Former President Benigno Aquino, a member of the Philippines’ political dynasty, dies at 61

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, the son of pro-democracy icons who helped overthrow dictator Ferdinand Marcos and an advocate for good governance who took China’s vast territorial claims to an international tribunal, has died. He was 61 years old.

Aquino’s family told a news conference that he died in his sleep early Thursday due to “kidney failure secondary to diabetes.” A former firm official, Rogelio Singson, said Aquino had undergone dialysis and was preparing for a kidney transplant.

“Mission accomplished Noy, be happy now with mom and dad,” said Pinky Aquino-Abellada, a sister of the late 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. Philippine flags were flown at half-mast on government buildings.

Long-standing rivalry with the Marcos regime

Aquino, who served as president from 2010 to 2016, was 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 “people power” revolt that ousted Marcos. The military-backed uprising has become a harbinger of popular revolts against authoritarian regimes around the world.

Aquino is pictured with outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during her inauguration ceremony in Manila June 30, 2010. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

Descended from a wealthy landowning political clan in the northern Philippines, Aquino, affectionately called Noynoy or Pnoy by many Filipinos, built the image of an incorruptible politician who fought against poverty and frowned upon the excesses of the country’s elites. , including powerful politicians. .

Aquino, whose family went into exile in the United States during Marcos’s rule, had turbulent ties to China as president. After China seized a disputed shoal in 2012 following a tense standoff in the South China Sea, Aquino allowed a lawsuit to be filed with an international arbitration tribunal.

“We won’t be pushed around because we’re a small state compared to theirs,” Aquino told The Associated Press in June 2011. “We think we have very strong reasons to say ‘don’t encroach on our territory “.

The Philippines have largely won. But China refused to join the arbitration and dismissed as a sham the 2016 tribunal ruling, which invalidated Beijing’s claims based on a 1982 United Nations maritime treaty. Relations between Beijing and Manila have reached a historically low level.

Reaction from a senator who was imprisoned during Duterte’s tenure:

Seriously injured in a shooting in 1987

A graduate in economics, he pursued business opportunities before entering politics. During his mother’s tumultuous presidency, he was shot and wounded in a failed coup attempt in 1987 by rebel soldiers who tried to besiege the heavily guarded presidential palace in Malacanang. 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, then successfully ran for the Senate. Aquino announced his presidential campaign in September 2009, saying he was answering the people’s call to continue his mother’s legacy. She had died a few weeks earlier of colon cancer.

Aquino is seen in August 2007 with his mother, former Philippine President Corazon Aquino. Corazon Aquino died two years later, aged 75. (Jes Aznar/AFP/Getty Images)

He won with a battle 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 launched anti-poverty programs, the deep-seated inequalities and weak institutions in the Southeast Asian country ravaged by decades-old Communist and Muslim insurgencies remained too discouraging.

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 major infrastructure projects such as highways and airports.

The Ambassador of Canada to the Philippines:

One of Aquino’s major successes was signing a peace deal in 2014 with the largest Muslim separatist rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This has facilitated decades of fighting in the south of the country, home to Muslim minorities in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

Retired from politics after his term

Opponents hammered missteps including a Manila bus hostage-taking that ended in the shooting deaths of eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong by a disgruntled police officer, and delays in recovery efforts in the aftermath of the disastrous Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Aquino faced heavy criticism in 2015 for his absence from 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 one of Asia’s most wanted terrorist suspects.

Aquino’s six-year term ended in 2016. He gave way to populist Duterte, whose deadly crackdown on illegal drugs has killed thousands of mostly underage drug suspects.

Aquino is shown May 8, 2015 in Ottawa, meeting Stephen Harper, then Prime Minister. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Aquino campaigned against Duterte, warning that he could be an impending dictator and could roll back the democracy and economic momentum achieved under his own tenure.

After leaving office, Aquino remained aloof from politics and the public eye.

Aquino never married and had no children. He is survived by four sisters.