Former Philippine democracy leader Benigno Aquino dies



MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, the son of pro-democracy icons who helped topple dictator Ferdinand Marcos and an advocate of good governance who carried China’s broad land claims before an international tribunal, died. He was 61 years old.

Aquino’s family told a press conference that he died in his sleep Thursday morning from “kidney failure secondary to diabetes.” A former Cabinet 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 the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Imee Marcos, a daughter of the late dictator. Filipino flags were lowered at half mast on government buildings.

“We are saddened by the passing of President Aquino and will always be grateful for our partnership,” US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law said in a statement.

“Because beyond politics and public acrimony, I knew Noynoy as a kind and simple soul. He will be sorely missed, ”Marcos said in a statement, using the Aquino nickname.

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. . One of his first orders that persisted throughout his presidency was to ban the use of sirens in vehicles that carried VIPs through Manila’s notorious traffic jams.

Aquino, whose family went into exile in the United States during Marcos’ reign, 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 that questioned the validity of China’s comprehensive claims on the strategic waterway. Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea. on historical grounds.

“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 struck down Beijing’s claims on the basis of a 1982 United Nations maritime treaty. Aquino and the final decision plunged relations between Beijing and Manila to an all-time high.

Born in 1960 as the third of five children, Aquino never married and had no children. With a degree in economics, he looked for business opportunities before entering politics.

During his mother’s tumultuous presidency after democracy was restored, Aquino was shot and wounded in a failed 1987 coup attempt by rebel soldiers who attempted to besiege the presidential palace in Malacanang , heavily guarded. Three of his security escorts were killed. A bullet had remained stuck in Aquino’s 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.

Son 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. Friends said he often carried a copy of the Philippine Constitution in his pocket, a reflection of his unwavering belief that no one is above the law.

His victory was also seen as a protest vote due to the exasperation over the corruption scandals of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She was detained for nearly five years before the Supreme Court exonerated her. Arroyo then served as Speaker of the House under Duterte.

Public expectations of Aquino were high. As he fought corruption – detaining Arroyo and three powerful senators – and launched programs to alleviate poverty, deep inequalities and weak institutions in the Southeast Asian nation ravaged by communist insurgencies and decades-old Muslim women were still 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. Large companies, on the other hand, have benefited from partnership agreements with the government that have allowed them to finance large infrastructure projects such as highways and airports for long-term gain.

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.

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 who were killed by Muslim insurgents in a secret raid that killed one of Asia’s most wanted terrorist suspects. Aquino proceeded with the scheduled grand opening of a car manufacturing plant, sparking criticism that he lacked empathy.

Aquino retained high approval ratings when his six-year term ended in 2016. The rise of populist Duterte, whose murderous crackdown on illegal drugs has killed thousands of drug suspects, mostly minors , was a reality check of the extent of public dissatisfaction and perceived failures during Aquino’s reformist reign.

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.

Time magazine named Aquino one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2013, praising him for stabilizing a failed economy and bravely facing China over the South China Sea disputes.

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

He is survived by four sisters. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced by the family.


Associated Press reporters Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila contributed to this report.



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