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Benigno S. Aquino III, Former President of the Philippines, Is Dead at 61

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Former President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines, scion of the country’s most prominent pro-democracy political family, died in Manila on Thursday. He was 61.

One of his sisters, Pinky Aquino-Abellada, confirmed his death. The cause, she said, was “renal disease secondary to diabetes.”

During his presidency, from 2010 to 2016, Mr. Aquino stood up to China, oversaw economic growth and passed an important reproductive rights bill, but he later faced scandals that marred his legacy.

Mr. Aquino was, in effect, Philippine political royalty, the son of two political icons, in a country where family ties are paramount. He was swept into office after the death in 2009 of his mother, former President Corazon C. Aquino.

She in turn had risen to prominence as the widow of Benigno S. Aquino Jr., a prominent politician who was assassinated in 1983.

That assassination set in motion a surge of opposition that culminated in the 1986 popular uprising known as People Power, which ended the two-decade dictatorship of President Ferdinand E. Marcos and paved the way for Mrs. Aquino to assume the presidency.

In a statement, Senator Imee Marcos, a daughter of the former president whom the Aquinos helped oust, paid tribute to the younger Mr. Aquino for his “kind and simple soul.”

Following Mrs. Aquino’s death in 2009, her son was carried to the presidency on a groundswell of sentimental support, succeeding an unpopular president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. When his term ended in 2016, he was in turn succeeded by the current strongman president, Rodrigo Duterte.

In a national address toward the end of his term, Mr. Aquino described his initial reluctance to run for president. He had witnessed the tribulations his mother endured, he said, and he was all too aware of the country’s endemic corruption.

“When my mother died, my confidence diminished further; our family’s leader and inspiration to pursue change was gone,” he said. “At her wake, someone approached me and suggested that I run for the presidency. My immediate response: I am not a masochist.”

On Aug. 28, 1987, one year into his mother’s presidency, Mr. Aquino was wounded when disaffected military officers attempted one of several unsuccessful coups.

When the rebels tried to lay siege to the presidential mansion, Malacanang Palace, Mr. Aquino, who was in a nearby building, was struck by five bullets, one of which remained embedded in his neck. Three of his military escorts were killed while protecting him, and a fourth was wounded.

At the end of his term Mr. Aquino had an approval rating of 57 percent, according to a survey by the polling agency Social Weather Stations, the highest of any outgoing president in recent times.

“It is with profound sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of former President Benigno S. Aquino III,” Justice Marvic Leonen, an Aquino appointee to the Supreme Court, said in a statement. “I knew him to be a kind man, driven by his passion to serve the people, diligent in his duties and with an avid and consuming curiosity about new knowledge of the world in general.”

Popularly known as Noynoy, Mr. Aquino won election in a landslide on the promise of steady leadership and routing out corruption.

In an effort to connect with common Filipinos, he was the first president to deliver a State of the Nation address in Tagalog, the most widespread local language.

Under Mr. Aquino, average economic growth surpassed 6.0 percent, the highest in recent years, gaining the country investment-grade status from rating agencies. In the first quarter of 2016, shortly before the end of his term, the Philippine economy grew at a rate of 6.9 percent, which was, at the time, the fastest in Asia.

One of his most significant achievements was the enactment of a reproductive rights law that made contraception readily available to the poor. To do so he faced down decades of resistance by the powerful Roman Catholic church in an overwhelmingly Catholic country.

Under Mr. Aquino’s leadership, the Philippines was one of the few Southeast Asian nations willing to stand up to China. He effectively sued Beijing over the two countries’ competing claims in the South China Sea, taking his case to an international tribunal in The Hague. In a landmark ruling in 2016, the tribunal found that there was no legal basis to support China’s expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters.

Mr. Aquino’s difficulties began early. Two months into his presidency, a disgruntled former police officer hijacked a tourist bus carrying passengers from Hong Kong. Eight people were killed in a bungled rescue attempt. As a result, Hong Kong issued a warning advising residents not to travel to the Philippines.

In November 2013 Mr. Aquino was accused of reacting sluggishly to the powerful Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 6,000 people in the central Philippines. Some Western nations, including Canada, cited the Aquino administration’s lack of immediacy in their decisions to sidestep the government and donate money and aid directly to nongovernmental organizations instead.

In his greatest setback, 44 special forces police officers and a number of civilians were killed in 2015 in a botched attempt to capture one of the region’s most-wanted terrorism suspects. The raid resulted in the largest single loss of life by Philippine police officers in recent memory.

In 2017, the country’s anti-graft prosecutor said Mr. Aquino should be held accountable for the officers’ deaths for allowing a suspended national police chief, accused of corruption, to oversee the operation.

Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III was born on Feb. 8, 1960 into one of the nation’s wealthiest landowning political families. He was trained as an economist and worked in his family’s sugar business before starting his political career. He served two terms in Congress before being elected senator in 2007.

Mr. Aquino, who never married, is survived by his sisters, Kris Aquino, Victoria Elisa Aquino-Dee, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz and Pinky Aquino-Abellada.

Jason Gutierrez contributed reporting from Manila.


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