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Abaya father and son

/ 11:24 PM October 07, 2012

When I was a senior at the Philippine Military Academy, one of the new cadets assigned to my platoon was a tall, lanky young man from the second district of Ilocos Sur. At that time, successful candidates for the PMA represented congressional districts. And so the Cadet Corps was made up of young boys that personified the country geographically. Today as in the past, the cadets represent the Filipino people in a manner that cannot be said of any other institution of the land.

Plaridel Madarang Abaya graduated with the Class of 1959, one of the smallest batches to finish at the academy. Of its 37 members, only 18 were from the original group that was admitted to the Academy in April 1955. Sebastian Arrastia was the class topnotcher, while Jose Ma. Zumel was first captain of the Corps. The father of Sen. “Sonny” Trillanes IV, Antonio F. Trillanes, was a member of their group. Two graduates of the US Military Academy, Pedro Baraoidan and William Manlongat, along with two products of the US Naval Academy, Carlos Agustin and Bonifacio Lomotan, are also part of the class.

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Upon graduation, Abaya was assigned to the Philippine Army but after a year, he was transferred to the Philippine Constabulary. After a tour of duty in Sulu, he was picked to serve as aide de camp to Brig. Gen. Eugenio Acab, then the AFP deputy chief of staff, also a brother-in-law of Gen. Manuel Yan.

When Acab retired from the service, Lieutenant Abaya was assigned to Cavite, at that time a hotbed of criminality and notorious for carnapping syndicates and blue-seal cigarette smuggling. (Lino Bocalan was a name to be reckoned with in those days. He controlled most of the illegal trade in blue-seal cigarettes that were offloaded along the Cavite coastline.) In vigorously running after criminal elements, Abaya displeased the local politicos who maneuvered to get him out of the province. They succeeded, and Abaya was sent to Malaysia to attend a Jungle Warfare course.

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During his stay in Cavite, Lieutenant Abaya found time to pursue other interests. Consuelo Aguinaldo, a pretty young lady from Kawit, would sometimes visit the camp where he was stationed. After a while, friendship blossomed into a romance that in the end united a descendant of Isabelo Abaya of Candon, Ilocos Sur, “one of the greatest heroes of the Revolution in the entire North” with the granddaughter of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the First Philippine Republic.

If I may digress a bit, history books tell us that Candon in Ilocos Sur derived its name from a tree known to the local people as “kandong.” The huge tree, with its extended, leafy branches, served as the center of the village both as a market place and some kind of courtyard where disputes were settled.

When the Spanish conquistadores arrived, they realized the importance of the tree in the life of the community. To crush the spirit of the natives, they cut down the tree and used its timber in the construction of the first Catholic Church in the area. They named the place “Candon,” their version of the “kandong” tree.

This was the hometown of Isabelo Abaya, who Orlino Ochosa referred to in his book “Viva Isabelo Abaya!” as Ilocos Sur’s “first nationalist rebel.” Many of his descendants have established themselves as leaders of the community in various professions and public service roles.

Consuelo Aguinaldo is the daughter of Emilio Aguinaldo Jr. She is a first cousin of retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Ameurfina Melencio Herrera and a second cousin of former Prime Minister Cesar EA. Virata.

After the Edsa Revolution, Plaridel Abaya opted for early retirement, deciding to try his hand at the political game. Running in the second district of Ilocos Sur against the incumbent Eric Singson, he realized that he had been away too long and was no longer in touch with his provincemates. They considered him more of a Caviteño and dealt him his first political defeat. In the following election, he ran again for congressman, this time in the first district of Cavite. The voters also rejected him, but for a different reason. They saw him as an Ilocano rather than a Caviteño. On his third try, he was able to convince the voters that although he had Ilocano roots, he was now a Caviteño at heart. He breezed through the succeeding elections, completing nine years in Congress, one of the few PMA graduates with this record in the political arena. Throughout his career, I have known him as a passionate foe of jueteng, the illegal numbers game that targets the marginalized sector of our society.

The union of the Abaya and Aguinaldo families produced six boys. The eldest, Peter Anthony, is the president and CEO of the Philippine Reclamation Authority.

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The second boy is Rep. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya, the incoming secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications and one of the most promising stars on the national horizon. This early, President Aquino has tagged him as a future president, considering his role as Liberal Party secretary-general, a post that P-Noy himself once held. Abaya is currently chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and will probably assume his new post after the passage of the national budget.

If one goes by his curriculum vitae, there is little doubt that Abaya is headed for an ever-increasing influential role in the life of the nation.

As a Philippine Science High School scholar, he was on the Dean’s List throughout his four years. In 1984, he topped the entrance exams for the PMA and by virtue of this accomplishment, he was sent to the US Naval Academy where he graduated in 1988 with distinction, ranking No. 23 in a class of 1,041 midshipmen. Two years later, he obtained a Master of Engineering degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In 2005, he finished at Ateneo University Law School and was admitted to the Philippine Bar the following year.

His actual work experience may be considered limited, but it is his role as a father that speaks volumes of his integrity and potential for leadership. He is probably the only congressman who drives his children to school and who personally tutors them after class.

Recently, P-Noy challenged him to restore the Philippines to Category 1 status in terms of international aviation safety standards. I have no doubt he will succeed in this task. The greater challenge facing him as he assumes the post of DOTC secretary is whether he will be able to continue driving his three kids to school and checking out their homework and passing onto them everything that brought him to where he is today.

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An Abaya relation that I wish to mention is former AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Narciso Abaya, a West Point graduate, Class of 1971. After retirement from the service, he was appointed president and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority. He is married to Susan Abaya, who served as undersecretary of the National Anti-Poverty Commission several years ago.

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TAGS: Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya, Narciso Abaya, people, Plaridel Madarang Abaya
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