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Former Philippine President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III dies at 61

Manila — Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, former Philippine President and the son of two of Asia's most prominent democracy icons, has passed away at the age of 61. His family said on Thursday that he'd died peacefully of renal failure as a result of diabetes.

"Mission accomplished, Noy," his sister Pinky Aquino Abellada said. "Be happy with Mom and Dad."

Former president Benigno Aquino III seen speaking to his
Former President Benigno Aquino III speaks to supporters during a Church Mass on August 21, 2018, commemorating the 35th anniversary of the assassination of his father, Benigno Aquino Jr., on August 21, 1983. J Gerard Seguia/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

Aquino's father, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., a senator who was one of the staunchest critics of former President Ferdinand Marcos, was assassinated in 1983 upon his return from exile in the United States. His death galvanized a movement that eventually led to the 1986 uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

Aquino's mother, Corazon Aquino, became the country's first female leader.

Aquino had said he never aspired to be president, but Corazon's death in 2009 brought his family back to the political pedestal. He ran on a platform of good governance, and won by a landslide. He was Philippine President from 2010 to 2016.

Armed with an overwhelming mandate to stamp out corruption, he immediately went after his predecessor and college professor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arroyo was jailed on corruption charges, but was then freed just two months after the election of current, controversial President Rodrigo Duterte.

"He was brave. He went after powerful people who did wrong. But he was fair and allowed justice to prevail, even to his discredit," said Conchita Carpio-Morales, a retired Supreme Court justice who served as the Aquino administration's ombudsman.

President Benigno Aquino III arrival in the celebration of
President Benigno Aquino III arrives for the celebration of the 118th Philippine Independence Day, in Rizal Park, Manila, June 12, 2016. Gregorio Dantes Jr./Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty

During his term, the Philippines saw its ranking on Transparency International's Corruption Index climb 11 notches. His finance secretary, Cesar Purisima, says this paved the way for record economic expansion.

"His six years in office was proof of his fundamental thesis: that good governance delivers great economics," Purisima said in a statement.

From sick man of Asia, the Philippines turned into a rising economic star. The economy grew an average 6.2% during Aquino's six-year term, the fastest since the 1970s. Analysts often criticized the economic boom, however, for not having trickled down to the poor.

Aquino will also be remembered as having stood up to China. He sued Beijing over competing claims in the South China Sea, a case his government won in 2016. An international tribunal in The Hague effectively ruled that China's expansive maritime claim was invalid.

U.S. shifts policy on South China Sea 08:44

Aquino's presidency, however, was also marred by mishaps and controversies. Early in his presidency, eight Hong Kong tourists died in an hours-long hostage crisis. His government was heavily criticized for its handling of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which killed thousands and destroyed entire towns and cities.

His anti-corruption drive was also seen to have slowed infrastructure projects, and ironically, near the end of his term, Aquino was himself accused of illegally re-allocating funds.

But the biggest blow came in 2015, when 44 police commandos died in a failed operation to capture a Malaysian militant in the southern Philippines. The incident derailed a peace process with Muslim rebels in the country that had been making significant headway.

"He tried to do what was right, even when it was not popular," Vice-President Leni Robredo, an Aquino ally, tweeted.

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