For his clothing preferences that lean towards the safe, practical and traditional, former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was hardly a fashion designer’s dream client. Despite this, JC Buendia, who served as presidential designer during PNoy’s tenure in Malacañang, can’t say he didn’t have a swell time working with the President.
JC met Noynoy in 1983, after the latter’s father, Ninoy Aquino, died in his return to the country. JC’s dad, meanwhile, used to work in television and had done an ABS-CBN program with the older Aquino when he was a senator. Saddened by what befell the statesman, JC’s father thought of giving the Aquino family a memento, a metal logo from the set of the show. JC, then in his teens, went with his father to the Aquino residence in Times Street. “Si PNoy ang lumabas to entertain us,” JC recalled in an interview with Jing Castañeda on her Kumu show Pamilya Talk. “Ang haba ng kuwento nya.”
The two would cross paths again many years after. JC, already one of the country’s celebrated designers, developed close ties with Noy’s sister Kris. As one of the Queen of Talk’s good friends, JC was often invited to the Aquino family’s Sunday dinners. When Noynoy won a senate seat in 2007, Kris, along with her mother Cory, requested JC to make suits and barongs for the new senator.
That was when PNoy and JC’s designer-client relationship started. JC remembers going to the Times Street residence to get Noynoy’s measurements for the first time. “Tinanong ko [si PNoy], ‘Pwede ko ba gawing slim fit ang pants mo?” the designer recalled. Noynoy’s reply: “Okey lang. Wag lang kasing slim ng kay Boy Abunda.” Laughter followed. That was how JC remembers Kris’ brother—a no-frills guy with a good sense of humor.
Later on, JC thought of ways to play a little with his suit designs for the senator, and one day decided to make a jacket with a burgundy lining. At the sight of it, Noynoy immediately remarked, “Para naman akong Dracula nyan!” And JC knew what the public official meant, so he made the lining black again, JC told Jing Castañeda laughing.
The professional relationship continued throughout Noy’s bid for presidency. By that time, JC was familiar with his client’s taste—always simple and nothing over-the-top. So for the campaign, JC designed a black polo shirt with yellow embroidery and developed a piña version of the said shirt, but this time with embroidered ribbons.
To mark PNoy’s victory, JC created two barongs for his proclamation in Congress—one made of piña and abaca with an embroidered ribbon on the chest area, and the other made of piña and silk with an embroidered map. The president-elect, as he naturally would, picked the simpler one, the one with the embroidered ribbon. “The ribbon tells me where I came from,” he told the Manila Times. “It’s the symbol of struggle today and I want to be sure I don’t lose my grounding.”
JC happily noted that PNoy continued to wear some of the pieces he made for him years after his presidential term. Asked what he remembers most about his former boss, JC said it’s that he always made the people around him at ease. “Para siyang barkada makipag-usap. Mahilig syang mag-joke,” the designer shared.
He remembered one event at the Araneta Coliseum when he was asked to go backstage to fix the President’s necktie. JC unintentionally pulled the knot a little too tight and PNoy said, “Wag mo naman akong sakalin.” The quip, of course, was only meant to lighten the atmosphere.
JC, who continued to be a close family friend of the Aquinos, said the last few times he saw the president was during family occasions. There, he said, PNoy was always fun-loving, always ready with a joke to crack.
They both love music, JC and Noy. The designer was once a contender for the reality-based singing competition “Celebrity Duets”—and PNoy loved karaoke. He would often lightheartedly ask JC about his karaoke singing.
Of course, they also both have strong affection for Kris’s son Josh. JC and Josh have remained constant text mates even if the latter is now based in Tarlac. Meanwhile, it’s common knowledge that Josh was very close to his uncle, who Kris once referred to as “the ONLY constant male figure in her son’s life.” Given the chance to give a final word to PNoy, JC said it would be a solemn promise for the boy: “Na nandyan ako for Josh,” he said, the sadness and sincerity clear in his voice.
Photos courtesy of JC Buendia