MANILA, Philippines?President Benigno Aquino III turned 51 Tuesday but what could have been a happy family day, his first as a head of state, was dampened by the news that former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes had killed himself.
At a Thanksgiving Mass for Mr. Aquino in Malacañang, the chaplain, Fr. Arnold Abellardo, indirectly referred to what happened to Reyes without mentioning his name.
?Marami po tayong kakaharapin. Maaaring marami pang magpapakamatay, maaaring marami pang masasaktan (We will face much more in the future. And maybe many more will die by their own hands, and maybe many more will be hurt) but our desire for truth, our commitment to good governance ay hindi dapat tumigil (should not cease),? the chaplain said in his homily.
The Mass was attended by Ballsy Aquino-Cruz and the President?s other sisters, including Kris, Viel and Pinky, as well as his Cabinet officials, led by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Abellardo prayed over the President for strength and guidance as he leads the nation.
Ballsy, the President?s eldest sister, said she was saddened by the news.
?At the celebration of our Mom?s birthday, a bombing happened. Now, there is this very sad news about Secretary Angelo Reyes,? Ballsy said in Filipino.
?All I can do is to pray for his family and for his soul.?
The Aquino family marked the 78th birth anniversary of the late President Cory Aquino on Jan. 25?the day a bomb explosion ripped through a passenger bus in Makati City and killed five people.
Mr. Aquino said the death of Reyes was ?shocking.?
?We (Reyes and I) had some agreements, we had some disagreements over the years but again, the first thing in my mind after the shock is his family because what happened was really shocking,? the President told reporters. ?Our sympathy is with them.?
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda extended the Palace?s condolences to the Reyes family.
?We urge the public to allow his loved ones their grief and privacy,? Lacierda said in a text message to reporters.
Mr. Aquino also visited a medical and dental mission organized in the Palace compound on the occasion of his birthday.
He said his birthday wish was to be able to better the lives of people and do it at a ?faster pace.?
?If you can recall, we were projecting that it would take two years before people can feel the challenges, especially on the economic front. There are big opportunities that are already existing and forthcoming,? the President said.
Asked what he considers his best birthday gift so far, he said he valued most those who sent him well-wishes, especially people whom he rarely sees now but who still continue to support him.
?That is really a big thing for me,? the President said.
Prayers for President
The President went ahead with his schedule for the day that included renewing his driver?s license and a candle lighting ceremony for peace held Tuesday night at Quezon City Memorial Circle.
Hours after news of Reyes? death broke, the President?s celebrity sister, Kris, told reporters she was praying for her brother?s ?fortitude and patience? and for the people as well.
?I pray for his good health and protection and pray he would be able to face up to the many problems in the country,? Kris said.
Ballsy said her birthday wish for the President was that he ?will succeed in his plans, in his prayers and that the country will really improve.?