PNoy on foreign trips: No thousand dollar dinners. Sometimes it’s just burgers 2
Enjoying a meal at In-N-Out Burger in San Francisco, 2014. Photo by Gil Nartea

PNoy on foreign trips: No thousand dollar dinners. Sometimes it’s just burgers

Presidential trips abroad have earned a bad reputation. During PNoy’s time, however, his close-in assistant recalls, they were serious work  
RAF IGNACIO | Jul 02 2021

[This essay first appeared as a post on the author’s Facebook page. Raf Ignacio was one of three close-in assistants of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino Jr during his years as president.] 

Out of all engagements, PNoy enjoyed foreign trips the least. He was not a fan of travel, especially long-haul flights and freezing temperatures. But he knew that as the President, the country’s chief diplomat, he had to fulfill this role the best way he can. 

PNoy on foreign trips: No thousand dollar dinners. Sometimes it’s just burgers 3
PNoy shares a light moment with his speechwriters on board a plane to USA, September 2014. Photo by Gil Nartea

PNoy paid special attention to the delegation list, a record of all those traveling including secretaries, staff, security, media, and protocol. PNoy almost always rejects the proposed delegation list, noting that there were too many people. He would ask that we trim the list further and give a reason why each person should be on the list. As a result, the number of people in the delegation decreased, but that meant each member of the delegation had to assume multiple roles. 

If the first engagement starts at 9:00 AM, PNoy would usually be up two hours before so he could have breakfast and prepare for the day. The staff should be ready, dressed up in their suits, by the time PNoy wakes up. 

On his breakfast table, we would place the newscaps (a summary of the top headlines) and the briefing kit for each event of the day, neatly arranged one on top of the other in chronological order. 

PNoy on foreign trips: No thousand dollar dinners. Sometimes it’s just burgers 4
Meeting at In-N-Out Burger in San Francisco, 2014. Photo by Gil Nartea

The staff would then sit quietly in one corner of the suite to wait for any questions or edits to the speeches. If there are none, which is rarely the case, we would breathe a sigh of relief and cross our fingers for a smooth day.

During the 2010 APEC in Yokohama, PNoy’s entourage encountered delays so we reached the hotel tired and hungry. PNoy wanted to eat, but he only had an hour left before his next engagement. Pressed for time, PNoy asked the PSG to buy food for everyone instead of eating out. Since we were in Japan, I imagined eating sushi, sashimi and tempura as our first meal, but after a few minutes, the PSG arrived with a big bag filled with McDonald’s burgers. All this happened inside PNoy’s suite, no media or outside guests, just the delegation. 

Each foreign trip usually includes a meeting with the Filipino community, PNoy’s favorite part of the trip. He enjoyed Filcom events because, unlike government-to-government meetings which tend to be stiff and formal, these gatherings let him connect with people in a casual and relaxed way.

“Pasensya na ho at dadamihan ko ang mga kwento sa inyo. Hindi ko ho kasi alam kung kailan pa ako makakabalik dito,” he would say.

Then he would go on sharing stories, jokes, and good news about the Philippines. You can check snippets of these speeches on RTVM's YouTube channel.

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With the Filipino community in Spain, Sept 2014. Photo by Gil Nartea

Throughout the trip, the speechwriter and I would collect nuggets of achievements to include in PNoy’s arrival speech. The goal was to be able to give PNoy the draft soon after we take off for Manila so that he could have ample time to review and edit before we land. 

PNoy always reminds us that the arrival speech is the most important speech of the trip because it was his chance to report on the achievements. To him, foreign trips are a form of investment of the Filipino people’s hard-earned money so we have the duty to report on the returns. 

Foreign trips have a stigma of being a “junket” but I never saw it this way when I got to travel with PNoy.