SUDBURY, Massachusetts—Dr. Mario Bucal used to tell his late friend Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. that the Filipino opposition leader would one day be the President of the Philippines.
Ninoy never made it to Malacañang. He was assassinated as he stepped off a plane on his return in 1983 from three years of self-exile in the United States.
Instead it was Ninoy’s wife, Corazon, and son, Noynoy, who both became leaders of the country.
On Saturday night, the son arrived in Boston for a four-day personal and working visit in the United States following a four-nation tour of Europe the past week. He will stop by the Bucal home on Sunday.
Needless to say, it was an indescribable feeling for Bucal and his wife, Norma, to host a private lunch for President Aquino at their home in Sudbury, 28 kilometers from Boston.
A handful of others had been invited to the lunch, which had been kept under wraps because the President wanted to have a private time with his parents’ dear friends while in exile. They included mostly doctors, which led them to tease Ninoy that he had a personal team of physicians who would attend to him while he recuperated from his heart surgery.
When the Inquirer visited the Bucals’ home on Saturday, there was hardly a clue that a presidential convoy would be pulling up their driveway the next day. The neighborhood was quiet and the soft, cool breeze of autumn gave a languid feel that belied the excitement felt by the household.
“It is exciting and nerve-wracking!” Norma, 73, admitted. Yes, the Secret Service had been there, she said.
Mario Bucal, 75, brought out their photographs with the Aquinos when they were in Boston, and included one with Noynoy at Cape Cod.
The Bucals had lived in their home since 1962, and they had played host to two Presidents after their terms, Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada, now the Manila mayor, former first lady Amelita Ramos and last year, Vice President Jejomar Binay.
But this is the first time, the couple noted, that a sitting President would be having a meal with them.
The Bucals had put two tables together to accommodate 14 people. They had been set as early as Saturday morning.
Coke already chilled
Norma brought out her best silverware, candles on yellow ceramic holders (yellow, she said, has always been her favorite color) in lieu of flowers (the President is allergic to pollen), her dainty capiz napkin holders and goblets, even if she wouldn’t be serving any wine (Aquino does not drink alcohol.)
The Coke was, however, already chilled, so was the bottled water. The menu was New England cuisine: clam chowder, steak, lobster, spareribs and salmon. Norma would be cooking the steak, spareribs and lobster herself.
For dessert, there’s a cake from a Filipino baker, designed like a Philippine flag with “Welcome, Mr. President!” written on it. There would also be baklava, mixed fruits and other sweets.
The Bucals wondered why the quiet son of Ninoy and Cory would want to meet with his parents’ old friends. They had never really formed a bond with him during the Aquino family’s stay in Massachusetts.
“He is a quiet guy, maybe because he was the only son. He was usually on his own or he went out with his friends,” Norma said.
She recalled that once in a while, Noynoy would make a quick appearance at the Bucal home whenever there were gatherings while Ninoy and Cory were there with their daughters.
“He would come and say ‘Hi, hello, Tita (aunt),’ give us a kiss, and then ‘Goodbye,’” Norma laughed. “But you know, whom would he really talk to here? We were all girls and we’re old. At least [his sisters] could communicate with us. Maybe he also felt out of place.”
Just like any family
The President was then in his early 20s. Simple and down-to-earth was how Norma remembered Noynoy.
Patty Yusah hardly recalled seeing the President in the Aquino home whenever they went there to play mah-jongg with Ninoy and Cory or have dinner and watch the mini-series “The Thorn Birds” starring Richard Chamberlain.
But her husband, Dr. Winnie Yusah, said he did see Noynoy at times. The Yusah couple were among the other couples invited to the private lunch at the Bucal home with the President.
“Noynoy was a quiet boy. And you know, his father was very gregarious,” Patty said.
Norma thinks that maybe even if the President never really mingled with them at that time, he was aware of this group of friends’ closeness to his parents. He may have quietly observed the joy that his parents felt with this set of friends who brought them to another world away from the harshness of martial law.
Opposition figures streamed in and out of the Aquino home in Boston. But with the Bucals, the Yusahs and their other friends, the Aquinos were just like any other family. They spent weekends at Cape Cod, played mah-jongg, had dinners. “We never really talked about politics, except for our husbands, who once in a while talked about it with Ninoy,” Norma said.
Norma wondered what they would be talking about with Aquino in the two and a half hours he had asked to spend with them and their families. She surmised that it might be President Aquino who would be interviewing them.
Meeting with Kennedy
“I think he will walk through memory lane as he looks back to the days that he spent here in Boston,” Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. told reporters on Saturday.
The President will also visit his family’s former house, a two-story red brick, in Newton, 15 km outside Boston, now owned by a retired American schoolteacher. He is scheduled to meet with Rep. Joseph Kennedy III at Bill’s Pizzeria, a favorite of the young Aquino.
Aquino has also asked if his favorite Chinese restaurant is still open. It is.
The President and his entourage spent Saturday night in Boston without any official activities.
Aquino’s Boston visit will officially begin on Sunday with the private lunch, the visit to his old home and a 3 p.m. Mass at Boston College. He will give a speech at a reception with the Filipino-American community from Boston and New York.
He will also meet with the recipients of the Benigno and Corazon Aquino Scholarship at Boston College.
In his speeches at Boston College, the JFK Forum at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Columbia University in New York City, the President is expected to talk about the Philippines’ call for adherence to the rule of law in resolving the territorial dispute with China, as well as the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a cornerstone of his administration.
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