December 5, 2023

One of the perks of being a member of Congress during my time was being able to use various modes of transportation to bring us to our duties “in aid of legislation.” Whether by sea, air or land, government saw to it that we get to our destination and in a short time at that.
One midnight, I got a call from the aide-de-camp of then President Fidel V. Ramos (PFVR) who wanted me to join him in a visit to Nueva Vizcaya and Bokod, Benguet. Curtly, the message said “Be at Malacanang PSG (Presidential Security Group) grounds at 5 a.m.”
Off I went at 3 a.m. since I lived in Cainta, Rizal and after the usual security checks, rode the blue and white Sikorsky helicopter. It was a “limousine with air conditioning, soundproofing, music, and the works.”
But we had a Pangasinense president and catering services were not available on board. The menu was Skyflakes and bottled water, no more, no less, which is not heaven-sent considering that we did not have breakfast yet.
On board with us were then Public Works and Highways Secretary Gregorio Vigilar, Lt/Gen. Bennet Lewia, and Assemblyman Dave O’ Valderrama, PFVR’s classmate at Westpoint and Maryland.
Along the way, PFVR tells the story of the presidents of the United States, Russia, and China all riding in a helicopter. Suddenly, the American president, overcome with pride for his country, takes out a stack of bills from his pocket, and throws it out of the helicopter, yelling, “My country has a lot of money!”
Seeing this, the president of Russia takes out a bottle of vodka and throws it out, shouting, “My country has a lot of alcohol!”
The president of China, after thinking, takes both American and Russian presidents and throws them out of the helicopter, yelling, “My country has a lot of people!”
The helicopter then turns from one point to another and the moment it lands, bedlam begins as PFVR is welcomed by the ordinary tao. He mingles with people and asks them to join him for photographs with “thumbs up”, talking to them, laughing and enjoying their company.
He even asked veterans without dentures to sign up and in one month’s time, he will send them a set. Then come the usual speeches. Around late afternoon, Assemblyman Dave nudges me and asked when were we going to eat? Your guess is as good as mine. No wonder the guards look like zombies – hungry and tired like us.
Once we went to Laoag City, Ilocos Norte using the Huey helicopter of the Air Force, we were picked at Loakan Airport and present were then Reps. Victor Dominguez of Mountain Province, Elias Bulut Sr. of Apayao, and Ronnie Cosalan of Benguet. The ride was bumpy. I imagined slamming into the mountains in the flying coffin and making the constituents happy but we arrived safely and motored to Abra where we were hosted by then police provincial director Col. Roger Elvena.
When we were supposed to fly back, were informed that we can’t because the Huey had mechanical problems, so the Presidential Management Staff arranged for a stay at Fort Ilocandia where food was abundant and booze was overflowing. Some of us played at the casino until the wee hours at umuwing luhaan until we were fetched by a jet and arrived at the Villamor Airbase in time for breakfast at the Intercontinental Hotel.
Once or twice, then Philippine National Police Chief Recaredo Sarmiento would loan me his helicopter. One of those instances was when I had to attend an event in Bakun, Benguet with then Gov. Rocky Molintas. The helicopter brought me back to the helipad of the Batasang Pambansa where security personnel panicked as we were not in their flight plan. Of course, the young pilots were given a dressing down for breaching security protocols.
Then we flew again on the Sikorsky. I look at the Speaker, chuckle and say, “You know sir, I could throw a P1,000 bill out the window right now and make one person very happy.”
The Speaker shrugs his stiff shoulders and says, “Well, I could throw 10 P1,000 bills out the window and make 10 people very happy.”
The President tosses his perfectly combed hair and says, “I could throw 100 P1,000 bills out the window and make a hundred people very happy.”
The co-pilot rolls his eyes, looks at all of us and says, “I could throw all three of you out the window and make the whole country happy.”
And the co-pilot was immediately retired from service…joke.