Our BFF, Belinda “Lindy” Aquino

The divas’ birthday treat to Lindy at El Cielo, Waikiki in January 2024. Seated from left to right are Bea Ramos Razon, Melody Calisay, Divina Telan Robillard, the honoree Lindy Aquino, and Nieva Elizaga.

by Divina Telan Robillard

If you think she’s sprouted wings and gone to heaven, you’ve got another thing coming. She is alive, walks with a cane, and can still kick butt, but she prefers not to.”

After retirement, it is unusual to be the star of, yet another party held in your honor.

At the retirement party held pau hana, you pick up your gifts while the young get drunk, and the person who replaces you in your position sends you to pasture singing praises.

After that, the next gig in your name is when you’re flying out of your old body with new angel wings, and your grandson is reading your eulogy.Not quite, our Lindy.

Professor Belinda “Lindy” Aquino is one of those exceptional humans destined to have people continually admiring her, way past retirement because of what she is and has truly become—one of the community’s most reliably admirable people.Lindy, as she is fondly called, was born the youngest of twelve siblings.

Dad Aquino was hoping for a son but got Lindy instead, naming her Billy. This might explain why she has a fondness for the male get-up.

For any other reason, we don’t really care. She is just one heck of a person to know and have as a friend.This privilege, I didn’t have until she was just retired.

Before that, she was a colleague of my late husband, Britt, at the University of Hawaii College of Social Sciences where he was a Sociology Professor and she was the founding Director of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Center for Philippine Studies, among many other remarkable academic feats.

Even though we were both members of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association, she was a brilliant star in the firmament and I was a mere earthling.

But we eventually grew close as we started going out socially as the divas alongside UPAAH friends Nieva Elizaga, Melody Calisay, and Bea Ramos-Razon.

I don’t know how the five of us were named divas but we certainly don’t act like prima donnas. In fact, we’re like old faithful and reliables in UPAAH. We are there to support every project, and oftentimes, we lead, coordinate, and become foot-soldier.We all love to eat and talk stories. We dine out regularly, often laughing boisterously. Lindy has never driven a car, so Melody or I would pick her up.

Our long dinners (and lately, lunches) would be punctuated by a lot of teasing, laughing, and Marites-ing.

One day while having lunch, Lindy brought out a folded Time magazine from her purse and declared: “It’s time to talk about more serious topics.”

And because she is Lindy, we knew she was not joking. We all threw our unchewed lettuce and leftover fishbones at her.

“My God, Lindy!” we exclaimed. “We are together because we want to forget those things!”

But that is our Lindy. She loves to talk about why things are the way they are in the world. She likes to debate the merits of local and national issues. In many ways, she is the female Don Quixote who took down a nasty windmill or two.

It’s probably hard to take on a light-hearted attitude when you have seen what she has in her lifetime and felt you could do more. Even if it is merely by pinning down your friends when they are flighty and flibbertigibbet.

No, she didn’t get us to talk Time magazine stuff that day, and she understood it was neither the time nor place.

The Lindy, the public persona, speaks with a mighty pen, as in her book, “Politics of Plunder: The Philippines Under Marcos,” the definitive read about the ill-gotten wealth of the dictator based on the items retrieved from the plane the Marcoses flew into exile in Hawaii.

The book was written under the aegis of the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG), created by then-Philippine President Corazon Aquino in February 1986 established shortly after she was sworn in as President to investigate and recover monies stolen from the Filipino people by Ferdinand Marcos, whether the wealth is in the Philippines or abroad.

Aside from this task, the PCGG also has the power to investigate other graft and corruption cases. Thus, when Lindy speaks ex Cathedra, we listen; well, most of the time.

BFF Lindy sometimes manages to pull rank (and age) but when you are among UP alums, you have to fight for your time on stage with the other so-called starirays.

She also speaks with her checkbook, supporting causes outside political science such as the PBS documentary series titled Nature which airs every Wednesday night in Hawaii.

How did I find out? One party night, she was rushing me to take her home. Nature was on TV and she was eager to watch!

I shook my head in despair because the night was young, and I hadn’t had my fill of a good time. “Next time, take an Uber!” I joked.

Imagine this octogenarian in her pajamas on the couch, a spoon in a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s, her mouth agape over turtles cavorting in the sand. I say octogenarian because that’s what I believe; she neither confirms nor denies. She has to be as old as the mountains!

Before Lindy retired, she created an Endowment Fund named after her mother, Teresa, at the University of the Philippines College of Nursing.

Teresa was aiming to be one of the first nurse graduates of the Philippine General Hospital School of Nursing when the war broke out. Thus, she never finished her degree and got married instead.

That’s probably why Lindy has a soft heart for nurses like Bea Ramos-Razon and me. She supports our causes; Bea’s Hawaii Nurses and Mentors, Inc. (HiNAMI) and my ALS Foundation of Hawaii (ALSFH).

HiNAMI provides free RN-NCLEX reviews to immigrants in Hawaii. While ALSFH supports creating a smart home for patients with ALS in Hawaii who cannot be cared for at home.

But do beware when you think of approaching her with a proposal, she still has a sharp mind, and always comes up with good reasons to say no.

Lindy would say: “How can a spinster like me make money as a mere professor? In Hawaii, no less? Have you ever met a rich social scientist? Maybe if I were a computer scientist from MIT, ala wen! Hay, sus Apo!”

While she is generous to a fault, she could also be outraged by overspending. Like that one birthday night, the divas were having dinner at Roy’s Hawaii Kai. Lindy complained of having had a bad tummy the past few days, so Nieva ordered soup for her that evening, and no more.

When it came to divvying up the cost of the dinner, Lindy made no noise but every dinner after that, she would never let us forget the issue of her $50 soup! Which never fails to start a round of hysterical laughter.

Our Lindy – it’s too bad I didn’t approach her earlier in life as we were both crazy busy. I was a caregiver to my husband, and she was the academic bigwig. I would have sat longer at her feet.

At least now, we have built a solid friendship that’s strongly sailing through our Third Act of life.

Nowadays, she is more frail and less astute in her pronouncements, yet she remains steadfast in the values that she fought for when she was young and strong.

Our youth look to her presence in every meeting of the Hawaii Filipinos for Justice, Truth, and Democracy, an organization formed after former-Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo’s losing 2022 presidential campaign to keep our eyes on the ball and the values worth fighting for.

More importantly, the organization aims to have our young people focus on what is eternally good for, not only Filipinos but for all citizens of the world: truth, justice, and democracy.

There she would stand, swaying in the wind, a chair behind, ready to catch her if she swayed any further. Her voice is soft and gentle but resolute, as she rallies the young to do their part in the long, hard road to justice for all.

She meanders in her message (she loves to talk), then one of us, would put an arm around her shoulders, take the mic away from her hold, and lead her to sit.

She understands, she smiles wanly one more time, yields the floor to a young man, and watches proudly over her brood.

We are telling her now, while she is here among us that we admire and appreciate her.

We love you, Lindy.

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