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international

‘Mission accomplished, Noy’: PH grieves for ‘man of honor’


MANILA, Philippines — Former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III died in his sleep at 6.30 a.m. on Thursday, almost five years after reclaiming his privacy at the end of his term in 2016.

His four sisters, heartbroken, confirmed his passing past 3 p.m. at The Chapels of Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City, where his remains had been taken for cremation. “No words can express how broken our hearts are and how long it will take for us to accept the reality that he is gone,” they said in a statement read by Pinky Aquino Abellada.

Expressions of grief and admiration came as swiftly as news of Aquino’s death swept the country.

Vice President Leni Robredo, who now leads the opposition Liberal Party that has been closely linked to the Aquino family name, said she was “deeply heartbroken” and remembered him as “a man of integrity and honor.”

Robredo said Aquino’s greatest legacy was “helping dismantle long-entrenched systems of corruption and standing up for the country on the international stage.”

In Malacañang, President Duterte said it was with “profound” sadness that he learned of Aquino’s passing.

“I hope my fellow Filipinos will be inspired by his legacy,” Duterte said.

He said he was offering the bereaved family “heartfelt condolences” as well as “the government’s assistance during this period of mourning” and, above all, “the love and prayers of a grateful nation.”

Only son

The death at 61 of the only son of the assassinated former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino was first announced by media outlets quoting sources who initially asked not to be named, apparently in deference to the private and close-knit Aquino family.

After leaving Malacañang in 2016, the unmarried Aquino settled in the sprawling residence of his parents on Times Street in Quezon City and rarely made public appearances.

During his watch Aquino made tough decisions in behalf of Filipinos whom he acknowledged as his “bosses”—from successfully challenging China over the disputed West Philippine Sea in the international arbitral tribunal at The Hague, to putting in detention former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and three sitting senators on charges of corruption and plunder, respectively.

Meticulous, data-driven

But his administration was also marked with controversies, including the handling of the 2015 Mamasapano clash, a bungled police operation targeting a Malaysian terrorist who was killed along with 44 Special Action Force men.

Aquino’s former spokesperson Edwin Lacierda described him as a “meticulous,” “data-driven’’ president who had a “very good’’ memory for details because he always read the reports sent to him.

“He always had a calculator beside him,’’ Lacierda told the Inquirer in a phone interview. He said the Cabinet secretaries knew they needed to be prepared to defend their reports when they presented these to Aquino.

“The correct identification of a problem leads to the correct identification of the solution,’’ Lacierda said Aquino would tell his Cabinet.

He would “study the issues and ask questions, so the proponent should really be prepared,’’ Lacierda said, adding that Aquino made decisions based on data and hard facts.

Lacierda said the then President had daily meetings with specific Cabinet secretaries so they could focus on their issues. He held full Cabinet meetings during discussions on the national budget and with the economic team.

At one full Cabinet meeting, then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and then Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV were invited. The two tangled over the latter’s assignment from Aquino to engage in back-channel talks with Chinese officials on the standoff at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

War on drugs, etc.

Countering the term “noynoying,” which was then coined to portray Aquino as a do-nothing, Lacierda said the good economic numbers, such as the two quarters in six years when the Philippines exceeded China’s gross domestic product, showed the then President’s hard work.

As a boss, Aquino “had your back,” Lacierda said. “His loyalty to his people engendered loyalty.”

In August 2017, Aquino angered his successor Duterte when he told reporters that the latter’s war on drugs hardly achieved anything, with the number of drug users in 2015 and 2016 remaining at 1.8 million.

During the 33rd anniversary of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, Aquino said that “the battle … fought at Edsa is not yet over” and that the country was returning to the Marcos era.

In November 2019, Aquino said he found it confusing that Duterte appointed Vice President Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs after publicly expressing distrust of her.

Sociologist and Inquirer columnist Randy David said Aquino’s “untimely death prods us to revisit the six years he was president, a period that now seems passé and remote when viewed in the harsh light of the Duterte presidency. Their leadership styles are a study in contrast.’’

“Our people love theatrical performances. On this score, Duterte’s communicative rawness instantly became a signifier of authenticity, while Aquino’s otherwise eloquent speeches only conveyed distance and detachment. The former president never cursed or used vulgar words in public, not even for effect. He was restrained, to the point of being devoid of emotion, even when he was angry or impatient. Digong loves to spew expletives to shock or intimidate. He is always seething, ready to unleash a torrent of verbal abuse, even when he looks sleepy. To his admirers, he is the real thing,” David added.

“In a society with limited memory, it is the little things that are remembered. Like the ban on ‘wangwang’ which, for a long time, had signified the privileges of the rich and powerful in our country. Yet, only a few will probably remember that it was PNoy who made that highly praised move in the early months of his presidency,” he said.

An economics graduate of Ateneo de Manila University, Aquino first entered politics as representative of Tarlac’s second district in 1998. He held the post for two more consecutive terms until 2007.

He placed sixth in the senatorial elections in May 2007 and later chaired the Senate committee on local government.

Even with three more years to go as senator, Aquino sought and won the presidency in 2010, with the death of his mother in 2009 sparking calls for him to lead the country.

Renal disease

According to Aquino’s sisters Ballsy Cruz, Pinky Abellada, Viel Dee and Kris Aquino, he had been in and out of the hospital even before the pandemic.

The death certificate indicated that Aquino died due to renal disease secondary to diabetes. He was said to have been undergoing dialysis thrice a week preparatory to a kidney transplant.

“Mission accomplished, Noy. Be happy now with Dad and Mom. We love you and we are so blessed to have had the privilege to have you as our brother. We’ll miss you forever,” the sisters said.

The sisters said they were hurt that Aquino had silently endured tirades against him after stepping down as President. They said they had urged him to speak up and defend himself, but that he had simply answered them: “I can still sleep at night.”

They proudly said their brother “faced all the investigations and accusations thrown at him”: at the Sandiganbayan in November 2017 for the botched Mamasapano operation, and at the Senate in December 2018 and the House of Representatives in February 2018 for the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy.

“Because when you enter public service, when you serve with honesty and dignity, and you know you have committed no crimes against the people, you will not be afraid to say the truth,” they said.

Viewing

They also thanked the doctors and other medical personnel who tended to Aquino, his friends and supporters, their neighbors on Times Street, his household staff and all those who voted for him.

The sisters announced a daylong viewing of Aquino’s urn at Ateneo’s Church of the Gesu today from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

They urged mourners to observe all health protocols.

On Saturday, Aquino’s urn will be buried beside the grave of his parents at Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City. —With reports from Krixia Subingsubing, Leila B. Salaverria AND TINA G. SANTOS INQ

Published : June 25, 2021

By : Christine O. Avendaño & Dexter Cabalza/Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN