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A Former Close-In Aide Shares His Experiences With President Noynoy Aquino: 'I Lost a Friend'

He was PNoy's executive assistant.
IMAGE Facebook / Raf Ignacio
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President Noynoy Aquino interacted with many different kinds of people throughout his years as a public servant, especially during his term as President. Many of them have been posting tributes to the man they may have met briefly or worked closely with during his six-year term. Raf Ignacio is one of them. He worked with Aquino during the campaign and then as executive assistant during his presidency. 

Ignacio has been posting memories of working with the former President on Facebook and he has kindly allowed us to repost some of them here.

Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.

 

My heart has been heavy since I learned about PNoy’s passing. 

I lost a former boss who I learned so much from, but I also feel like I lost a friend.

Just last Friday, I texted him to ask if he wanted some car and history magazines from the US that I could send through a friend. He said thanks and that he’ll get back to me. I didn’t know that was going to be our last conversation.

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I’ll always look up to him as an example of a president who leads with respect for all people, including his enemies, with integrity to simply do what is right, and with immense love for the Filipino people.

Sir, salamat sa lahat. Hindi kita makakalimutan.

 

Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.

Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.
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Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.

As a close-in, I had the privilege to travel with PNoy on local and foreign trips. Here are photos from when we attended the wedding of the Sultan of Brunei's daughter in 2012. Other ASEAN Heads of State attended as well, including Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra who easily charmed the three gentlemen with her grace. (see photo) 

Instead of taking a commercial flight or chartering one of PAL's planes, PNoy chose to fly using the Philippine Air Force One equivalent called Fokker 28 or F28. It's a small, old, rickety plane, no longer produced since 1987 (though the PSG claims it is still reliable). It's so old that spare parts for the F28 are nowhere to be found, they have to be fabricated piece by piece. PNoy's sisters were against him using this plane because of the obvious risks.

While waiting for the presidential car to take us to our plane, one of the protocol officers approached PNoy to ask if PM Yingluck can take off ahead of us because she was in a rush to make another appointment. Of course, being the gentleman that he is, PNoy agreed.

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We waited for the Thai PM to take off while we were inside our vintage F28. Through the window, we saw this shiny, massive Thai Airways Boeing 747 pull up the runway for take off. 

PNoy looked at me, smiled, and said: "Dibale Raf, dadating din tayo dyan..."

Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.

 

Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.
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Taken in Vladivostok where Russia hosted the APEC Summit in 2012.

The decision to attend APEC came late so rental cars were already fully booked. Instead of booking an actual coaster to ferry the Cabinet Secretaries around the city, the executive decision was made to rent this spaceship-looking mini-bus (with matching wings and a pointed nose) because that was all that was left. If we waited longer, we wouldn't have a vehicle at all.

As we drove around the city, little kids would stop and point their fingers at our spaceship, while tugging their mom's skirt to get her attention. It was embarrassing during the moment, but in hindsight it was funny, and well, memorable. To be a sport, the Secretaries waved back at the kids.

Over lunch, PNoy was relaxing on his balcony with the Secretaries when he noticed this spacecraft in the parking lot. He said, "Uy tingnan niyo yun o, bus na mukhang spaceship," and snickered. A protocol officer walked up to him and whispered, "Sir, atin po yan..." Surprised, PNoy replied, "Ha??" The balcony then erupted in laughter.

Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.
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This is a letter I wrote to PNoy before I left for grad school. 

"Dear Mr. President,

Thank you for the trust and confidence you have given me for the past five years. I am very grateful for the rare opportunity of serving you as one of your core staff members, an experience that is unique to only a handful of people.

I have learned so much from you and I will bring these lessons with me wherever I go. Come the time that it will be my generation's turn to lead the country, I will try my very best to emulate your leadership example as a way to share my unique experience with others and to reach the same standard of governance you have set.

I will continue to pray for the success of the reforms that you and the rest of the team have started. I hope that despite all the stress you encounter as you solve the nation's problems, you will still find the time to rest, unwind, and take care of your health. Again, thank you for the past five years. Hopefully I will be able to work with you again in the future. I look back at this experience as part of the president's team with honor, pride and joy. Maraming salamat po! - Raf"

Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.
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Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.

Photo by Facebook / Raf Ignacio.

The arrival honors in New Zealand included a Wero or a Ceremonial Challenge in which a "warrior" places a dart at the foot of the visitor. 

PNoy would then have to pick up the dart while maintaining eye contact with the "warrior." The next part was the Haka Powhiri or dance of welcome (see video).

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After the dance, PNoy is supposed to acknowledge the welcome through hongi, which involves pressing together the nose and forehead in greeting (see picture). 

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To prepare for the arrival honors, PNoy asked me to walk him through what to expect. 

"So, dapat may eye contact habang pinupulot ko yung dart?"

"Yes, sir." 

"Eh dun sa hongi, kailangan ba may eye contact din?" 

At first, I thought it was awkward question, but it's actually very valid, an example of how detail-oriented he is. It's important to get these tiny nuances right or else PNoy might commit a cultural or diplomatic faux pas and embarrass the Philippines.

I didn't know the answer, so I double-checked with the New Zealand liaison officer, who answered that with or without eye contact is fine.

And here’s a post of Ignacio’s journals where he wrote about his days working with the President. 

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