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Remembering ‘Kuya Noy’

Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Cojuangco Aquino III was like a brother who had too many stories to share, loved to tease but was quick-tempered. Alaskador pero pikon.

On Thursday morning, June 24, the only son of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco passed away. He was 61. A statement from the Aquino family said he died in his sleep due to renal failure secondary to diabetes.

He was simply “Kuya Noy” to a small group of reporters to which I belong. We were born in the mid-60s to the early 70s. He was older by a few years, having been born in 1960, so we fondly called him “Kuya.”

A bachelor, he took on his being an older brother seriously. He tried to be present in birthday celebrations and in wakes for family members. He sometimes played the role of a matchmaker, other times seeking help to get to know someone he wanted to befriend.

There were times he would call and ask for Choc-Nut and he would give me M&M;’s blue in return. At the debut party of a friend’s daughter, he brought bags of chicharon (pork rind) that we feasted on outside the venue. He enjoyed simple things.

But his candidacy for the 2010 presidential race kept him occupied, more so after he won the elections. Some in the group had either emigrated or found work in another country. The group somehow drifted apart. No more late night dinners, coffee time and birthday celebrations in our homes.

In more than 10 years that the friendship had grown, we had many good and bad memories that we laugh about now when we reminisce.

When he entered politics in 1998, Noynoy was conscious that he had big shoes to fill, being the son of a martyred opposition leader and a former president regarded as a democracy icon.

He took public service to heart, sacrificing his affairs of the heart for the people he had sworn to serve. He was congressman of Tarlac’s second district from 1998 to 2007, senator from 2007 to 2010, and the country’s president from 2010 to 2016.

Based on his own account, Noynoy had proposed to marry his then girlfriend of four years. However, the exhaustive campaign schedule left him with little time to spend with her. The infrequent dates led to frequent disagreements that later ended the relationship.

He dated a number of women, including showbiz and media personalities. Lack of time and privacy were among the reasons the relationships did not prosper.

When his term ended in June 2016, Noynoy chose to stay away from the public eye and refrained from expressing his views publicly.

He called then to apologize that he could not go to the wake for my sister, who had died of cancer, because he was avoiding crowded places.

His humility, honesty, dedication to public service, transparency and loyalty to the country are hard to come by in today’s generation of leaders. He was a decent man who was demonized by others of evil intentions.

Wala ba talaga akong nagawang mabuti?” he asked in July 2016, shortly after his term ended. He was obviously affected by criticisms in social media.

I told him to just ignore detractors and enjoy being private citizen Noynoy again. A number of times, he called to complain about people we knew who wrote things about him that were either out of context or completely false. At times he asked: “Kaibigan ba natin ‘si —–?” He expected friends to at least get his side before writing something critical about him.

To lighten the conversation, I asked who he was dating that time. He said tongue in cheek that he was not telling me because I was a jinx to his love life. I met three of the women he dated when he was a congressman, then a senator, but those were short-lived, giving him a reason to keep me off the topic of his love life since then. Our group was complete when he first dated a media personality.

When the campaign for the 2010 elections began, I asked him if he had been 100% convinced to go for the presidency. He explained that he thought about it long and hard, and that he could have something to contribute to improve people’s lives and did not want to feel sorry later on if he would not take up the challenge.

In 2016 I asked him if he regretted running for president. He said he did his best but his best was not good enough. He just felt bad that the criticisms were far from the truth and that some people seemingly didn’t appreciate the time and effort he had devoted to work.

The last time I saw him was in November 2019, at the wake for the husband of his former appointments secretary. He had lost weight and was coughing. He proudly said that he had substantially reduced his smoking. He was the same old “Kuya Noy” who loved to tease and tell stories.

When I learned about his death, I did not know what to feel. Family and friends were messaging and calling. I joined a group call with some friends who call him “Kuya Noy.” We laughed while reminiscing the good old days and late nights spent in coffee shops, trading jokes and listening to his endless stories and dry humor. Then we cried after hanging up, and shared photos of those happy times.

I feel guilty that I did not get to comfort him when he was sick. I did not know he had fallen seriously ill.

When my mother died in 2008, he even travelled to our home in Bulacan to condole with the family. When my eldest sister was sick until she died in 2013, he was sending messages of hope and faith. He sent a formal letter to my family, apologizing for not attending the wake. He said he had to leave that day for an official trip abroad and checked the earthquake damage in Bohol when he came back.

In 2013, I was robbed in a taxi outside the Batasan complex. When he learned about it, he drove fast from Clark in Pampanga, where he joined in a gun-firing competition, and stayed with me while I was interviewed by police investigators that he had asked to come because I was too afraid to go out and report the incident. He lent me a handy phone that I used until I got a replacement.

Like an older brother, he was there during some of the low points in my life. I apologize for being a delinquent friend. Rest well, Kuya Noy. Many people are now appreciating your hard work for the country.