MANILA, Philippines – (AP) – Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, the son of pro-democratic icons who helped overthrow dictator Ferdinand Marcos and had difficult ties with China, died Thursday, a cousin and officials said. He was 61.
Former Senator Bam Aquino said he was heartbroken over his cousin’s death. “He gave everything for the Filipino, he left nothing,” he said.
Details of his death were not immediately released by members of his family who rushed to a hospital in metropolitan Manila that morning. But one of his former cabinet officials, Rogelio Singson, said Aquino had dialysis and was preparing for a kidney transplant.
Condolences came from Filipino politicians, the Catholic Church and others, including the US government, the administration of current President Rodrigo Duterte and a daughter of Marcos, who is now a senator. In government buildings, Filipino flags were lowered on half of the staff.
“We are saddened by the death of President Aquino and will always be grateful for our partnership,” said John Law of the US Embassy, Charge d’Affaires. Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque called for a moment of silence and prayer at the start of a televised press conference, and Senator Imee Marcos, a daughter of the late dictator, also offered condolences.
“Aside from politics and a lot of public harshness, I knew Noynoy as a kind and simple soul. He is very much missed, “Marcos said in a statement, using Aquino’s nickname.
Aquino, who served as president from 2010 to 2016, was the heir to a political legacy from a family considered a bulwark against authoritarianism in the Philippines.
His father, former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., was murdered in military custody in 1983 at the Manila International Airport that now bears his name. His mother, Corazon Aquino, led the “people’s power” revolt in 1986, which Marcos ousted. The uprising, supported by the army, became a harbinger of popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes around the world.
Although Aquino, affectionately called Noynoy or Pinoy by many Filipinos and with the image of an incorruptible politician, was a scion of a wealthy land-owning political clan in the northern Philippines, he fought poverty and disapproved of the excesses of the country’s elite families and the powerful Politician. One of his first orders, which remained in effect during his tenure, was to ban the use of sirens in vehicles carrying VIPs through Manila’s notorious traffic jams.
Aquino, whose family went into US exile during Marcos’ reign, had tumultuous relations with China as president. After China effectively seized a controversial shoal in 2012 following a tense stalemate between Chinese and Filipino ships in the South China Sea, Aquino cleared the filing of a lawsuit in international arbitration testing the validity of China’s sweeping claims in the strategic waterway on historical grounds.
“We don’t want to increase tensions with anyone, but we have to let the world know that we are ready to protect our property,” said Aquino in his 2011 State of the Union address to Congress.
The Philippines largely won. China refused to participate in the arbitration, and as a sham dismissed the 2016 Tribunal ruling invalidating and continuing to oppose Beijing’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea based on a 1982 UN Maritime Agreement. Aquino’s legal challenge and eventual verdict brought Beijing-Manila relations to an all-time low.
Born in 1960 as the third of five children, Aquino never married and had no children. Aquino has a degree in economics and worked in companies before entering politics.
During her mother’s politically turbulent presidency, Aquino was shot and wounded in a failed coup attempt in 1987 by rebel soldiers trying to besiege the heavily guarded presidential palace in Malacanang. Aquino was in a car with companions on the way back to the palace in Manila when they came under heavy gunfire. Three of his security escorts were killed and Aquino was badly wounded, with a bullet stuck in his throat all his life because it was too dangerous to be removed by surgery.
In 1998 he won a seat in the powerful House of Representatives, of which he was a member until 2007, and then successfully ran for a Senate seat. Aquino announced his presidential campaign in September 2009 by saying he was following the people’s call to carry on his mother’s legacy. She had died of colon cancer a few weeks earlier.
“I take the responsibility to continue our fight for the people. I take up the challenge of fighting this fight, ”he said.
He won by a wide margin for promising to fight corruption and poverty, but his victory was also seen as a protest vote amid anger over the corruption scandals that rocked the presidency of his predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was imprisoned for nearly five years and was released after the Supreme Court acquitted her of the charges. Arroyo later successfully returned to political power and once served as House Speaker under Duterte.
Public expectations of Aquino were high, and while he cracked down on corruption – arrested Arroyo and three powerful senators on corruption charges – and initiated poverty reduction programs, the problems in his disaster-prone Southeast Asian nation that remained from decades-old Communist and Muslim uprisings became daunting.
Under Aquino, the government expanded a program to donate money to the poorest of the poor in exchange for parental pledges to ensure that their children attend classes and receive government health care. Large corporations, meanwhile, have benefited from government partnerships that have enabled them to finance large infrastructure projects such as highways and airports over the long term.
One of the legacies of the Aquino presidency was the signing in 2014 of a peace agreement with the country’s largest Muslim separatist rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which facilitated decades of sporadic fighting in the south of the country, home of the Muslim minority the largely Roman Catholic nation.
Political opponents have beaten his government’s alleged breakdown in a number of crises, including a hostage-taking on a bus in Manila that ended with the shooting of eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong by a disgruntled police officer and delays in recovery efforts in the U.S. Consequences of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Aquino was heavily criticized in 2015 for absent from a formal ceremony at an air force base in Manila where Air Force planes carried the remains of police forces killed by Muslim insurgents in a covert raid that killed one of Asia’s most wanted terrorists, suspects . Aquino went on with a planned inauguration of a car factory, and his opponents said he lacked empathy.
Aquino retained high approval ratings as his only six-year tenure ended in 2016. But the rise of populist Duterte, whose deadly crackdown on illegal drugs has killed thousands of mostly minor drug suspects, was a reality check of the levels of public discontent and perceived failures during Aquino’s reformist rule.
Aquino fought Duterte, warning that he could be a threatening dictator and undo the democracy and economic dynamism he had achieved during his tenure.
After his presidency, Aquino stayed away from politics and the public. His former public works secretary, Singson, told DZMM Radio that Aquino told him on a cell phone message on June 3 that he was undergoing dialysis and preparing for angioplasty, a delicate medical procedure to treat a blocked artery a possible kidney transplant.
Singson said he would pray for the ailing presidency and successful treatment. “That was the last time,” said Singson, a respected former cabinet member of Aquino who, like the late president, had the image of an incorruptible official in an Asian country plagued by corruption scandals for a long time.
Aquino is survived by his four sisters.
This version corrects the date to Thursday.
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