Some personal memories of Ninoy 1

Some personal memories of Ninoy

Buddy Gomez — Cyberbuddy

Posted at Nov 27 2020 01:06 AM

Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. would have been 88 years old today.

My first notice of Ninoy was in the San Beda College parade grounds, then still an empty space fronting Mendiola street. He was ‘adjutant’ in the PMT or preparatory military training, the high school (HS) version of the Reserve Officers' Training Course (ROTC). 1947. I was Tenderfoot in Beaver Patrol, Boy Scouts Troop 24.

“Adjutant” in the parade was the cadet who strutted speedily cutting diagonally across, halt and then with a shout, signal the parade to commence. Ninoy was the opening star of what was called a “pass in review.’ The school band would then blare with cadenced music, under the baton of Mr. Efigenio Martinez, our history teacher who was also the band/orchestra master.

I was in Grade V, Ninoy was in HS third year. I recall vividly our Scoutmaster, Mar. E. Serrano, hailing Ninoy as model -- a demeanor of “holding his head up high with pride” despite his father facing the People’s Court charged with wartime collaboration.

In March 1948, 15-year-old Ninoy received his HS diploma. I finished elementary during the same “Commencement Exercises.” I was turning 13. The ceremony was held in the school’s inner quadrangle, a space then known as “basketball court No. 1.” Our American Rector was the late Fr. Boniface Axtman, OSB.

Such remembrances are now indelibly embedded in my memory. Since then, highly notable accomplishments were achieved by and through Ninoy which are, of course, historically recognized. I could most probably fill a book myself but let me just select a few choice ones.

My affiliation and friendship with Ninoy began in the 1960s through the Liberal Party of which he was Secretary General. I was also one of the odd-job boys occasionally around party president, Speaker Cornelio Villareal. Plus facts: I was a friend of then-budding television director Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara, Ninoy’s favorite sister; and, fellow-Jaycee, Ninoy’s brother Butz (Agapito) was married to Popsy Mendez, my spouse’s (Mrs. Tessie P. Samson-Gomez) first cousin. So very Filipino, our connection was likewise family-extended.

In 1967, Ninoy ‘borrowed’ me from Enrique Zobel (for whom I was Sr. Exec. Asst. in Ayala), to assist in his run for Senator. From then on, our personal connection was unceasing and uninterrupted, until our last phone call in mid-August 1983, as he left Boston for his appointment with history!

Ninoy was not quite 35, the qualifying age for senator, but he would be, by the time he would take his oath, assuming of course that he would win. And he did! But many weeks before the elections, then-President Ferdinand Marcos had instigated a case disqualifying him for being underage. This became a cliff-hanging, nail-biting political thriller, a chapter of Ninoy’s story all by itself.

I was one of three principals in the nationwide campaign organization with varied geographical and tactical responsibilities. The other two were the late Bren Guiao and Alfonso Policarpio. Also at Ninoy’s beck and call were Chitong Pineda and Tatang Darding (Ninoy’s uncle). The campaign slogan used in billboards, radio jingles and printed peripherals was truly descriptive: Youth, Experience, Hope.

Ninoy was the first Filipino politician to make extensive use of a helicopter for barnstorming. It was a 2-seater, just him and the pilot. A kerosene-fueled Hughes H-300. On a sortie in the Bicol provinces, we established logistical support by stockpiling kerosene supply at the Naga Airport for periodic refueling. Looking back, it was my most peril-prone errand. We had to ferry over to Naga our own supply of kerosene. To do that, from a Manila Domestic Airport hangar, the pilot, an attendant and I loaded about 30 large tin cans of kerosene onto a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air. Truly a most horrifying violation of a basic “No No!” Before boarding, we made sure we did not have a single matchstick, a lighter or any thing that could cause friction that could trigger combustion. We were a potential flying fireball! Foolhardy death-defying, I still get goose pimples just reminiscing.

October found us in Tacloban, while a typhoon was raging. Ninoy and I were holed up at the “Primrose” hotel, a lodging house, really. So named because it was owned by husband and wife (Congressman Primo and Rosa Villasin). No telephones but at least a telegraph office (Telefast?) was still in operation. Ninoy would dictate wire messages and I would run two blocks away through flooding streets and gale to file them. Two days marooned while Manila was ado about Ninoy’s electoral disqualification case. Ninoy was naturally itching to be beside his counsel, Senator Salonga, who wanted him in Manila. On the second afternoon with typhoon signals still up, Ninoy had the pilot fly him out of Tacloban just as a small clearance in the skies opened up. A sleepless night it was for me, but no news was truly good news!

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In April of 1975, during the Court Martial trial of Ninoy, he went on a hunger strike. News was muzzled, blackout reigned. I was already living in HK. A call from Chitong Pineda asked me if I could help break the news through. Right away I contacted the desk at Hong Kong Standard, promising to bring in late breaking news about Sen. Aquino, telling them I was leaving for Manila the following morning and returning same evening. Upon arriving back, I headed straight to Hong Kong Standard where editor Viswa Nathan was waiting. The following morning, a dramatic photo of a visibly weakened, limp and bedraggled Ninoy made the front page. The world came to know of his hunger strike and trumped military trial.

In early May of 1980, I was already in Honolulu. My Ayala buddy Col. Luis “Jojo” Mirasol telephoned to say that Ninoy had a heart attack and had just left for the United States for the needed medical attention not available under the auspices of Marcos' martial law. I followed Ninoy and family to Dallas where he was confined in a Baylor facility. I met his attending cardiologist, Dr. Rolly Solis, a continuing lifelong friendship gained through Ninoy. In order to keep news about Ninoy’s condition, both physical and political, both current and extant, I contacted the Dallas Herald. They sent a cub reporter, a young journalism graduate, a girl named Julia Wallace. Over the years, Julia has become one of the US’s most outstanding female journalists and a high-ranking national media executive.

Sometime in 1969, I was going to be passing through San Francisco. Ninoy asked me a favor to see a friend to whom he had entrusted some documents, so he said. He wanted them retrieved, giving me name and address. It was a medium-rise apartment building across a Shell gas station in the Potrero district. As I entered the elevator, a bunch of African American boys joined in. After the door closed, I felt a knife up my ribs. I was being robbed, a hold-up! I had a little cash in my jacket’s pocket which they failed to get, but they took my wallet, passport and Amex Travellers checks. Frantically, I ran to the gas station, reporting the matter and pleading with manager for help in getting back my stuff as the boys were obviously neighborhood toughies most probably known to him. Besides, what they took would be useless to them. The following day, I returned and got back everything.

When I returned to Manila, I recounted the minor ordeal to Ninoy. Although he felt relieved that I survived, he also had a hearty laugh. As it turns out, he was really hooking me up for a date and tour with that lady friend in Potrero, that being my first time in San Francisco!

In wishful reverie, maybe there could sometime come an occasion before a bevy of young ‘impressionables’ like I was very many decades ago, when I will happily respond to: “Lolo Buddy, can you please tell us some more Ninoy Aquino stories!” Indeed, there’s plenty more!

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Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.