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Philippine democracy scion, ex-leader Benigno Aquino III dies at 61

"He gave his all for the Filipino, he did not leave anything," said Benigno Aquino III's cousin.
Image: Philippine President Benigno Aquino waving to the crowd after delivering his inaugural speech at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila
Benigno Aquino III waves to the crowd after delivering his inaugural presidential speech in Manila in June 2010. Ted Aljibe / AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Benigno Aquino III, the son of pro-democracy icons who helped topple Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, died Thursday, a cousin and public officials said.

He was 61.

Former Sen. Bam Aquino said he was heartbroken by the death of his cousin. “He gave his all for the Filipino, he did not leave anything,” he said.

Details of his death were not immediately made public, but one of his former Cabinet officials, Rogelio Singson, said Aquino had been undergoing dialysis and was preparing for a kidney transplant.

Condolences poured in from Philippine politicians, the Catholic church and others, including the U.S government, and current President Rodrigo Duterte's administration. Philippine flags were lowered at half-staff in government buildings.

“We are saddened by President Aquino’s passing and will always be thankful for our partnership,” U.S. Embassy Charge d’ Affaires John Law said in a statement.

Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, called for a moment of silence and prayers at the start of a televised news conference and Sen. Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator, also offered her condolences.

Aquino, president from 2010 to 2016, was the heir to a political family that has been regarded as a bulwark against authoritarianism in the Philippines.

His father, former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., was assassinated in 1983 while under military custody at the Manila international airport, which now bears his name. His mother, Corazon Aquino, led the 1986 “people power” revolt that ousted Marcos and secured her presidency. Aquino, who was fondly called Noynoy or Pinoy by many Filipinos and had an image as an incorruptible politician, battled poverty and frowned over excesses by the country’s elite.

Image: Philippines' President Benigno Aquino smiling upon his arrival at Wattay airport to attend the ninth Asia-Europe summit in Vientiane
Philippines' President Benigno Aquino smiling upon his arrival at Wattay airport to attend the ninth Asia-Europe summit in Vientiane, on Nov. 4, 2012.Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP - Getty Images file

Aquino won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1998, where he served until 2007. He then successfully ran for Senate and announced his presidential campaign in September 2009 by saying he was answering the call of the people to continue his late mother’s legacy.

He won by a large margin on a promise to fight corruption and poverty, but his victory was also seen as a protest vote due to exasperation with the corruption scandals of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Under Aquino, the government expanded a program that provides cash dole-outs to the poor in exchange for commitments by parents to ensure their children would attend classes and receive government health care. Big business, meanwhile, benefited from government partnership deals that allowed them to finance major infrastructure projects such as highways and airports.

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One of the legacies of the Aquino presidency was the signing of a 2014 peace deal with the largest Muslim separatist rebel group in the country, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, that eased decades of sporadic fighting in the country’s south, homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation.

Political opponents criticized what they say were his administration’s bungling of a number of crises, including a Manila bus hostage crisis that ended with the shooting deaths of eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong by a disgruntled police officer, and delays in recovery efforts in the disastrous aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

He retained high approval ratings when his single, six-year term ended in 2016. But the rise of Duterte, whose deadly crackdown on illegal drugs has killed thousands of mostly petty drug suspects, was a reality check on the extent of public dissatisfaction and perceived failures during Aquino’s reformist rule.

Aquino campaigned against Duterte, warning he could be a looming dictator and could set back the democracy and economic momentum achieved in his own term.

After his presidency, he stayed away from politics and the public eye. His former Public Works Secretary, Singson, told DZMM radio that Aquino told him in a cellphone message on June 3 that he was undergoing dialysis and was preparing for angioplasty ahead of a possible kidney transplant.

Singson said he would pray for the ailing presidency and for a successful treatment.

Aquino is survived by his four sisters.