Ex-president of the Philippines, Aquino, laid to rest amid outpouring of grief, tributes

The urn of former president Benigno Aquino III at the Church of Gesu, Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, on June 25, 2021.
The urn of former president Benigno Aquino III at the Church of Gesu, Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, on June 25, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Wreaths outside the Church of the Gesu prior to the burial of former President Benigno Aquino III, Ateneo de Manila University, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, on June 26, 2021.
Wreaths outside the Church of the Gesu prior to the burial of former President Benigno Aquino III, Ateneo de Manila University, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, on June 26, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Supporters of former President Benigno Aquino III flash the 'L' sign during a motorcade before his burial in Quezon City, Metro Manila, on June 26, 2021.
Supporters of former President Benigno Aquino III flash the 'L' sign during a motorcade before his burial in Quezon City, Metro Manila, on June 26, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA - Former president Benigno Aquino III was laid to rest on Saturday (June 26) amid an outpouring of grief and tributes to a life marked by exile, the martyrdom of his father, the rise of his mother to political prominence, and personal trials and victories as a public servant.

Mr Aquino died on Thursday of kidney failure and diabetes. He was 61. He was buried next to his parents, the revered democracy icons Benigno Aquino Jr and Corazon Aquino.

"He died as he lived. He served without fanfare. He abhorred power trappings and power trippings. He slipped away quietly and, as much as possible, disturbing no one," Archbishop Socrates Villegas, a close friend of the Aquino family, said in a homily during the funeral mass for Mr Aquino.

Mr Aquino served as president from 2010 to 2016. He led the Philippines through a period of prosperity.

Under his watch, the country became South-east Asia's fastest-growing and most promising economy, with a growth rate of 6.2 per cent.

Its debt was upgraded from junk to investment grade and unemployment fell to a decade-low 6.8 per cent.

But his six-year term was also marred by what many saw as indecisive responses to crises and persistent allegations of cronyism.

He was criticised for his government's halting response to the thousands of deaths and massive devastation wrought by super typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

His reputation also took a dive after 44 police commandos were killed in an operation to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, in 2015.

His approval rating plunged amid a constant barrage of criticism in his last year in office.

That allowed Mr Rodrigo Duterte - a dark horse candidate who used his experience as a tough, no-nonsense mayor to style himself as an anti-establishment populist - to snatch the presidency in 2016.

After he stepped down, Mr Aquino retreated from politics. He seldom came out in public to defend himself, even as cases were being filed against him. He insisted that his record as president "should speak for itself".

That allowed his critics and enemies, mostly supporters of Mr Duterte, to pile up not just on him, but also on his political allies. His family's own legacy was eroded by an onslaught of historical revisionism fuelled by social media misinformation.

"He made himself an easy target of discontent, trolls and bashers. But focused vision was the rule of his leadership," said Archbishop Villegas.


Philippine military honour guards sit on a carriage as they escort the urn of the late president Benigno Aquino III as family members and supporters follow behind during the burial at a memorial park in Manila on June 26, 2021.

Vice-President Leni Robredo, who now heads Mr Aquino's political party, said in a Twitter post that the past five years "have been painful for us because we saw first-hand how wrongful accusations and disinformation were spewed to diminish his legacy.

"A lot of people were made to believe them, but facts and numbers don't lie."

But Mr Aquino did not hide his disappointment with his friends.

Father Jose Ramon Villarin said Mr Aquino, in his last text messages to him, told him about problems he was having with his failing heart.

However, Mr Aquino was more deflated by "a different kind of a broken heart" that he said doctors could not fix.

It was his disappointment at the "crudeness of violence" that blanketed the Philippines after he stepped down, alluding to Mr Duterte's drug war that left thousands dead in its wake, said Father Villarin.

In eulogies, former Cabinet ministers and allies praised Mr Aquino for "aiming for the big things", as well as for his incorruptibility and calming stoicism in the face of adversities and personal traumas.

Former energy minister Rene Almendras, a childhood friend, revealed that Mr Aquino flatlined for a few seconds during a minor medical procedure last year.

When he died, Mr Aquino was already set to get a kidney transplant.

"He was a fighter to the end. He was not a quitter," said Mr Almendras.


Supporters of former Philippine president Benigno Aquino III flash the 'L' sign during a motorcade before his burial in Quezon City, Metro Manila, on June 26, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Mr Aquino was in his teens when he, along with his parents and sisters, had to live in exile in the United States because his father, a former senator, spearheaded the opposition to the brutal regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

He was 23 when his father was assassinated in 1983, purportedly on Mr Marcos' orders. Three years later, his mother became president.

But her term was nearly derailed by at least six plots to unseat her.

In one particularly bloody coup in 1987 that nearly toppled Mrs Aquino's fledgling government, Mr Aquino was shot five times and three of his bodyguards were killed.

But he only began to carve his own political path years after his mother stepped down in 1992.

He ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1998 and later served three terms till 2007.

He was a senator in 2009, when following his mother's death, he ran for president.

Archbishop Villegas said Mr Aquino "has now joined the pantheon of the great and has entered into eternity, where his sickness is no longer a threat, where fake news has no more place, and trolls are dead, where vulgarity, brutality and terror are vanquished by compassion.

"He is now truly free."