"His stint at the Palace was remarkable for many right—and wrong—reasons."
Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III died in his sleep slouched in his LazyBoy at the family’s Times Street residence in suburban Quezon City early morning of June 24, 2021. He was 61. He apparently died from a heart attack due to kidney failure and diabetes.
With his weight down from a peak of 160 lbs to just 100 lbs, Noynoy had just had an angioplasty (he almost died just before the operation) to clean blocked vessels and was preparing for a kidney transplant after missing two sessions of a three-times-a-week dialysis due to chronic fatigue. “Hindi ko kaya (I couldn’t do it),” he told an aide in refusing to undergo dialysis.
At 6:30 morning of Thursday, doctors at Capitol Medical Center, where he was rushed after he was found unresponsive in his room, declared him dead.
“MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, Noy,” declared her elder sister, Pinky Aquino Abellada, after reading a 489-word statement confirming his passing. “Be happy now with Dad and Mom. We love you and we are so blessed to have had the privilege to have had you as our brother. We’ll miss you forever.” Pinky was flanked by the eldest Aquino sibling, Ballsy Aquino Cruz, and the youngest, Kris Aquino.
Noynoy Aquino was the 15th president of the Philippines. He served from noon of June 30, 2010 to noon of June 30, 2016.
Aquino’s stint at Malacañang, the riverside presidential palace, was remarkable for the right reasons—and the wrong reasons.
Among the right reasons:
The economy prospered, growing by an average of 6.2 percent per year for six years. He increased infrastructure spending from 1.8 percent of GDP in 2010 to 3.3 percent in 2015. He initiated the Public-Private Partnership program to cover the infra inadequacy and jump-start major projects.
He imposed taxes on sin products—liquor and tobacco, raising P60 billion. He rescued 7.7 million from poverty with his Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (the 4Ps or cash aid to poor families). He raised educational standards for elementary and high school with his K12, which added two years to basic education. He built 82,000 classrooms and hired 200,000 teachers.
Noynoy sought peace with Muslim separatists.
Aquino’s biggest achievement was the Philippine victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 wherein the decision rejected the nine-dash line claim of China over 90 percent of the South China Sea, its islands, islets, reefs and all the resources beneath the ocean.
If Beijing did not lose the case, China’s national territory would have been just 64 kms from Balabac, our southernmost island, 70 kms from Bolinao, Pangasinan, and 44 kms from Y’ami, in Batanes, our northernmost territory.
Some $5 trillion worth of international trade passes yearly through the South China Sea. The sea has vast oil and maritime resources. Its methane hydrates alone could power China for the next 100 years.
The arbitral court said China’s “claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction with respect to the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention”.
China was also found to have “failed to exhibit due regard for the Philippines’ sovereign rights with respect to fisheries in its exclusive economic zone. Accordingly, China has breached its obligations under Article 58(3) of the Convention.”
President Aquino did the right things. He personally didn’t steal money while in power, although a number of trusted subalterns and relatives were rumored to be on the take and cutting deals.
Philippine presidents are often accused of raking in billions making them richer than billionaires who made money the old-fashioned way—through hard and honest work. Noynoy’s campaign slogan was “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap” (“If none is corrupt, no one would be poor”).
Noynoy disdained the appurtenances of power. Like the notorious “wangwang” –the blaring lights and siren and heavy security convoy to whisk VIPs through the capital’s notorious and horrendous traffic because allegedly, they were in a hurry to go to work. Like being epal (slang for “papel” (paper or role) or script, for being intrusive for self promotion) where politicians routinely broadcast their achievements and pro-people deeds, no matter how insincerely or perfunctorily executed, so voters would remember them.
Noynoy adhered religiously to no “wangwang” and no epal, a quality that made many critics think he was cold, aloof, indifferent, lacking in compassion. He had a difficult childhood and adult life.
His father, Liberal Party opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was jailed for seven years and seven months by President Ferdinand E. Marcos who had declared martial law in September 1972 and arrested his political enemies before installing a dictatorship.
In 1980, Ninoy and his family were allowed to go on self-exile to the US and for a heart bypass operation. When he attempted to return in August 1983, Ninoy was killed at the Manila airport tarmac while going down the stairs of his plane, guarded by four close-in military escorts one of whom turned out to be his gunman.
Ninoy’s death catapulted his widow Cory into national prominence and to the presidency in a controversial February 1986 snap election which the strongman Ferdinand Marcos officially won by a margin of two million votes.
Marcos was, however, ousted by a four-day (Feb. 22-25,1986) civilian-military uprising, called People Power, led by Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and armed forces Vice Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos, backed by the United States and the powerful Catholic Church.
Cory’s presidency of six years and four months was bedevilled by eight coup attempts, two of which, in 1987 and 1989, were bloody. The worst blackouts, the worst earthquake and the worst volcano eruption of the century happened during her watch.