[OPINION] Noynoy Aquino: Simple and dignified till the end

Former president Benigno Aquino III was laid to rest today at the Manila Memorial Park in Sucat, Parañaque, beside the graves of his parents, Ninoy and Cory Aquino. At the request of his family, there was no lying in state at either house of Congress, where he served both as representative of the 2nd district of Tarlac and as a senator; nor was there the usual state funeral accorded to a former president. 

Instead there was a mass at his alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University, some short remarks by his eldest sister Ballsy, and a motorcade to Manila Memorial. Simple but dignified. 

I can’t help but think that the family’s request not to have the pomp and trappings of his former offices was reflective of what Noy himself would have wanted. Again, simple but dignified.

Because he grew up the son of a president, Noy never aspired to be president. I guess this was because he had seen up close what sacrifices the office demanded of his mother during her tumultuous term. 

Hard and unpopular decisions had to be made that had real consequences on millions of people. The difficult compromises with allies and adversaries that were required to move an agenda forward. The constant whining and complaining by critics, armchair analysts, and even allies who did not understand the realities of governance. And in his case, a wound caused by a fragment of a bullet that nearly killed him during the 1989 coup attempt against his mother by mutinous solders led by her own defense secretary. 

'All in'

Weeks after Cory Aquino passed away, Noy asked me to join him in a Quezon City restaurant near his home as he had dinner with a number of his friends, mostly colleagues from his days in the lower House. They were discussing a survey commissioned by Senator Serge Osmeña in which about 50% of respondents wanted Noy to run for president. Many of the people at that dinner were encouraging him to run, but Noy was not convinced. He had been a vocal member of the opposition against then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and was pretty sure that if he ran, she would do what she could to make sure he lost. And he lacked the resources that another candidate, billionaire-senator Manny Villar, could easily muster for a long drawn out campaign. Finally there was the very real idea that running and winning would disrupt his life and that of his siblings. Hadn’t they been through enough? Hadn’t the family sacrificed enough in the name of public service?

I left that meeting doubting that he would run.

But a few weeks later, there was another meeting with allies and Noy’s questions were different. Where do we get the resources? Who’s on the ground in this province, or can we get the mayor of that town on our side?  Noy had taken the time to discern. He had spoken to the people he trusted most and weighed the pros and cons, including leaving behind his life of relative comfort to take on the burdens of the campaign and possibly the presidency. As much as his family and friends might have objected, his sense of duty called and he was going to do it. From that day on, until the end of his presidency in 2016, he was all in.

'Guiding principles'

From Day 1, he would mark the days until the end of his term because he knew that the next six years wouldn’t be easy. And he was right. There were mistakes. There were things that could have been done better or more quickly, but I can say with sincerity that having watched him up close for all those years in office, that every major policy decision was made with what in his mind was in the best interest of the country and in accordance with his commitment to democracy and the rule of law.  

Those were the guiding principles behind many of our policies. The decision to challenge China at the international tribunal for their incursions into the West Philippine Sea (a term that was popularized during our time) was a major victory that we would have leveraged to strengthen an international web of political and military alliances that was designed to make it more costly for China to encroach on our territory.

The introduction of K to 12, while unpopular in many circles, was designed to prevent our country’s educational system from falling further behind our Asian neighbors by adding two more years to what was previously the shortest educational cycle in the region. (READ: How Aquino delivered on 5 major promises)

Combined with the passage of the reproductive health law and broadening the coverage of PhilHealth, we were taking holistic long term action to  break the cycle of poverty and indignity that many of our people suffer from. 

When June 2016 came, we still had so much work to do, but as Noy liked to say, it was time to pass your papers, finished or not. The reluctant candidate became the President who gave it his all and left it all on the field because that was what he felt he was called upon to do. Simple but dignified.

Rest in peace, Boss. You did well. – Rappler.com

Ricky Carandang served the Aquino administration as secretary of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office.