MANILA, June 24 (Reuters) – Benigno Aquino, the only son of the Philippines’ two enduring icons of democracy and former president of the Southeast Asian country, died in a Manila hospital on Thursday. He was 61.
Popularly known as Noynoy, he rode a wave of public emotion up to the presidency following the death of his mother Corazon Aquino in 2009.
He had carefully built an image as a corruption fighter and praised himself for a period of economic growth that helped dispel the reputation of the Philippines as the “sick man of Asia”.
Aquino, a namesake of his father, whose assassination in 1983 at Manila International Airport sparked a riot that toppled Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship three years later, Aquino was the 15th President of the Philippines.
During his six-year tenure from 2010, the country’s long history ended with junk debt status. Economic growth in these six years was an annual average of 6.0 percent, the highest since the 1970s.
As president, Aquino cracked down on tax evaders and initiated criminal proceedings against former officials, including his predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, her family and allies.
His crusade against transplantation was based on the goodwill generated by the family name and reputation for honesty in a nation where corruption was endemic.
Aquino was born on February 8, 1960 as part of a wealthy and politically powerful clan. He has four sisters including Kris, a popular film and television personality.
He remained a bachelor his entire life, despite being associated with movie stars, journalists, and a former woman at Universe at various times. As a heavy smoker, he drove fancy cars and bought a Porsche at the beginning of his presidency.
Known for his casual manner, Aquino often wore baggy shirts and pants and made no effort to hide his bald head or lack of honed skills in public speaking.
He was shaped by his parents through much of his political life – his father of the same name, Benigno, was banished by Marcos and murdered on his return. His mother took it on and became president after the People Power Revolution that drove Marcos out of power.
Aquino was injured in an attempted military coup in 1987 during his mother’s presidency. Three of his bodyguards were killed, and he was shot five times and lived with shrapnel on his neck.
He served as a congressman for eleven years and later as a senator in the Philippine Congress, but his political career was lackluster and supported important economic and political measures, particularly those that promoted transparency in government, but none.
A wave of public sadness and emotion after hundreds of thousands flocked to the streets for his mother’s funeral in August 2009 convinced the soft-spoken Aquino to accept his parents’ legacy.
His reign as president was not free from crises.
In November 2013, Aquino had to cope with the devastation left by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms to hit the country. The super typhoon that devastated cities and villages in the central Philippines killed more than 6,000 people.
Despite some progress in the fight against corruption, Mr. Clean’s image was tarnished that year by scandals over the misuse of public funds by lawmakers.
Also that year, Aquino’s government filed an arbitration in The Hague to compel Beijing to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea.
In 2016, the court ruled that China does not have a historic title over the disputed waters in a landmark decision hailed as a victory for the Philippines that China refused to recognize
In Aquino’s fifth year in office, 44 commandos were killed in a botched operation to apprehend a wanted Malaysian militant and the president was heavily criticized for allowing a suspended police officer to help plan and conduct the raid.
Aquino returned to private life after his tenure ended in 2016 and has rarely appeared in public since then. According to local media reports, he has been unwell for two years and was hospitalized earlier Thursday.
Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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