceful writing style many readers continue to enjoy.

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