(AP) — Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino
III, the son of pro-democracy icons who helped depose dictator Ferdinand Marcos and had tense ties with China
, died Thursday at the age of 61, according to a cousin and public officials.
Former Senator Bam Aquino expressed his grief
over his cousin's death
, saying, "He gave his all for the Filipino, he left nothing."
Members of his family
, who were seen rushing to a metropolitan Manila hospital
early in the morning, did not immediately release details of his death, but one of his former Cabinet officials, Rogelio Singson, said Aquino had been undergoing dialysis and was preparing for a kidney transplant.
Condolences poured in from Philippine politicians
, the Catholic church
, and others, including the United States government
, current President Rodrigo Duterte
's administration, and Marcos's daughter, who is now a senator, and Philippine flags were lowered to half-staff in government buildings.
“We are saddened by President Aquino’s passing and will always be grateful for our partnership,” said U.S. Embassy Charge d’ Affaires John Law
in a statement. Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, called for a moment of silence and prayers at the start of a televised news conference
, and Sen. Imee Marcos, the late dictator’s daughter, also expressed her condolences.
and much public acrimony, I knew Noynoy as a kind and simple soul, and he will be deeply missed,” Marcos said in a statement, referring to Aquino by his nickname.
Aquino, who was President of the Philippines from 2010 to 2016, was the heir to a political legacy of a family that has been regarded as a bulwark against authoritarianism
in the Philippines.
His father, former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.
, was assassinated in 1983 while under military
custody at 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 around the world.
Despite being the scion of a wealthy land-owning political clan in the northern Philippines, Aquino, who was affectionately known as Noynoy or Pinoy by many Filipinos and had an image as an incorruptible politician, battled poverty
and frowned on excesses by the country's elite families and powerful politicians.
As president, Aquino, whose family fled to the United States during Marcos' rule, had tumultuous relations with China. After China effectively seized a disputed shoal in the South China Sea following a tense standoff between Chinese and Philippine ships, Aquino authorized the filing of a complaint before an international arbitration tribunal questioning the validity of China's sweeping claims.
“We do not wish to heighten tensions with anyone, but we must demonstrate to the world that we are prepared to defend what is ours,” Aquino said in his State of the Nation Address to Congress
China refused to participate in the arbitration and dismissed as a sham the tribunal's 2016 ruling, which invalidated Beijing
's claims to virtually the entire South China Sea based on a 1982 U.N. maritime treaty and continues to defy it. Aquino's legal challenge and the eventual ruling brought relations between Beijing and Manila to an all-time low.
Aquino, the third of five children
, was born in 1960 and never married or had children. A graduate of the University
, Aquino worked in business
before entering politics.
During her mother's politically turbulent presidency, Aquino was wounded by gunfire during a failed 1987 coup attempt by rebel soldiers, who attempted to lay siege to the heavily guarded Malacanang presidential palace. Aquino was in a car with companions on their way back to the palace in Manila when they came under heavy gunfire, killing three of his security
escorts and severely injuring Aquino.
He won a seat in the powerful House of Representatives
in 1998, where he served until 2007, and then successfully ran for a Senate
seat. Aquino announced his presidential campaign in September 2009, saying he was answering the people's call to continue his mother's legacy, despite the fact that she had died of colon cancer
just weeks earlier.
“I accept responsibility for continuing our fight for the people, and I accept the challenge of leading this fight,” he said.
He won by a wide margin on a promise to fight corruption
and poverty, but his victory was also seen as a protest
vote in response to the corruption scandals that rocked his predecessor's presidency, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was imprisoned for nearly five years and released after the Supreme Court
cleared her of the charges. Arroyo later successfully returned to political power.
While Aquino moved against corruption, detaining Arroyo and three powerful senators on corruption charges — and launching anti-poverty programs — the problems in his disaster-prone Southeast Asian nation, which remained wracked by decades-old communist and Muslim insurgencies, remained daunting.
Under Aquino, the government expanded a program that provides cash dole-outs to the poorest of the poor in exchange for parental commitments to ensure their children attend school and receive government health care
. Meanwhile, big business benefited from government partnership deals that allowed them to finance major infrastructure
projects such as highways and airports for long-term gai
One of Aquino's legacies was the signing of a 2014 peace agreement with the country's largest Muslim separatist rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which ended decades of sporadic fighting in the country's south, the homeland of minority Muslims
in the predominantly Roman Catholic
Political opponents have slammed his administration for bungling a number of crises, including a Manila bus hostage crisis that resulted in the shooting
deaths of eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong
by a disgruntled police
officer, and delays in recovery efforts in the massively disastrous aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
In 2015, Aquino was chastised for failing to attend a solemn ceremony at a Manila airbase where air force
planes brought the remains of police commandos killed by Muslim insurgents while staging a covert raid
that killed one of Asia's most wanted terror suspects.
When Aquino's single, six-year term ended in 2016, his approval ratings remained high. However, the rise of the populist Duterte, whose deadly crackdown on illegal drugs
has killed thousands of mostly petty drug suspects, provided a reality check on the extent of public discontent and perceived failures during Aquino's reformist rule.
Aquino campaigned against Duterte, warning that he could be a looming dictator who would reverse the democratic
and economic momentum achieved during his own tenure
Singson, Aquino's former Public Works Secretary, 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 president's health 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 country long plagued by corruption scandals.
His four sisters have predeceased him.