Former President Benigno Aquino dies, the nation mourns

by Ricky Rillera

President Benigno Aquino III | Photo by BG Photos via Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

NEW YORK – Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III, the 15th president of the Philippines from 2010 to 2016, died on Thursday, June 24, after being rushed to the Capitol Medical Center in Quezon City. His death was confirmed in a statement from Manuel Roxas II and also by the Aquino family, led by Pinky Aquino-Abellada. She said her brother died at 6:30 a.m. of renal disease secondary to diabetes, which means he had kidney failure.

Aquino, 61, was born on Feb. 8, 1960, the only son of parents considered democracy icons. Former Sen. Ninoy Aquino, his father, was assassinated in 1983 upon returning home from exile in the U.S. His death triggered the “People Power Revolution” that led his mother, Cory, to the presidency in 1986. He has four women siblings, namely: Aurora Corazon (Pinky) Aquino-Abellada, Maria Elena (Balsy) Aquino-Cruz, Victoria Elisa (Viel) Aquino-Dee, and Kristina Bernadette (Kris) Aquino.

“He died peacefully in his sleep,” said Abellada, reading from a prepared 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. Mission accomplished Noy, be happy now with Dad and Mom. We love you and we are so blessed to have had the privilege to have had you as our brother. We’ll miss you forever.”

After cremation later that day, the urn containing his ashes will be displayed for a one-day public viewing on June 25 at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is scheduled to be buried adjacent to his parents at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque on Saturday, June 26.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared June 24 to July 3 as a “period of national mourning” over Aquino’s death. In a statement, he expressed his sympathies to the Aquino family. He also enjoined everyone “to take this opportunity “to unite in prayers and set aside our differences as we pay respects to a leader who has given his best to serve the Filipino people. His memory and his family’s legacy of offering their lives for the cause of democracy will forever remain etched in our hearts,” he said.

Aquino’s service to the Nation

Known as PNoy and Noynoy, he served as Representative of the 2nd district of Tarlac for three terms (1998-2004). He was elected to the Senate in 2007 and served until 2010. He won the presidency in 2010 with his platform Daang Matuwid (Straight and Righteous Path) even though he was a late contender joining the race only after more than a million people had signed a petition for him to run. Before that, he was described as a simple man who was unassuming and still grieving over his mother’s passing. Mar Roxas, a family friend, was the standard-bearer of the Liberal Party but withdrew his presidential plan after Aquino agreed to run. He was Aquino’s running mate as vice president but lost.

Aquino took anti-corruption as his key campaign message, and he received 15.2 million votes or 42 percent of the total votes cast for president. In his speeches, mostly in Tagalog, he used the term Kayo ang Boss Ko (You are my Boss) during his campaign sorties which resonated well with the people.

As president and an economist by education, he instituted fiscal policies, tightening spending rules to curb corruption, reduced government debt, and narrowed the budget deficit. This earned the Philippines its first investment-grade rating on March 27, 2013, from Fitch Ratings, one of the world’s major ratings agencies. It represented an important vote of confidence for the Philippines.

First investment grade in the Nation

According to Investvine, the Philippine stock market soared more than 30 percent in 2012. Likewise, foreign direct investment rose 8 percent in 2012 to $2 billion, from $1.9 billion in 2011.

“This ushered the Philippines’ receiving for the first time investment grade status. The cash transfer was extended to 10 million more very poor families lifting them out of poverty level,” Loida Nicolas-Lewis, president of the US Filipinos for Good Governance, told the Philippine Daily Mirror. “Infrastructure was planned to revitalize transportation in the country. Foreign debt was stabilized. We were on our way to our rightful place in the family of nations until 2016 and this bungling, murderous, foul-mouth, inept President came into power. Heaven help us!”

Lewis, an icon in the Filipino American community in New York City, praised Aquino for what he did for the country. “PNoy assumed the mantle of the Presidency with humility, [and] integrity who chose the right people on his cabinet (with some exceptions).”

Permanent Court Decision against China

During Aquino’s presidency, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), an international tribunal in The Hague, ruled in favor of the Philippines on July 12, 2016, in a maritime dispute with China over that nation’s construction of artificial islands in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The PCA concluded in the case of Philippines v. China that China has no legal basis for claiming rights to the islands and the bulk of the South China Sea. The PCA said that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights. However, China refused to abide by the PCA’s historic ruling.

Aquino administration crises

But every president’s administration also had its crises. For Aquino, he was heavily criticized for how his administration handled its response to:

–the rescue of tourists from Hong Kong taken hostage, which resulted in the death of eight people
–the failed operation of Oplan Exodus, which resulted in the death of over 60 people, including 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Forces
–Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the worst storm on record, with 7,350 dead or missing

During Abellada’s announcement of her brother’s death, she said that the former president faced all investigations and accusations leveled against him at the “Sandiganbayan November 2018, Senate 2017, and Congress 2018.”

“Because when you enter public service, when you serve with honesty and dignity, hindi ka matatakot magsabi ng totoo (you are not afraid to tell the truth),” she said.

“The Filipino is worth fighting for”

Former Secretary of Finance Cesar Purisima under Aquino said, “[He] was a uniquely singular figure in recent political history. His principled leadership consistently put people over politics, prudence over populism, refusing to let expedient electoral games get in the way of his sacred responsibility to the Filipino people. The character of his conviction shone the brightest in the most difficult moments: time and again, I saw him face down tough choices between the judgment of history on the one hand and the treatment of headlines on the other: always making a dignified decision for the former no matter the immediate repercussions.”

Added Purisima: “President Aquino was a transformational leader who humbly took the long view, one who understood perfectly how change is always an ongoing process in a continuum, and how we ran but a small leg of a never-ending relay race for the betterment of our people. … When President Aquino left office, the Philippines was full of heady optimism. It felt like the morning again after a particularly long and dark night. His presidency empowered all of us Filipinos to believe that we can do and be better, and that the Filipino is indeed worth fighting for each and every day.”

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