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Benigno Aquino III reviews honour guards during the Philippine Navy’s 118th anniversary at a port in Manila, Philippines, in 2016. Photo: EPA

Tributes pour in for Benigno Aquino, the Philippine president who stood up to China

  • Aquino, who died on Thursday, has been hailed for his legacy of economic growth and Manila’s 2016 arbitral victory over Beijing in the South China Sea dispute
  • His death has also sparked social-media speculation that his sister Kris will continue the family’s storied political legacy in next year’s election
Tributes have poured in for former Philippine president Benigno Aquino III after his death on Thursday morning, amid intense speculation over the impact of his passing on the country’s election next year.

Aquino, 61, “died peacefully in his sleep” of renal disease secondary to diabetes, his elder sister Aurora “Pinky” Aquino-Abellada said on behalf of the family.

Shocked friends and foes alike praised “Noynoy” or “PNoy”, as he was popularly called, for his character and legacy, which included the successful pursuit of an arbitration case against Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the economy’s consistent growth during his tenure as president from 2010 to 2016.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday evening expressed his “heartfelt condolences” to the Aquino family and signed a presidential proclamation declaring 10 days of national mourning.

“In an earlier press statement, he urged the nation to “take this opportunity to unite in prayer and set aside our differences as we pay respects to a leader who has given his best to serve the Filipino people … his memory and his family’s legacy of offering their lives for the cause of democracy will forever remain etched in our hearts”.


Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino dies at 61

Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino dies at 61

Duterte in 2017 threatened to behead Aquino after he pointed out that despite the current president’s deadly war on drugs, the number of drug addicts had barely changed from before Duterte assumed office in 2016.


He also tried to jail Aquino over the deaths of police Special Action Forces during an Islamic terrorist hunt and over the alleged deaths of children due to Dengvaxia vaccines. Both charges were dismissed.

The presidential palace also said it was up to the family whether they wanted a hero’s burial for the former president.

However, Aquino’s youngest sister, Kris, announced late on Thursday evening that her brother’s remains had been cremated and would be buried alongside those of their parents in a family plot inside Manila Memorial Park, Paranaque City, in order to avoid making his wake and funeral a super-spreader event.

Philippines again suspends scrapping of VFA troop pact with US amid South China Sea tensions

Kris also told reporters that “I promised my brother that I will do everything to just be even one per cent of what he is as a man and as a Filipino.”

There were also condolences from former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the latter of whom Aquino had jailed for electoral fraud, as well as Senator Imee Marcos.


“I will always treasure the memories of our long years together as freshmen legislators and members of a tiny opposition,” said Marcos, the daughter of former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos who had jailed Aquino’s father for seven years.

Outgoing president Benigno Aquino and President Rodrigo Duterte during the latter’s inauguration ceremony in 2016. Photo: AP

“For beyond politics and much public acrimony, I knew Noynoy as a kind and simple soul. He will be deeply missed.” Former senate president Manuel Villar, whom Aquino defeated in the 2010 election, said he “was a Filipino leader that I respected”.


“Despite our differences, I admired his courage and vision to serve our people,” Villar said.

United States Chargé d’Affaires John Law offered “deepest condolences” to Aquino’s family, saying that Washington was “saddened by President Aquino’s passing and will always be thankful for our partnership”.

There was no official statement from the Chinese embassy in Manila. It was during Aquino’s time as president that relations with Beijing dropped to an all-time low, especially after the filing of the arbitral suit over the South China Sea.

Why are tensions running high in the South China Sea dispute?

Political analyst Ramon Casiple said The Hague’s landmark 2016 ruling in favour of the Philippines – which invalidated the historical basis for China’s “nine-dash line” claim in the disputed waterway – was Aquino’s biggest legacy, alongside the country’s economic performance.

Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, said that in one of his conversations with Aquino, the former president had revealed that “he felt bad because the US did not support him” during the Scarborough Shoal stand-off with China in 2012.

Honor guards stand next to the urn of former Philippine president Benigno Aquino III at the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig. Photo: AP

The US at the time brokered a deal that called for the mutual withdrawal of Philippine and Chinese vessels from the area, but only the Philippine ships withdrew.


Casiple said he expected the South China Sea dispute to be raised as an election issue next year, and while it was still “too early” to see the impact of Aquino’s death, he acknowledged that social media was now abuzz with speculation and calls for the former president’s sister, Kris Aquino, to run for the top office next year.

The Aquino family has a storied history in Philippine politics. The 1983 assassination of Aquino’s father, Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jnr, energised opposition to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and led to his eventual ousting in a popular uprising in 1986.

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Corazon Aquino – Aquino Jnr’s wife – was installed as president of the Philippines that year. Upon her death in 2009, Aquino was thrust into the reckoning for the presidency on the back of a groundswell of popular support.

Political analyst Casiple noted that among the five Aquino children, only Benigno and Kris were politically inclined.

“This is why I would not be surprised if her name crops up as the opposition candidate,” he said, adding that if she decided not to take up the political mantle due to health issues, her endorsement of a presidential contender would be valuable.