"In memory of my good cousin Hernan; a true and loyal friend" --dinggol.d~~~
The time was long ago, when the "Aquino of Tarlac" that I knew was nurturing a dream to become the 11th President of the Philippines.
And so, our group in Iloilo with watering hole at "Felmas' Place" along Yulo Street in Iloilo City organized the "Friends of Ninoy-Iloilo Chapter" --headed by Ninoys' San Beda High School classmate and good buddy Hernan Peñaflorida Divinagracia of Pototan, Iloilo and by Ramonit Lopez of Jaro, Iloilo City. The group included Hernan's brother Rene, a staff member in the Senate office of the controversial Senator; Atty. Ramon Gonzales (of the Javellana vs Executive Secretary Supreme Court novel case); Raul Zarandin; Candit Pulmones; Manolet Custodio; Colay Borromeo; Boboy Jaleco; Bob Javelona; Dolping Besa; Johnny Cezar; Junior Juntado; Red Ortiz; Rudy Gorres; Virgil Vargas; KC Espinosa; EgmedioTraen of Antique; Ponsing Billones of Capiz; --many politicians mostly of the Liberal Party and others that I could no longer recall due to senior intellectual interlude.
Everytime Ninoy comes to Iloilo, he is without escort nor bodyguard but only his private plane pilot. And he always stay over-night nowhere else but at the Doña Aurora Subdivision residence of Hernan and Telly Piccio Yusay-Divinagracia in Iloilo City. And yes! we, the "Friends of Ninoy" acted as his personal bodyguards during his Iloilo sojourn. The last time the bespectacled Senator was in Iloilo was to act as principal sponsor in the christening of his former classmate youngest son named Benigno "Ninoy" Yusay Divinagracia.
When martial law was declared, the "Aquino of Tarlac" that I knew was the first arrested together with members of the political opposition and mass media; members of the academe, business and industry, labor, peasant and student leaders and others vocal against Malacanang.
During the early part of Ninoy Aquinos' incarceration, aside from his immediate family, those who dared visited him in the stockade, were very very few including Joker Arroyo and Hernan Divinagracia. Other close friends and many kins played it safe and shied away for fear being blacklisted by the martial law regime.
Then later, on that fateful day in August, 1983 history played its' role, and Ninoy's dream was destined to remain forever a dream. The tragic irony, his brutal assassination fulfilled his own words; "The Filipinos is worth dying for".
Hernan would again visit his "kumare Cory" and her children and stayed in their Times Street home in Quezon City; this time to sympathize and console with them during their moments of bereavement.
After the successful EDSA-I People's Power Revolution, when the plain housewife Cory was transformed into "Her Excellency Corazon C. Aquino, President of the Philippines"; my primo Hernan decided to set an appointment for a courtesy call to Malacanang. The palace "Cordon Sanitaire" wondered how and why a "nobody" named Hernan Divinagracia easily got approval to see Madam President. According to Hernan, after the usual intimate gestures, Cory asked him in front of Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo: "Pare Hernan, anong gusto mong position sa gobierno?" --the shy guy Hernan politely replied that he would prefer just a low profile liaison officer position. Right then and there, his appointment was processed as Liaison Officer in the Office of Political Affairs in Malacanang headed by fellow Visayans Secretary Antonio Cuenco of Cebu with Manny Festin Martinez of Romblon as Deputy Secretary. "Ang lakas mo pala kay Cory", remarked the Executive Secretary in gist.
Knowing his happy-go-lucky lifestyle and easy going attitude, who frowns on serious public obligations and sensitive government responsibilities, I was not at all surprised. Hernans' family own prime residential and commercial properties and vast tracts of rice land, sugar land and fishpond in Iloilo. However, politics is in his blood. His father Atty. Tranquilino Villa Divinagracia was one of Iloilo's delegate to the prewar Constitutional Convention and his first cousin Mariano B. Peñaflorida was long time Governor of Iloilo Province. Detailed in Malacanang's Political Affairs Office, Hernan as Liaison Officer was like a turtle thrown into the lake.
Thereafter, we would meet with other "Friends of Ninoy" chapters in social gatherings in Metro Manila and his former classmates including Cesar Yatco, etc. --I distinctly remember, in San Fernando, Pampanga the numerous glaring streamers "Ninoy a Dream, Cory the Reality!" displayed along strategic places when we visited the Office of Bren Guiao, newly appointed Governor of the Province. Pampanga Gov. Bren Guiao, a trusted Confidant was tasked by President Cory to coordinate personally with Hernan. The honest-to-goodness relationship between the two proved fruitful as many Ilonggos were benefited.
During the early 1990's, Hernando P. Divinagracia passed away. Cory Aquino and family extended sincere expression of sympathy to his family. Presently, perhaps, except for two of us, all aforementioned original members of the "Friends of Ninoy" in Iloilo have also gone beyond the great divide.
On August 1,2009, the most revered Philippine President Corazon C. Aquino joined her "kumpadre Hernan and Kumadre Telly" and other departed friends of her late charismatic husband, the "Aquino of Tarlac" that I knew, in the kingdom of their creator where there is no more death but only eternal joy!