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 underdo 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 at 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 in 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% per year for six years. He increased infrastructure spending from 1.8% of GDP in 2010 to 3.3% in 2015. He initiated the Public-Private Partnership program to cover the infra inadequacy and jump-start major projects.
He imposed taxes of 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% 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.
South China Sea resources
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.”
He didn’t steal money
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 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, and backed by the United States and the powerful Catholic Church.
Cory’s troubled presidency
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.
Under Cory, basic freedoms were restored. Democracy became the norm. Her cabinet was riven by discord between the left and the right. And the communist insurgency grew in strength to 35,000 armed regulars and the Muslim separatist movement was revived.
But when Cory died on August 1, 2009, a surge in sympathy and pity swept the nation. Noynoy riding on that crest sought the presidency in May 2010 and won overwhelmingly, with 15.2 million votes or a commanding 42%.
The youngest to be elected president since Marcos who was 48 when he won in 1965, Aquino, then only 51, beat four well-known rivals, comebacking former President Joseph Estrada, 9.487 million votes or 26.25%; self-made Filipino billionaire and political leader Manuel V. Villar, 5.57 million votes or 15.42%; former Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, 4.095 million votes or 11.35%; and preacher Eddie Villanueva, 1.125 million votes or 3.12%.
Noynoy died from depression
I have a feeling Noynoy died from depression.
Debilitating diseases frustrated Noynoy: lung, heart blockade, diabetes, and renal failure. The family has a history of heart problems. Ninoy would have died of heart attack had he not been assassinated at age 50.
Noynoy was unappreciated as president although he managed quite well with the economy doing 6% tack per year.
Four major failures
Four major failures or scandals undid his presidency: Mamasapano massacre; Typhoon Haiyan response; Dengvaxia; failure to turnover Hacienda Luisita to its farmers.
The ruthlessness and vindictiveness waged against Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and former Chief Justice Renato Corona (who led a 14-0 decision vs Luisita) had no match in modern politics.
Of course, Noynoy did well on the 4Ps for the poor, upscaling education, family planning policy, infra modernization, and letting business be itself (no new oligarchs though the Lopezes and Ayalas prospered).
Then the colossal victory at The Hague which shamed China although we lost our claim to KIG as national territory.
But the fear of being arrested by Duterte haunted him and gnawed at his nerves.
On balance, Noynoy was a good, kind and humble man. He was a good president and history will be kinder to him and his legacy. If the luster of the Aquino brand should shine on an heir, my bet is former Senator Bam Aquino.
The effect of dying
Dying makes Filipinos more sympathetic and appreciative of once less loved, if disliked, figures. To Filipinos, the dead acquire an aura exponentially bigger than their real life persona.
Look at Jose Rizal. In 1896, he was actually escaping from the Philippines when arrested. Bonifacio he lost more battles, 30, than any military commander in Philippine history. The only heroic figure who has a much diminished stature after dying is General Emilio Aguinaldo.
Aguinaldo founded the nation. Unified much of the country. He was our George Washington and Lincoln combined. He was a brilliant military commander, made generals out of youngsters with milk in their mouths.
Yet, Aguinaldo’s image is that of a killer. Of Bonifacio and Antonio Luna. After Noynoy, the nation should stop viewing our politics from the prism of a Marcos-Aquino family feud and move on.
Five families ruled for 60 years
We have 24 million families. Our presidents from 1962 came from just five families. Only five families have ruled us for more than 60 years, out of 24 million families.
According to the New York Times, “one of Aquino’s most significant achievements was the enactment of a reproductive rights law that made contraception readily available to the poor. To do so he faced down decades of resistance by the powerful Roman Catholic Church in an overwhelmingly Catholic country.”
NYT said: “Under Mr. Aquino’s leadership, the Philippines was one of the few Southeast Asian nations willing to stand up to China. He effectively sued Beijing over the two countries’ competing claims in the South China Sea, taking his case to an international tribunal in The Hague. In a landmark ruling in 2016, the tribunal found that there was no legal basis to support China’s expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters.”
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