Noynoy Aquino turned boring long-haul flights into ‘joke times,’ says protocol staff
MANILA, Philippines — Two members of former President Benigno S. Aquino III’s protocol staff on Monday took a trip down memory lane to show that the late statesman was no unfeeling individual.
Bryan Balagtas and RJ Chan recalled that despite Aquino’s calm and sometimes monotonous speaking voice, the deceased former leader of the nation had oftentimes turned rather boring long-haul flights into a lively occasion because of his antics and unique humor.
“We’re at the back, [the President was] at the front [of the plane]. He loves to walk around lalo na ‘pag long-haul ‘yung flight, ” Chan narrated during an interview with INQside Look. “Gagawin niya isasama niya ‘yung cameraman. Siyempre alam niya tulog ‘yung mga tao. So, ipapa-picture niya ‘yung mga natutulog, nakanganga.”
“Ganun, pagti-tripan niya ‘yung mga tao just to lighten up the day. Hindi naman always joking around pero just to break the ice,” he added.
Sometimes, Balagtas said, Aquino would wake them up mid-flight to offer them ice cream.
“He’s a simple person, even ice cream ‘pag sa mga flights bibigyan ka niya. Gigisingin ka niya. He’ll try to tease everybody: ‘Oh, natutulog, gisingin natin bigyan natin ng ice cream’,” he said.
This was the fun side of Aquino that many people were not able to see, according to Balagtas and Chan.
But while the former president, who was popularly known as Noynoy or PNoy, likes to be comical at times, they attested to Aquino’s dedication to his job.
As presidential protocol officers, Balagtas and Chan as well as other members of their team ensure that everything that the president needs and might need for an event would come in handy. They prepare necessities like water and food for the president.
Specifically for Aquino, the presidential protocol team had to also prepare Coke regular, chicharon (pork crackling), and an ashtray.
Chan explained: “Upon arrival, we set up the reception line then serve as ushers po during the program. Sometimes we give little sequence what will happen to the program or kung may request po ‘yung nag-invite or other government officials usually photo ops lang naman po ‘yun – which never niya inayawan. Then, usher-to-the-seat, or kapag may awards yung program or etc., kami po nagaabot sa kanya [president] directly ng award or medal then ibibigay na po niya iyon after ng speech niya sa awardee. Kami din po nagpe-prepare ng PTBA or person to be acknowledged para speeches nya then ‘yun nga po kapag photo ops na, kami po aayusin po namin iyon.”
The presidential protocol office is likewise in charge of ensuring the president would have a place to stay and ample transportation during foreign trips. Their officers are also part of the so-called advance team that conducts ocular inspections of event venues, coordinates with other nations in the drafting of programs, and then brief the president on it.
The Aquino administration promoted good governance and transparency. It was during Aquino’s time that costs of transportation, hotel accommodation, and other requirements of the Philippine delegation – which was always kept at the minimum – for his every foreign trip were reported to the public through regular press releases.
Aquino has consistently reminded officials and employees of his administration that the money being used by the government came from the people.
“As a boss, very workaholic. Mahirap siya basahin. Top of the morning pagdating niya ng office, hindi mo agad mababasa ‘yung mood niya kasi lagi naka-smile pero pagdating niya sa meeting, dun niya binubuhos ‘yung frustration atsaka kung paano niya hina-handle ‘yung situation pero syempre, may finesse pa rin,” Balagtas said.
“When I met him and with the kind of expectation na meron siya from us, medyo kailangan mo rin one foot forward, one step forward. Kailangan, focused ka parati. Ngayon, with my current work, still, I apply what he or what I observed of him,” he added.
Treated as persons
Even as Aquino held the highest government post in the country, Balagtas and Chan said he treated his staff with respect – and even shared simple items with them such as candies and soft drinks.
“I smoke, and he smokes as well. ‘Pag wala kaming baon, minsan nagbababa siya ng stick. Even softdrinks niya at ‘yung candy, namimigay siya nun. Iniisip ko, ‘Presidente na ito pero bakit kami tao niya lang kami… magsh-share siya ng kung anong meron siya’,” Balagtas said.
“He did not treat us as staff. Even the family knows us, first name basis… Parang family niya ‘yung buong Filipino,” Chan said.
A common misconception that people had with Aquino was that he was lazy, said Chan.
But despite the criticisms the former president received, Chan said Aquino remained calm and continued to spend long hours doing his work.
“‘Yung biggest joke nila na he’s just playing PlayStation and playing gadget and everything. Para sa amin, nakakasakit ng feelings ‘yun… nakikita kasi namin truly nagt-trabaho siya,” Chan said.
“Paperworks, handling the country and everything, for me, ‘yun ‘yung pinaka nakaka-offend lang pero wala eh. Lalo na ngayon sobrang dami ng trolls, hindi nila pinapatulan ‘yung ganun,” he added.
Aquino died in his sleep on the morning of June 24. His death certificate indicates that the cause of his death was renal disease secondary to diabetes. He was 61.
Aquino was laid to rest on June 26 at the Manila Memorial Park next to his parents, democracy icons Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino.
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