A bachelor father of the nation

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

On the feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24, Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas aptly noted our late president Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Cojuangco Aquino III “crossed over the next life,” and quietly left us. Fondly called PNoy during his six-year watch at Malacañang Palace, he was the only son of our late president Corazon “Cory” Aquino and his namesake father, slain ex-Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

Having served three terms as Tarlac Congressman and later as Senator for six years, he naturally developed close friendships and acquaintances all over the places, including in media. He earned enemies as well. Allow me to include myself as one of his acquaintances in media.

This he acknowledged when he first assumed the presidency on June 30, 2010 when he invited us among the Malacañang Press Corps who covered his late mother. Widowed three years earlier, Mrs. Aquino was running the government during our country’s fledgling democracy after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. We extensively covered Mrs. Aquino at Malacañang until she stepped down on June 30, 1992.

It was then we saw young Noy in action behind the scene. He always made a strong presence wherever his mother went around the country, especially in areas considered high risk. A gun and shooting enthusiast, Noy himself got seriously injured when military rebels attacked the presidential residence in one of the bloodiest mutinies staged in August 1987.

After her term of office, Mrs. Aquino quietly slipped back to private life with her family. It was only a few years later when she reluctantly went back to be seen in public when she campaigned for Noy for congressman and then later as Senator. Allow me to share one of my fondest memories of Mrs. Aquino’s always being the chief cheerleader of her son.

Attending the wake of the husband of her ex-press undersecretary Deedee Siytangco several years ago, we approached Mrs. Aquino and asked her if we could have a photo with her along with my teenage twin sons. I told her their last photo with her was when they were still babies, one of whom she carried. Gladly she did but with a bit of motherly admonition: “By all means, so that you would be more kind to my Noy in your columns about him.” While the photos taken ages apart were immortalized in single picture frame, it was her words that remained forever etched in my mind.

Sadly, Mrs. Aquino succumbed to illness on Aug. 1, 2009. Undoubtedly, she remained a popular figure in our country as “icon of democracy” as her demise helped catapult her son into presidency. Now PNoy’s death is being demeaned by cheap talks of necro-politics this early, ostensibly being eyed anew purportedly by the Liberal Party (LP).

Target anew of attacks is another widow Vice President Leni Robredo. Even if she has not declared any firm intention yet, obviously they dread to see her run in the next presidential race for the May 2022 elections.

Then as Camarines Sur Congresswoman, she was personally chosen by PNoy to run as LP’s vice presidential candidate during the May 2016 elections. Despite her victory upheld almost five years later, VP Leni has shown she can work even under fire from President Rodrigo Duterte.

Strange how to this day it’s still being said that VP Leni isn’t fit to be a leader. It isn’t as if VP Leni doesn’t have the necessary competencies and experiences. With VP Leni serving in the country’s No. 2 highest elected office, it enabled President Duterte to sleep soundly without fear of being ousted by his constitutional successor.

VP Leni has proven her mettle time and time again. Many of her efforts have gone under-reported, hidden behind the shadows of unruly attacks from obvious troll farms. Add to this, an administration keen on brushing aside the help she freely and constantly offers at each turn of our countrymen in need.

And yet even after considerable adversity from her colleagues in government for most of the time, she remains cool and composed and hard at work. One would wonder how she does it, but I would like to hazard a guess. It is because she is a woman, a wife, and a mother while carrying on her career like many other Filipinas like me.

This distinction was made even more apparent lately by the way she addressed our hesitations in getting vaccinated – when she chose to offer us comfort and convenience and incentives, instead of more threats and fear-mongering.

In a way, VP Leni represents the fortitude of millions of Filipino mothers braving through this pandemic’s repercussions. In VP Leni’s situation, she is working tirelessly on a thankless job as a public servant at the same time while keeping close to PNoy’s mantra: “Kayo ang boss ko.” Like PNoy’s “walang wangwang” policy, VP Leni keeps to her own low profile. She could no longer, though, do her usual bus commuter trips going to the province for security reasons.

Women leaders like her also have to keep homes together; ensuring the whole family is well-cared for; keeping spirits high despite the grimness of our situation.

Even the tedious balancing act of spending and allocating limited money is emulated by her at the Office of the Vice President (OVP), having experienced several budget cuts since 2017.

Still, VP Leni gained popular support through these years. A huge chunk of the funding for her OVP projects in fact such as “Angat Buhay,” comes from partnerships with the private sector. It was VP Leni’s way to continue the legacy of PNoy’s PPP, or Public Private Partnership at the level of the OVP.

Being identified with PNoy’s “daang matuwid” brand of leadership, aids and donations poured in for “Angat Buhay.”

At the sidelines of the wake of the late president, VP Leni credited “the end of era” of PNoy’s brand of leadership and wished each Filipinos who believed in him would carry on his torch for our motherland. As our country’s first ever bachelor president, PNoy mustered his best efforts to carry out the great responsibility as the so-called father of the nation. May he rest in peace in the great beyond. Amen.

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