Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, the son of pro-democracy icons who helped topple dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a good governance advocate who brought China’s land claims to an international tribunal, has died. He was 61 years old.
Aquino’s family told a press conference that he died Thursday morning in his sleep from “kidney failure secondary to diabetes.” A former cabinet official, Rogelio Singson, said Aquino has undergone dialysis and is preparing for a kidney transplant.
“Mission accomplished Noy, be happy now with mom and dad,” said Pinky Aquino-Abellada, a sister of the former president, using her nickname and struggling to hold back tears.
Condolences poured in from politicians, the Catholic Church and others, including President Rodrigo Duterte, who announced a period of national mourning until July 3. Filipino flags have been half-masted on government buildings.
Long-standing rivalry with the Marcos regime
Aquino, who served as president from 2010 to 2016, was the heir to a family seen as a bulwark against authoritarianism in the Philippines.
His father, former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., was assassinated in 1983 while in military custody at Manila International Airport, which now bears his name. His mother, Corazon Aquino, led the 1986 “popular power” revolt that toppled Marcos. The army-backed uprising has become a harbinger of popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes around the world.
Coming from a wealthy political clan who owned land in the northern Philippines, Aquino, who was affectionately referred to as Noynoy or Pnoy by many Filipinos, built up the image of an incorruptible politician who fought against poverty and frowned at the excesses of the country’s elites, including powerful politicians. .
Aquino, whose family went into exile in the United States during Marcos’ reign, had turbulent ties to China as president. After China’s seizure of a disputed shoal in 2012 following a tug-of-war in the South China Sea, Aquino authorized the filing of a complaint before an international arbitration tribunal.
“We won’t be rushed because we’re a small state compared to theirs,” Aquino told The Associated Press in June 2011. “We think we have very strong grounds for saying ‘don’t break into our territory “.
The Philippines largely won. But China refused to join the arbitration and dismissed as a sham the 2016 court ruling, which invalidated Beijing’s claims on the basis of a 1982 United Nations maritime treaty. Manila have fallen to their lowest point.
Reaction of a senator imprisoned during Duterte’s tenure:
It has been an honor to serve the Filipino people with you, sir. #SalamatPNoy
📸: Rappler, PhilStar pic.twitter.com/OZQ9seHzQ1
Seriously injured in a shooting in 1987
With a degree in economics, he looked for business opportunities before entering politics. During his mother’s tumultuous presidency, he was shot and wounded in a failed 1987 coup attempt by rebel soldiers who attempted to besiege the heavily guarded Malacanang Presidential Palace. Three of his security escorts were killed. A bullet had remained embedded in his neck.
He won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1998, where he served until 2007, and then successfully ran for the Senate. Aquino announced his presidential campaign in September 2009, saying he was responding to the people’s call to continue his mother’s legacy. She had died a few weeks earlier from colon cancer.
He won with a war cry “without the corrupt, there will be no poor”. He called ordinary Filipinos his “boss” and offered himself as their servant.
As he fought corruption and initiated anti-poverty programs, the deep-seated inequalities and weak institutions in this Southeast Asian country ravaged by decades-old communist and Muslim insurgencies remained too intimidating.
Under Aquino, the government expanded a program that provides cash distributions to the poorest in exchange for parents’ commitment to send their children to school. It has also entered into partnership agreements between the government and the private sector to finance large infrastructure projects such as highways and airports.
The Ambassador of Canada to the Philippines:
Canada expresses its deepest condolences to the Filipino people, their families and their members; friends of former president Benigno S. Aquino III. By mourning his loss, President Aquino will be remembered as a leader committed to good governance &; prosperity, highlighted during his visit to Canada in 2015. pic.twitter.com/sFIZpS287M
One of Aquino’s main successes was the signing of a peace deal in 2014 with the largest Muslim separatist rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This has eased decades of fighting in the south of the country, home of Muslim minorities in the largely Roman Catholic nation.
Retired from politics after his term in office
Opponents made missteps, including a hostage crisis on a bus in Manila that ended in the shooting deaths of eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong by a disgruntled police officer, and delays in recovery efforts in following the disastrous consequences of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Aquino came under heavy criticism in 2015 for his absence at a ceremony at a Manila air base for the arrival of the remains of police commandos killed by Muslim insurgents in a secret raid that killed an of Asia’s most wanted terrorist suspects.
Aquino’s six-year term ended in 2016. He gave way to populist Duterte, whose murderous crackdown on illegal drugs has killed thousands of mostly underage drug suspects.
Aquino campaigned against Duterte, warning that he could be an impending dictator and could roll back the democracy and economic momentum achieved during his own tenure.
After leaving office, Aquino has remained aloof from politics and the public.
Aquino never married and did not have children. He is survived by four sisters.