ILIGAN CITY – Friends and classmates of Maj. Michael Vincent Benolerao, one of the pilots of the ill-fated C-130 that crashed in Patikul, Sulu on July 4, grieve his tragic death as they recalled the good old times with him.
Benolerao, 38, a native of this city, graduated from the Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) Integrated Developmental School in 2000.
“Mike was a great leader and an inspiration to everyone at MSU-IIT Integrated Developmental School Batch 2000. We will celebrate his legacy every day,” said an art card posted on social media by Beatriz Arcinas Caṅedo, Benolerao’s former classmate.
Benolerao’s friends and classmates described him as patriotic and thoughtful who always found time to meet them whenever he was free.
A classmate in elementary at St. Michael’s College in Iligan, Gemma Banaynal, said she last saw him in September 2016 when he helped her as she transferred to another house.
Banaynal, a Philippine Airlines flight attendant, recalled how passionate Benolerao was in serving the country, choosing the Air Force over working at a commercial airline.
“He would consistently answer, ‘I love serving my country and I’m enjoying what I do.’ When we were in elementary, he always wanted to be an air force pilot and he did become one and remained one until the end,” she said in a phone interview.
Banaynal said Benolerao was already planning to retire in 2022 to marry his fiancé in Canada where his family now lives.
Karen Veloso, Benolerao’s high school classmate, described him as a person who would always make sure to meet his friends.
“I understand now why you always wanted to see us, your batchmates, wherever you happened to be. As much as we hate it, you were on borrowed time,” Veloso wrote in the tribute she posted on her social media page.
Retired Police Brig. Gen. Graciano Mijares, former regional director in the Bangsamoro region, shared that Benolerao was able to visit him at his house on January 16 this year.
Mijares said although his wife and Benolerao were classmates in elementary and high school, he only knew him when he was serving as city director of the Cagayan de Oro City Police in 2006.
Benolerao was a fresh graduate of the Philippine Military Academy when he paid Mijares a courtesy visit in the latter’s office.
“Since that visit, we became good friends and I find him a very well-loved person. Our last conversation during his visit (to) my house in January was about marriage. I asked him when he would get married and he answered, ‘Very soon,’” Mijares shared in a phone interview.
The city’s lone district Rep. Frederick Siao described Benolerao as a hero during the pandemic times, saying he was one of those who offered “selfless support without expecting any recognition.”
“He (Benolerao) transported PPE (personal protective equipment) and other supplies to our city during the lockdown. Through his help, we were able to get what we needed to get through this pandemic,” Siao posted on his official social media page. (PNA)