MANILA, Philippines — Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, the son of two of the Southeast Asian country’s democracy icons– former president Corazon Aquino and her slain husband senator Benigno Aquino Jr., died on Thursday.
Aquino succumbed to renal failure secondary to diabetes at 6:30 a.m. after being hospitalized at Capitol Medical Center, according to his elder sister, Pinky Abellada.
The 61-year-old was president of the Philippines from 2010 to 2016, overseeing the fastest period of growth since the 1970s and challenging China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea before a United Nations-backed tribunal.
Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen, who was appointed by Aquino in 2012, confirmed the death in a statement, according to PNA.
“It is with profound sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of former President Benigno S. Aquino,” he said. “It was an honor to have served with him. He will be missed.”
The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday ordered all flags in courthouses nationwide be flown at half-mast beginning Thursday in honor of former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra acknowledged the daunting tasks Aquino faced as President.
“Leading a country like the Philippines with enormous social, economic, and political challenges is a colossal task. Anyone who accepts this awesome responsibility, like the late president Benigno Aquino III, deserves our utmost respect, admiration, and gratitude,” he told reporters.
Guevarra served in the latter part of Aquino’s administration as Deputy Executive Secretary for legal affairs.
Known popularly as Noynoy, Aquino rode a wave of public support to the presidency after the 2009 death of his mother, the revered “People Power” leader Corazon Aquino, who was herself president from 1986 until 1992.
His father, Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., who staunchly opposed the rule of strongman Ferdinand Marcos, was assassinated when he returned home from political exile in 1983. The killing shocked the nation which led to the 1986 People Power revolution, driving Marcos out of his dictatorship and ushered in his mother’s presidency.
Aquino was born on February 8, 1960, the only son among five children. An economics graduate from the Ateneo de Manila University, he worked in the family sugar business before launching his political career in 1998.
A bachelor with a weakness for cigarettes and computer games who had spent much of his life in the shadow of his parents, Aquino had said he did not aspire to lead the nation.
He served as a congressman and senator. Before his public sector career, he worked as retail supervisor and promotions manager at Nike Inc.’s Philippine unit.
He was a three-term member of the House of Representatives between 1998 and 2007, representing the sugar-growing Tarlac province north of Manila.
He still carried a bullet wound from a 1987 attempted military coup against his mother’s administration, during which he was shot five times and three of his bodyguards were killed.
Under Aquino’s six-year presidential term, the nation’s economy grew an average of 6.2 per cent and twice exceeded 7 per cent, the fastest pace since the 1970s.
His administration pursued tax evaders, narrowed the budget deficit from a record level, and enabled the Philippines to clinch its first investment grade score from a major credit rating company.
He brought China before a UN-backed tribunal in March 2014 to challenge Beijing’s push for control of the South China Sea, portions of which the Philippines claims. Aquino initiated the proceedings after a stand-off between vessels from the two countries in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in April 2012.
After he left office, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 ruled in favour of the Philippines, saying China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea breached international law – a decision Beijing has rejected.
Rodrigo Duterte, Aquino’s successor, has resisted raising the ruling while pushing the country toward China and away from the US, which has had a mutual defence treaty with the Philippines since the 1950s.
Aquino’s term as president was not free from crisis, including in his fifth year in office when 44 commandos were killed in a botched operation to capture a wanted Malaysian militant.
In November 2013, Aquino was also forced to deal with the devastation left by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded. It ravaged towns and villages in the central Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people.
Aquino’s predecessor Gloria Arroyo was jailed on corruption charges during his term. The country’s ranking on Berlin-based Transparency International’s Corruption Index improved 11 notches in his last full year in office in 2015 from six years earlier.
His administration was criticised, however, for not spending enough to improve the country’s decrepit infrastructure. Traffic jams that led to hours-long commutes triggered public disenchantment, which his successor Duterte capitalised on during the campaign to succeed him.
After his presidency, Aquino stayed away from politics and the public eye. His former Public Works Secretary, Singson, told DZMM radio that Aquino told him in a cellphone message on June 3 that he was undergoing dialysis and was preparing for angioplasty, a delicate medical procedure to treat a blocked artery ahead of a possible kidney transplant.
Singson said he would pray for the ailing presidency and for a successful treatment. “That was the last time,” said Singson, a respected former member of Aquino’s Cabinet who, like the late president, had an image as an incorruptible official in an Asian nation long plagued by corruption scandals.
Reports from SCMP, BLOOMBERG, AFP and PNA