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Former President Noynoy Aquino is Dead at 61

The scion of democracy icons.
by Joel Guinto
Jun 24, 2021
Photo/s: Noel CELIS / AFP

Former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, who rose to power on the legacy of his democracy icon parents, has died, multiple reports said Thursday. He was 61.

ANC Television broke the news on Twitter, citing a source from the Aquino family. The Manila Times and The Daily Tribune cited sources. Reportr staff confirmed his death, and was told to wait for an official announcement from the family.

Noynoy Aquino served as president from 2010 to 2016, during which he secured the Philippines' first investment grade ratings, initiated peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and challenged China's vast sea claims before a UN-backed court.

The bachelor former president is survived by his sisters Ballsy, Pinky, Viel and Kris and their families.

"Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap," was Aquino's 2010 campaign slogan, which resonated with the electorate that has witnesses several corruption and vote fraud investigations against his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo.

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"Kayo ang boss ko, kaya’t hindi maaaring hindi ako makinig sa mga utos ninyo," he said in his inaugural speech.

"My parents sought nothing less and died for nothing less than democracy, peace and prosperity.  I am blessed by this legacy.  I shall carry the torch forward," he said.

Aquino has largely kept a low profile since he relinquished power in 2016 to President Rodrigo Duterte, following a divisive campaign that resulted in being branded "dilawan" or one of his allies as a pejorative.

For the 2022 elections, Aquino's Liberal Party has sought to reclaim the yellow tag, eyeing Vice President Leni Robredo as standard bearer.

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Aquino's mother, Cory Aquino, died of cancer in August 2009, one year before the 2010 elections. An outpouring of public sympathy thrust the then senator to become the LP standard bearer, with Mar Roxas sliding down as his vice president. Roxas lost.


Powerful family name

Aquino was born on Feb. 8, 1960 to one of the country's wealthiest land-owning political families.

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A latecomer to the presidential race in 2010, he declared his candidacy only after his mother's death from cancer the previous year had plunged the country into mourning, and demonstrated the power of the family name.

He made fighting corruption his mantra, capitalizing on his family's clean reputation, and vowed to reduce the poverty afflicting a third of the population.

His administration delivered average annual economic growth of just over 6% the highest since the 1970s, handing the country investment-grade status -- but poverty remained endemic. 

Aquino, who earned an economics degree from the elite Ateneo de Manila University, was long mocked by opponents as a fortunately surnamed under-achiever with no administrative or business experience.

They also said he had little to show for the more than a decade he spent as a congressman and senator.

But the chain-smoking Aquino blossomed during the election campaign into a confident public speaker and the nation's leading critic of his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, who was arrested for corruption after she left office. 

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The Aquino family name was stamped into Philippine political history through tragedy.

Military personnel shot dead "Ninoy" Aquino at Manila airport in 1983 as he returned from US exile to lead the democracy movement against dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The event shocked the world and ignited the non-violent "People Power" movement that toppled Marcos. The martyred politician's widow, Corazon, led the revolution and succeeded Marcos as president in 1986.

Aquino had a bullet lodged in his neck -- one of five that struck him when rebel soldiers attacked the presidential palace in 1987 in a coup attempt against his mother.

Unlike Duterte, Aquino put the Philippines' long-running dispute with China over competing claims to the South China Sea at the top of his foreign policy agenda. 

He launched a landmark case with a UN-backed tribunal to challenge Beijing's claims to most of the sea, which ruled in favour of the Philippines. 

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But Beijing rejected the decision.

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