June 28, 2021 at 12:25 am
‘Yong isang klaseng broken heart, hindi kaya dito.’
I had a long chat with former executive secretary Jojo Ochoa last Wednesday afternoon in Taguig City.
We had not seen each other for quite some time, and I learned only then that his law firm, with the acronym MOST, or Marcos, Ochoa, Serapio and Tan was no longer around. A long-time partner, Joseph Tan had earlier passed away, and Ed Serapio, another friend who was incarcerated along with President Erap after the latter was deposed, had semi-retired after a six-year stint as executive secretary to the former president turned mayor of the nation’s capital.
It was just last Wednesday that I learned from Jojo Ochoa that the former president was very ill; that he was undergoing kidney dialysis twice a week, and was waiting for a transplant after a suitable donor was vetted.
ES Ochoa told me as well that in December of 2019, after the former president was rushed to Makati Med, his heartbeat actually flat-lined for a few seconds, and he was mercifully revived by doctors. In Taiwan, I was informed then by our former director, Maryknoll missionary Fr. Joy Tajonera, about PNoy’s hospitalization, but not about the near-death situation.
The gravity of his health problems had been compounded --- a blocked artery that required an angioplasty a month before, lungs impaired likely by chain smoking, and kidneys that malfunctioned, with all these worsened by his diabetic condition.
All of us who served under President Noy witnessed the unhealthy eating habits: the ever-present Coca-Cola, the milk chocolate bars, the chicharon, the corned beef and the steaks, which an Italian chef once complained to me about the president preferring his well-done.
“Naka-kaawa”, Ochoa described his long-time friend, and added that the last time he visited Times Street, PNoy was just about a hundred pounds light, emaciated and obviously in long stretches of pain.
Then, while I was going through the news online the following morning, a friend sent a cryptic question via text message: “PNoy was DOA when brought to the hospital minutes ago. True or fake news?”, the message read.
I called up Jojo, but he was obviously still asleep at around nine in the morning. I did not want to ask his sisters, particularly Ballsy or Pinky, whose numbers were in my phone memory. So I called up Father Joy who has his parish in Taichung in central Taiwan, and who runs the Ugnayan Center for distressed Filipino contract workers and seafarers.
He had just confirmed the sad news himself, and told me the former president was still in the emergency room of Capitol Medical Center, the hospital in Quezon Avenue which was nearest to the Times Street house inherited by PNoy from his dad and mom, Ninoy and Cory.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, son of democracy icons Ninoy and Cory and direct descendant of a revolutionary hero, was gone at the young age of 61.
* * *
Listening to PNoy’s friend and schoolmate, Fr. Jet Villarin in the livestreamed mass at the Ateneo’s Church of the Gesu, we learned that after an angioplasty last May which removed serious blockages to his heart, there was a rather cryptic message from Noynoy.
Advising his friend to take time to rest and allow the heart to heal, Fr. Jet thought their exchange of SMS was over. But then, PNoy texted once more: “Yong isang klaseng broken heart, hindi kaya dito.”
Those of us who listened to Fr. Villarin’s homily must have wondered what the late president meant. Was it a heart broken by the problems that he sees the nation and our people confronting these days?
Was it a heart broken by the unfounded attacks against his person intended to diminish his legacy as president, attacks that he bore in pained silence?
We probably will never know the answers. Unless President Noy wrote memoirs after he retired to the privacy of his own quiet space, the truth about his feelings may never come out, and in his sudden and unexpected death, he may have intended it that way.
* * *
The day and a half wake, which began in the afternoon of June 24 at Heritage Park, thence a full day and night at his alma mater Ateneo, was too short for a man who for six years presided over the nation’s life. But his sisters knew exactly what would be pleasing to their brother, who in life, and now in death, was the epitome of simplicity.
His self-deprecation, which was often misinterpreted as aloofness, was so different from the ebullient father, Ninoy , and was perhaps closer to that of President Cory’s quiet dignity, not wanting to draw attention to self, not wanting to indulge in any form of vainglory.
At the funeral mass last Saturday, before his mortal ashes encased in a simple stainless steel urn was brought to the Manila Memorial Park, there to lie in rest beside Ninoy and Cory, the utter simplicity of the event attended by family and a few close friends due to the health protocols of our yet viral contagion, was again in keeping with PNoy’s humility.
And so, as President Benigno Simeon Aquino III joins his beloved parents and as the oft-quoted saying goes, now “belongs to the ages,” this writer could only repeat what he immortalized when Ninoy Aquino was slain, President Noy, “Hindi Ka Nag-iisa”.
Hail and farewell.