Philippine President Benigno Aquino III delivers a speech at a public forum held at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 22 September 2014. | Malacanang Photo Bureau/Ryan Lim via Wikimedia
In September 1998, during the official visit of then-president Joseph Estrada to Singapore, I had the chance to spend some time conversing lengthily with then-congressman Noynoy Aquino.
I had met Noynoy on several occasions in the past. Still, the presidential trip allowed me to know more about the only son of the very charismatic senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.
Noynoy carried the same name as his father and his grandfather Benigno Sr., who was also a well-known politician before the war. It must have been difficult for Noynoy to imagine filling the shoes of both his father and grandfather.
Noynoy and I sat down for a lengthy chat at the Long Bar of the Singapore Raffles hotel where the official presidential party was staying. Later, we were joined by Noynoy’s close uncle Len Oreta (husband of the late senator Tessie Aquino). We had quite an interesting conversation, and Noynoy was surprised to find out that our branch of the Romualdez family had a lot of interconnection with the Aquino family for several decades.
My uncle Daniel, a former House Speaker, was married to Paz Aquino Gueco of Pampanga, a close relative of Noynoy’s grandmother Doña Aurora Aquino. Noynoy was astonished to see my Uncle Danieling and Auntie Pacing’s wedding photo that showed his father, Ninoy, was the ringbearer.
I also knew his father through my cousin Pocholo Romualdez who worked with Ninoy at Manila Times. I had interviewed the late senator Ninoy on several occasions while I was a news reporter for RPN 9. When I told Noy about my last interview with his father at the Tokyo Imperial Hotel months before Ninoy’s assassination, Noynoy became silent and reflective.
“Which only proves that the presidency is indeed a matter of destiny. Some may want it or even lust for it, but only fate and destiny can be the deciding factor.”
When he excused himself to go to the restroom, his uncle and mentor, Len, candidly told me: “I still have to teach Noy a lot more about politics following in his father’s footsteps.”
Little did we know that the young neophyte congressman from Tarlac would one day become president. Which only proves that the presidency is indeed a matter of destiny. Some may want it or even lust for it, but only fate and destiny can be the deciding factor.
After the Singapore trip, Noy and I exchanged cell numbers and kept in touch. When he became president, we texted each other quite a bit. I very much appreciated the fact that he made it a point to call me back when I called. On some occasions, when he asked for my opinion, I would tell it like it is, knowing that one of his traits is candor, so he appreciated it.
“In the case of Noynoy, it was evident that he wanted to honor and preserve the legacy of his parents – both revered as icons of democracy – in decisions that focused on the wellbeing of Filipinos, whom he called his “bosses.”
Early in his presidency, while we were at the birthday party of his cousin Tonyboy Cojuangco, I pointed out that he had a famous “brand” name the world was familiar with. I advised him that it would be good for the country if he traveled extensively with his brand name – to which he replied: Eh di gamitin natin (So let’s use it).
I joined many of his official trips to China, the US, and Japan as part of the business delegation. It was no surprise that he made it to Time magazine’s 2013 100 Most Influential People in the World. I saw how this name brand elevated the profile of the Philippines and put the country on the radar of international investors.
I was honored to be invited to several state dinners at Malacañang by President Noy, the most memorable of which was the state dinner he hosted for US President Barack Obama, whom I had the opportunity to meet. He also made every effort to attend our PeopleAsia magazine events, the foremost of which is the People of the Year awards. No doubt, our PeopleAsia editor-in-chief Joanne Ramirez was a close family friend of the Aquinos, having worked in Malacañang as editor of the Presidential Press staff during the term of Mrs. Cory Aquino.
I have known seven presidents in my lifetime and seen them up close, each having its own distinct traits and unique qualities. In the case of Noynoy, it was evident that he wanted to honor and preserve the legacy of his parents – both revered as icons of democracy – in decisions that focused on the wellbeing of Filipinos, whom he called his “bosses.”
His famous lines kayo ang boss ko and daang matuwid, combined with banning the use of wang-wangs (vehicle sirens) by government officials – including himself, even with the heavy Manila traffic – reverberated well with the Filipino public.
“I did all I could to forge a nation that is more just and more progressive – one that enjoys the fruits of meaningful change. I will let history decide… I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”–President Noynoy Aquino
PNoy may have had some lapses and wrong decisions during his presidency – no one is perfect after all – but as he said, he could look anyone in the eye, knowing he made decisions with the best interest of the people in mind.
He perfectly summed it in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA): “I did all I could to forge a nation that is more just and more progressive – one that enjoys the fruits of meaningful change. I will let history decide… I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
One must admit, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III lived up to the legacy of his parents. At his 2014 SONA, he said that refusing to heed the clamor of the people to take on the challenge of leadership would have been like turning his back on his parents’ legacy and all the sacrifices they made for Filipinos. Overall, he turned out to be a good President.