When love falls apart

Captain Gisela Bendong-Boniel was making waves as the first female pilot of a budget airline.

Mayor Niño Rey Boniel of Bien Unido was making a mark, not just as one of the youngest chief executives in Bohol but for improving his town’s classification from 5th class to 4th class.

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When they got married in 2015, their constituents thought it was a union made in heaven. They elected Gisela as mayor in 2016 to replace her husband who also won as 2nd district board member.

On the outside, everything looked well between the couple. But on Thursday, the residents were shocked with the news that the body of their mayor was thrown into the sea after she was allegedly killed by her husband.

Danilo Salabe, 40, said he didn’t expect that tragedy would fall on their favorite couple.

“We were sad when we heard the news,” said Danilo, who is managing the Dive Camp.

Another resident, Eisen Avenido, 51, described the couple as “good people.”

“Mayor Giselle is very close to the people, especially the senior citizens. She is a pilot, young, pretty and on top of it, a mayor,” he added.

Happier times. Board member Niño Rey Boniel with his wife Mayor Gisela Bendong-Boniel. File Photo/Nestor Daarol

Gay Mabanag-Delima, 36, councilor of Barangay Poblacion in Bien Unido said the news about the Boniel couple left them in a state of shock.

“How I wish they will not be able to find her body so there is still a chance that she is alive,” she said.

Gisela, 40 and a native of Iligan City, had made history in the male-dominated aviation industry as the first female pilot of AirAsia Philippines with a rank of captain.

Her high school friends said that she had always been fascinated by planes since she was a little girl. In turning her dream into a reality, she inspired other women to take courage in pursuing their aspirations.

On Feb. 28, 2016, she received a commendation for outstanding airmanship after she steered an AirAsia plane to safety at Mactan Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City even if the plane only had one working engine.

Niño also made his own mark in his town in Bien Unido, about 108 km from the capital Tagbilaran City.

Although he is from Bohol, he studied in Cebu and a product of the University of San Carlos where he studied from elementary to college. He finished Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and later took up Law while running his businesses. But he dropped out in his second year in law school because of his work.

Aside from an insurance firm, Niño owned Diamond Trading that imports vehicles from Japan and a restaurant in SM City. He was a also a Director of ABN Dreamworks Corporation. Niño returned to Bien Unido to  follow the footsteps of his father  Cosme who became a town mayor in 1980s.

At 29, he was elected mayor in 2007 election and was the second youngest chief executive in Bohol’s history.

During his term, he elevated Bien Unido’s economic status from 5th to 4th class town. He also tried to put the town in the tourism map by joining the Sinulog Grand Parade in Cebu and the Sandugo Festival in Bohol.

He also put up the Dive Camp, an accommodation to bring in tourists and divers who wanted to experience the Bien Unido Double Barrier Reef.

The Danajon Reef is the only documented double barrier reef in the Philippines and reportedly, one of only six in the entire world. Niño also improved the water system and infrastructure, while addressing the other concerns such as health and sanitation, livelihood and peace and order.

Niño was also instrumental in curbing illegal fishing in the coastal municipality. He put up underwater grotto near the coral reefs of the Danajon Double Barrier Reef consisting of 14-foot tall statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Sto. Niño (the Child Jesus).

“Illegal fishers will be scared when they see these images,” he told the reporters during the launching several years ago.

Since the mayor was a bachelor, his constituents were curious if he would settle down and with whom since he was seen with several women. Most of his ex-girlfriends were older than him.

In 2010, Niño introduced Gisela to his friends. Five years later, the two got married. They have a three-year-old son.

The Boniel couple had a promising political career especially that they looked good together and had good credentials, said a local official who asked not be named.

Indeed, Gisela won over the hearts of the residents of Bien Unido when she ran for mayor in 2016. She had grand plans for the town that remained underdeveloped and unfrequented by tourists unlike other towns in Bohol.

When she was sworn into office last year, Gisela said her priorities would be to bring in tourists as well as provide health services, education and livelihood to her constituents.

Since she was criticized by her lack of experience in public service, Gisela took a crash course in local governance at the National College of Public Administration and Governance in Quezon City.

Although Niño and Gisela were seen together in public functions, their marriage started to rock in December last year when Gisela was attacked on Facebook by her husband’s political opponents and was dragged into controversies involving her husband.

Financial problems also took a toll on her marriage after Gisela took out a big loan to finance a watch business and to buy a watch worth P2.5 million. Niño reportedly got angry because Gisela could not pay off her debts. But some close friends of the couple told the Inquirer that what infuriated Niño was Gisela’s move to file a petition for annulment.

“She discovered that her husband used her for his political advancement,” said another friend.

Friends of Gisela have taken to social media to express their sadness over her reported death.

Loraine Anne Marie Baguio, a flight attendant at AirAsia Philippines, posted on Facebook: “I still can’t believe this news. Really?? A very reputable woman pilot was killed by her husband?? Rest in peace Capt Gisel. I am deeply hurt right now and I know the Air Asia family is also sad by this sudden news. May justice prevail in your death. My condolences to the Biel family.”

One of her friends, Grace, posted her photos with Gisela on her Facebook account. The caption read: “Giselle I am going to miss you more than words can say.”

“I can’t believe such a beautiful soul is gone so soon,” she said.

Rep. Erico Aristotle Aumentado of Bohol’s second district said that he was saddened by the tragic events involving the couple who was close to him.

“We all have our own marital problems which we try to solve in a discreet and private manner. I understand that lives of politicians take so much of one’s time from the family. This sometimes breaks down the closeness of siblings,” Aumentado said.

“While I wish to understand their situation, we also have laws to obey. Let justice move,” he added.

Bohol Gov. Edgar M. Chatto said they did not know that the couple had problems.

“Board Member Boniel deserves due process as he is brought to the bar of justice,” he said in a statement.

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