Ex-Philippine President Benigno Aquino III dies

BenarNews staff
Manila
2021-06-24
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Ex-Philippine President Benigno Aquino III dies Then-President Benigno Aquino III speaks to members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, in Manila, Oct. 23, 2013.
FOCAP handout

Former Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who led Manila to victory in an international arbitration court’s ruling against Beijing over its expansive claims to the South China Sea, died Thursday of complications from a lingering illness, his sister said. He was 61.

The only son of former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., who was assassinated in 1983, and Corazon Aquino, who served as president following an uprising that led to the 1986 ouster of longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Aquino carried on the family’s tradition in politics. He served in the Philippine House and Senate prior to winning the 2010 presidential election.

Pinky Aquino-Abellada said her brother died peacefully in his sleep.

“His death certificate pronounced his death at 6:30 a.m., due to renal disease secondary to diabetes,” Abellada said in a brief statement. “No words can express how broken our hearts are and how long it will take for us to accept the reality that he is gone.”

Aquino, who never married and had no children, was awaiting a transplant at the time of his death, according to a former political adviser and a close friend who declined to be named, adding that the former president had recently lost a drastic amount of weight.

Aquino swept into power a year after the death of his mother, Corazon, in 2009. In 1987, one year after she took office, Benigno Aquino III was shot five times when rebel soldiers tried to topple her government in a coup. A bullet remained lodged in Aquino’s neck. Three of his body guards died in the attack.

He left office at the end of his constitutionally limited six-year term in 2016, but not before shepherding into law key legislation.

This included a family planning law that angered the church – the most influential religious institution in the predominantly Catholic Philippines – because it backed the use of prophylactics. He also led the passage of a law that called for reparations for thousands of Filipinos who were killed by the Marcos regime, which declared martial law in 1972.

‘He tried to do what was right’

Tributes poured in from political allies and foes alike for Aquino, who tried to keep his promise to the people of the Philippines whom he said were his “bosses.”

President Rodrigo Duterte, who succeeded Aquino and often criticized him, issued a statement expressing sympathy for his sisters, Ballsy, Pinky, Viel and Kris.

“Let us take this opportunity to unite in prayer and set aside our differences as we pay respects to a leader who has given his best to serve the Filipino people,” Duterte said. “His memory and his family’s legacy of offering their lives for the cause of democracy will remain forever etched in our hearts.”

The president declared a 10-day period of national mourning for his predecessor that would run through July 3.

Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, asked reporters for a moment of silence and offered a prayer for Aquino.

Duterte’s vice president, Leni Robredo, issued a statement as well.

“The news of PNoy’s death is heart shattering,” she said, using one of Aquino’s nicknames. “He tried to do what was right even when it was not popular.”

Robredo, who is among the leaders of the opposition to Duterte, said Aquino was a quiet worker who always thought of the public’s welfare.

“He was a man of both kindness and toughness. And PNoy was, first and foremost, a man of integrity and honor, a man who always put the welfare of the people front and center,” Robredo said. “No amount of historical distortion can change the truth: That every decision he made was oriented toward the betterment of the Filipino people.”

Sen. Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator, also offered her condolences.

“I will always treasure the memories of our long years together as freshmen legislators and members of a tiny opposition,” she said about their shared opposition to Gloria Arroyo, who served as president from 2001 to 2010. 

“For beyond politics and much public acrimony, I knew Noynoy as a kind and simple soul,” she said, using another nickname.

Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen, whom Aquino had appointed to the bench in 2012 after he headed a panel negotiating peace with Muslim rebels in the south, described the late president as kind and “diligent with his duties.”

“I saw him carry his title with dignity,” Leonen said.

John Law, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Manila, offered condolences as well.

“We are saddened by President Aquino’s passing and will always be thankful for our partnership,” Law said in a tweet.

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A woman places flowers outside the Manila home of former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, June 24, 2021. [Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

Landmark ruling 

A month after Duterte took office in 2016, an international arbitration court at The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines over China in a territorial dispute on the South China Sea. The ruling was based on a complaint filed four years earlier after the Chinese occupied Scarborough Shoal, just west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a critic of Duterte, praised Aquino for the ruling and for his efforts as president.

In a text message to BenarNews, she said he was a respected statesman who “fought enormous battles for our national sovereignty. His strong stand led to our historic win at The Hague in 2016, leaving behind a legacy of hope and justice for generations to come.”

Duterte did not enforce The Hague’s ruling and instead chose to focus on ties with China by seeking closer economic cooperation. Despite Duterte’s efforts, China has ramped up the presence of its fishing and military fleet in disputed South China Sea areas.

It was only last year that Duterte, during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, said the ruling was “beyond compromise.”

Botched commando raid

Aquino’s time in office as president was marred by controversy over a botched raid in the southern Philippines that resulted in the deaths of 44 police commandos in January 2015.

He had greenlighted the operation by commandos whose mission was to capture Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan). Marwan was killed, but because of a lapse in communication, members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – a group that had signed a peace deal with the Aquino administration a year earlier – thought they were being attacked and opened fire on the police officers.

MILF officials, who now control an autonomous region in the south, testified at a congressional inquiry that they were not told about the raid in advance, in violation of previously agreed upon protocols.

Basilio Sepe, Jojo Riñoza and Froilan Gallardo contributed to this report from Manila, and Dagupan City and Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.

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