[PHOTO AT LEFT - President-elect Benigno Aquino III talks about his father Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. during a recent interview at the Aquino residence in Quezon City. Right photo shows father and son at their home in Boston. VAL RODRIGUEZ]

MANILA , JUNE 20, 2010 (STAR) By Joanne Rae Ramirez 

MANILA, Philippines - President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III vowed on the day his father Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was assassinated that he wouldn’t let him down in his unfinished quest for true democracy in the Philippines.

“When my father was assassinated, I decided that I would not compete with his memory, but the priority would be to achieve his dream,” Aquino said in a recent interview.

As the world celebrates Father’s Day today, Aquino also took time to reminisce the happy times he spent with his father, whose death 27 years ago was the spark that ignited the Filipino people’s quest for democracy after more than a decade of dictatorship.

His youngest sister Kris Aquino-Yap also said in a TV interview that when she and her siblings asked him why he was seeking the presidency, Aquino answered, “For country, Dad and Mom.”

Aquino’s mother, the late former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, led the peaceful people power revolution that finally led to the restoration of democracy in the Philippines.

From road trips to Baguio in a “Kennedy” jeep to horseback rides, happy memories of his late father and namesake abound in the president-elect’s mind amid the painful recollections of his seven-year incarceration and assassination in 1983.

Asked by The STAR about his fondest memory of his late father, the president-elect said, “I remember most his tendency to be a doting father. He had the capacity to spoil, but he always held back and you could really see the effort he made not to spoil his children.”

For instance, he would make it a point to add to Noynoy’s allowance, saying what he received was just from his mother Cory and “Eto naman sa akin (And this is from me).”

Noynoy remembers being asked by his father to join him in the Kennedy jeep (a jeep without doors that Ninoy liked to call his “new toy”) on the road to Baguio while the rest of his siblings followed in the family car, which had a hard time negotiating the twists and turns. In Baguio, Ninoy proudly watched Noynoy as he triumphantly rode a horse.

He also made sure there was fun in the young Noynoy’s life even as he was exposed to politics. Noynoy’s first campaign sortie was to a Goya chocolate factory, where he received lots of chocolate bars as he distributed leaflets.

“Many times in the midst of the darkest situations, he kept his sense of humor at nabubuhay niya talaga kami (he kept our spirits up),” the president-elect recalls of his father.

But there was a time when Ninoy couldn’t sustain his sense of humor - in a military camp in Laur, Nueva Ecija in 1973.

“At the time, the family didn’t even know where Dad was - just that they surrendered all that was in his cell to us, even his toothbrush. When Mom asked why even the toothbrush, the WAC officer said, ‘Hindi na niya kakailanganin pa ito (He will no longer have any need for this),’” Noynoy recalled in an earlier interview.

After pressure from human rights groups was exerted on the government, Cory and her five children were driven to a seemingly God-forsaken place in Laur.

“Pakitid ng pakitid ang daan (the road became narrower and narrower), then I saw what looked like a German concentration camp that I would see in the movies. There were barbed wires all over, with electric wires attached to them.”

He says his encounter with his emaciated father through the barbed wires of Fort Magsaysay was “the start of truly growing up.”

“Son, bahala ka na sa Mommy mo at sa mga kapatid mo (Son, it’s up to you now to take care of your Mommy and sisters),” he quotes his father as having told him. He was only 13 years old then.

Despite what their father went through, Noynoy, according to his eldest sister Ballsy Cruz, inherited Ninoy’s “love of country.”

Pinky Abellada, the second Aquino sibling, and Viel Dee, the fourth, agree with their only brother that Ninoy was a doting father who tried to give his children the world.

“I must have been 12 and Dad went abroad and asked what I wanted. I said I wanted rings. He came home with about a dozen assorted rings - one of them even had the Peace logo - and I so loved them!” Pinky recalls.

She also laughs at the memory of a trip to San Francisco Ninoy took in 1980 after his release from prison and heart bypass operation. “Ballsy and I were going to accompany him to an important meeting. He insisted on wearing his ‘new’ checkered jacket. It was actually seven years old but it was never worn due to his imprisonment. Ballsy and I begged him not to use it. But he said, ‘Bago ito, never used.’ We took the tram and in the tram, he noticed that people were staring at his jacket, and so he whispered, ‘Mukha ngang ‘di na uso’!”

Viel has this poignant memory of their dad.

“My fondest memory of Dad happened way back in 1975, my graduation from Grade School. He was in jail then but he surprised everyone when he suddenly appeared in the school chapel. He secretly worked on requesting for a pass to attend my graduation since I was receiving high honors. I think that was the first time he was allowed to go out for a happy occasion since his arrest in 1972,” Viel, who was fondly called “Princess Genius” by Ninoy, recalls.

When his victory at the polls was evident, we asked Noynoy what his message to his Dad, who once sought the presidency and died in the quest for the return of democracy to the Philippines, was.

“Just thank you, thank you. For how he and Mom guided us,” was his reply. - With Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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