Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino Dies at 61

Benigno Aquino Dies at 61

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has died after a prolonged illness, according to several news reports and Al Jazeera sources.

News reports say Aquino had been undergoing dialysis for at least five months and had recently undergone heart surgery. According to ABS-CBN News, he was hospitalised earlier in the day on Thursday.

Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan, reporting from the capital Manila, says sources have confirmed Aquino’s death on Thursday.

Aquino, 61, served as the country’s 15th president from 2010 to 2016 and was succeeded in office by the incumbent, Rodrigo Duterte.

His family has yet to issue an official statement but his former spokeswoman Abigail Valte told reporters in Manila a statement is forthcoming on Thursday.

“It is with profound sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of former President Benigno S. Aquino III,” Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen, who was appointed by Aquino in 2012, said in a statement.

“I knew him to be a kind man, driven by his passion to serve our people. I saw him carry his title with dignity and integrity,” added Leonen, who had also served as Aquino’s peace negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the nation is “grateful for the former President for his contribution and services to the country.”

Vice President Leni Robredo, who is an ally of Aquino, said in a statement that she is “heartbroken” to hear the news of the former president’s passing.

“He was a good friend and an honest president. He tried to do what was right, even when it was not popular,” she said.

Cardinal Jose Advincula, who was installed as the new archbishop of Manila on Thursday, also paid tribute to Aquino.

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“Let us entrust him in the mercy of our loving Father. And let us now pray for the eternal repose for his soul,” he said, before observing a moment of silence for the former president during his inaugural mass. Aquino had clashed with the Catholic church on the issue of women’s reproductive health and the use of contraceptives, which the powerful church opposes.

Aquino, right, shown here with President Xi Jinping of China, drew Beijing’s ire when he filed a case before the International Court of Arbitration challenging China’s claim in the South China Sea [File: Wally Santana/Reuters]

In a statement, the European Union office in Manila said, “We mourn a friend who pushed for deepening of our relations.”

The German Embassy in Manila also issued a separate statement hailing Aquino for his role in “intensifying” ties between the Philippines and Germany during his term.

Chargé d’Affaires John Law of the US Embassy in Manila extended his condolences to Aquino’s family, adding that his government “will always be thankful for our partnership”.

It was during Aquino’s administration that Manila took on China and filed a case before the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague over the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

The Philippines won that landmark case a month after Aquino left office in 2016.

His six-year term saw steady economic growth for the country.

But he had also faced controversy, including allegations of mismanagement in the aftermath of the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 6,000 people dead.

While known as being personally incorruptible, his name was tainted after critics and the opposition questioned the release of reallocated public funds to his allies in Congress.

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He also approved a controversial government operation that left 44 commandos dead while pursuing a wanted Malaysian armed leader in the southern island of Mindanao.

With no formal announcement, no order, the flags are being lowered to half mast in public and private places. It will always be so when the public loses someone who, at the moment of passing and thus final reckoning, they indubitably know served them faithfully and with honor.

That incident derailed the peace agreement with Muslim rebels that Aquino spearheaded during his time in office.

Aquino, also known in the Philippines by nickname Noynoy, was the only son of two of the country’s icons of democracy. He has four sisters.

His mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino, was swept into power following the overthrow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. During a failed military coup in 1989, he survived an assassination attempt by rogue soldiers while trying to defend his mother.

Aquino’s father and namesake, former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr, was killed at the Manila international airport upon his return from exile in the US in 1983. The assassination was seen as an impetus for the popular revolt and Marcos’ ouster three years later.

Before being elected as president in 2010, Aquino served as senator from 2007 to 2010, and as a member of Congress representing Tarlac from 1998 to 2007.

The death of his mother in late 2009 led to an outpouring of support that catapulted Aquino into the presidency in the 2010 elections.

After leaving office in 2016, Aquino kept a low profile as Duterte allies continued criticising him, and as he faced legal charges linked to the 2015 killing of the commandos. He was also the target of online attacks by Duterte supporters.

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In an interview with Al Jazeera, Aries Arugay, a political science professor from the University of the Philippines, said that Aquino’s passing is “a worthwhile reminder that the Philippines needs to find its true north – democracy and human rights.”

Richard Heydarian, a Philippine political analyst and Al Jazeera columnist, said that the last five years after the his presidency has left Aquino “seemed very much dejected and an isolated political figure”.

He said that the attacks by the Duterte administration and his supporters “blaming him for everything that has gone wrong in the country, that has really affected [Aquino].”

Noting that Aquino vaulted into the presidency just months after his mother’s passing, Heydarian said that the death of the younger Aquino could also shape the direction of the country’s politics ahead of the May 2022 presidential elections.

“The growing dissatisfaction of President Duterte’s massive mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis, there could be some political rallying effect here,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that it could put more pressure of Vice President Robredo “to carry the mantle of liberal democracy that for a long time was carried by the Aquino family.”

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