Former President Aquino dies at 61

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 24)— Former President Benigno Aquino III has died at age 61, his family confirmed on Thursday.

Pinky Aquino-Abellada said her brother "died peacefully in his sleep" at 6:30 a.m. from renal disease, secondary to diabetes.

"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," Aquino-Abellada said in a statement.

"Mission accomplished ka Noy. Be happy now with dad and mom," she added. "We love you and we are so blessed to have had the privilege to have had you as our brother. We will miss you forever."

FULL TEXT: Message from the Aquino family on the passing of former President Benigno Aquino III

Aquino's remains were brought to Heritage Park in Taguig Thursday afternoon, where his body was cremated later in the day. A mass will also be held on Friday at the Ateneo de Manila University, his alma mater.

Former Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte announced on social media that there will be a one-day public viewing of Aquino's urn at the Church of the Gesu inside the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City on Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There will also be live streaming of the public viewing through the Radyo Katipunan 87.9 FM Facebook page, she added. 

Kris Aquino said her brother will be buried beside their parents on Saturday at the Manila Memorial Park.

"Ganoon kasimple lang. Sana maintindihan ninyo na (It's that simple. I hope you understand that) we did not think it would happen this soon, and we are just trying our best na hindi magkaroon ng (that there will be no) superspreader event," the actress-host told the media.

'In and out of the hospital'

Aquino-Abellada said her brother — even before the COVID-19 pandemic — was already regularly visiting the hospital.

The family also thanked the doctors and the whole medical team who took care of the former president.

"Naramdaman namin bilang mga kapatid niya (We felt as his siblings) that they did everything to make him comfortable. They became compassionate friends who gave him true respect by valuing and protecting his privacy," Aquino-Abellada said.

Former Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson also shared to CNN Philippines his last conversation with the man he fondly called "boss." He said at that time, Aquino was preparing for a transplant procedure.

"Kinumusta ko kasi siya, may binanggit siya na naghihintay siya ng donor. Kasi nga alam kong nagda-dialysis sabi nya pinaghahandaan niya na 'yung transplant," Singson said.

[Translation: I was asking him how he was. He said he was waiting for a donor. I know he has been undergoing dialysis...he said he's preparing for the transplant.]

READ MORE: Tributes, condolences pour in for ex-president Aquino

Aquino's political career

The former leader, known to the public as "Noynoy" or "Pnoy," served as the nation's 15th president from 2010 to 2016.

He was the scion of a famed political family; he was the third of the five children of democracy icons former President Corazon "Cory" Aquino and assassinated opposition Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. His father's assassination in 1983 at Manila's airport tarmac sparked huge demonstrations against the strongman rule of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Pro-democracy protests culminated in the EDSA "people power" revolt in 1986, where his mother played a key role. The military-backed but bloodless uprising ousted Marcos, who was flown to exile in the United States, and swept Cory Aquino into power.

Aquino had a long political career before he became the top leader of the Philippines. He served in the House of Representatives as the congressman of Tarlac for three consecutive terms from 1998 to 2007 as a member of the Liberal Party. He made a successful bid in the Senate in 2007.

Following his mother's death in August 2009, the public clamored for him to join the presidential elections, which he eventually clinched with a wide lead in May 2010.

Aquino's legacy

During his six-year presidency, he championed economic reforms and worked to curb corruption, with the aim to end poverty in the country. He was known for espousing governance that follows "Daang Matuwid" or the righteous path.

The Philippines was hailed as the fastest-growing economy in Asia during his last year in office. During his term, the country's economy grew by an average of 6.2% — the fastest streak since 1978, officials said.

In his inaugural address in June 2010, he uttered his now-famous line, "Kayo ang boss ko [You're my boss]," assuring Filipinos he will lead a government that serves the people. To clamp down on an attitude of entitlement, he strictly enforced a "no wang wang" rule against VIPs' use of sirens in their vehicles amid traffic jams.

His administration filed a case challenging China's nine-dash line maritime claims in the South China Sea in January 2013 before an international tribunal in The Hague. The landmark decision on the case, which invalidated Beijing's sweeping claim to almost the entire South China Sea, came weeks after his successor, President Rodrigo Duterte, took office in 2016.

During Aquino's term, government officials and Muslim rebel leaders signed a landmark peace deal. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, aimed at ending a long-running insurgency in Mindanao, paved the way for greater autonomy for the Bangsamoro people.

But Aquino's time in office was also marred by criticisms, such as alleged negligence during the Manila hostage crisis that led to the deaths of eight tourists from Hong Kong, his administration's purportedly slow response in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda that killed at least 6,000 people, and for supposedly evading responsibility for the deaths of 44 Special Action Forces in the Mamasapano massacre.

Aquino-Abellada said after his term, her brother faced investigations and accusations at the Sandiganbayan, Senate, and House of Representatives "because when you enter public service, when you serve with honesty and dignity, and you know you have committed no crimes against the people, hindi ka matatakot magsabi ng totoo (you will not be afraid to tell the truth)."

Aquino had kept a low profile since stepping down. He remained a bachelor and had lived in his parent's home in Quezon City. A known chain-smoker, his health had been a point of concern even after his term.