World

Former president Benigno Aquino, part of Philippines' political dynasty, dead at 61

Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino III, the son of pro-democracy icons who helped topple dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a defender of good governance who took China's sweeping territorial claims to an international court, has died. He was 61.

Aquino served as president from 2010 to 2016, following in the footsteps of his mother

Former president Benigno Aquino III flashes the 'L' sign meaning 'Fight!' at a 2018 commemoration of the Aug. 21, 1983 Manila international airport assassination of his father, opposition senator Benigno Aquino Jr. (Bullit Marquez/The Associated Press)

Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino III, the son of pro-democracy icons who helped topple dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a defender of good governance who took China's sweeping territorial claims to an international court, has died. He was 61.

Aquino's family told a news conference that he died in his sleep early Thursday due to "renal failure secondary to diabetes." A former cabinet official, Rogelio Singson, said Aquino had been undergoing dialysis and was preparing for a kidney transplant.

"Mission accomplished Noy, be happy now with Dad and Mom," said Pinky Aquino-Abellada, a sister of the late president, using his nickname and struggling to hold back her tears.

Condolences poured in from politicians, the Catholic Church and others, including President Rodrigo Duterte, who announced a national period of mourning until July 3. Philippine flags were lowered to half-mast on government buildings.

Long-standing rivalry with Marcos regime

Aquino, who served as president from 2010 to 2016, was the heir of a family that has been regarded as a bulwark against authoritarianism in the Philippines.

His father, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., was assassinated in 1983 while under military custody at the Manila international airport, which now bears his name. His mother, Corazon Aquino, led the 1986 "people power" revolt that ousted Marcos. The army-backed uprising became a harbinger of popular revolts against authoritarian regimes worldwide.

Aquino is shown with outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during his inauguration ceremony in Manila on June 30, 2010. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

A scion of a wealthy land-owning political clan in the northern Philippines, Aquino, who was fondly called Noynoy or Pnoy by many Filipinos, built an image of an incorruptible politician who battled poverty and frowned over excesses by the country's elites, including powerful politicians.

Aquino, whose family went into exile in the U.S. during Marcos's rule, had turbulent ties with China as president. After China seized a disputed shoal in 2012 following a tense standoff in the South China Sea, Aquino authorized the filing of a complaint before an international arbitration tribunal.

"We will not be pushed around because we are a tiny state compared with theirs," Aquino told The Associated Press in June 2011. "We think we have very solid grounds to say 'do not intrude into our territory."'

The Philippines largely won. But China refused to join in the arbitration and dismissed as a sham the tribunal's 2016 ruling, which invalidated Beijing's claims based on a 1982 United Nations maritime treaty. Relations between Beijing and Manila sank to an all-time low.

Reaction from senator who has been jailed during Duterte's term:

Seriously wounded in 1987 shooting

An economics graduate, he pursued business opportunities before entering politics. During his mother's tumultuous presidency, he was wounded by gunfire during a failed 1987 coup attempt by rebel soldiers who attempted to lay siege on the heavily guarded Malacanang presidential palace. Three of his security escorts were killed. A bullet had remained embedded in his neck.

He won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1998, where he served until 2007, then successfully ran for the Senate. Aquino announced his presidential campaign in September 2009, saying he was answering the call of the people to continue his mother's legacy. She had died just weeks earlier of colon cancer.

Aquino is seen in August 2007 with his mother, former Philippine president Corazon Aquino. Corazon Aquino died two years later, at the age of 75. (Jes Aznar/AFP/Getty Images)

He won with a battle cry "without the corrupt, there won't be poor people." He called ordinary Filipinos his "boss" and offered himself as their servant. 

While he moved against corruption and initiated anti-poverty programs, the deep-seated inequalities and weak institutions in the Southeast Asian nation wracked by decades-old communist and Muslim insurgencies remained too daunting.

Under Aquino, the government expanded a program that provides cash dole-outs to the poorest in exchange for commitments by parents to send children to school. He also forged government partnership deals with the private sector to finance major infrastructure projects such as highways and airports.

Canada's ambassador to the Philippines:

One of Aquino's major successes was the signing of a 2014 peace deal with the largest Muslim separatist rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It eased decades of fighting in the country's south, homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation.

Retreated from politics after his term

Opponents pounded on missteps, including a Manila bus hostage crisis that ended with the shooting deaths of eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong by a disgruntled police officer, and delays in recovery efforts in the disastrous aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Aquino came under heavy criticism in 2015 for his absence from a ceremony at a Manila airbase for the arrival of the remains of police commandos who were killed by Muslim insurgents during a covert raid that killed one of Asia's most-wanted terror suspects.

Aquino's six-year term ended in 2016. He gave way to the populist Duterte, whose deadly crackdown on illegal drugs has killed thousands of mostly petty drug suspects.

Aquino is shown on May 8, 2015 in Ottawa, meeting with then-prime minister Stephen Harper. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Aquino campaigned against Duterte, warning he could be a looming dictator and could set back the democracy and economic momentum achieved in his own term.

After leaving office, Aquino stayed away from politics and the public eye.

Aquino never married and had no children. He is survived by four sisters. 

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