By Cherie M. Querol Moreno
SAN FRANCISCO – Praise and prayers poured out for President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III at the White House, the Vatican and elsewhere, including the Philippine Consulate here, where relatives, friends and allies gathered to honor the leader who passed away Thursday, June 24, in Manila. He was 61.
United States President Joe Biden extended his condolences to the Filipino people on the passing of Aquino as he remembered him as a “valued friend and partner” who left a remarkable legacy for promoting rules-based international order.
“President Aquino’s steadfast commitment to advancing peace, upholding the rule of law, and driving economic growth for all Filipinos, while taking bold steps to promote the rules-based international order, leaves a remarkable legacy at home and abroad that will endure for years to come,” Biden said in a statement.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis issued a letter extending his heartfelt condolences. “I extend my heartfelt condolences to the people of the Philippines, recalling the late president’s service to the nation,” Pope Francis said in his letter.
“I commend his [Aquino’s] soul into the hands of the all-merciful God, upon his family and all who mourn his passing I invoke abundant consolation and peace in the Lord,” the Pope added.
The Philippines declared national mourning following Aquino’s death. The late President was also honoured by Congress and the Armed Forces which he served as Commander in Chief.
In San Francisco, Consul General Neil Frank Ferrer hailed Aquino and his family’s “remarkable legacy on our country’s foreign policy and national history” after the Catholic Mass officiated by Father Arnold Zamora, pastor of St. Robert’s Church in San Bruno with Father Mark Reburiano, pastor of St. Gregory Church in San Mateo. California Attorney General Rob Bonta called to mind the family’s example of leading “not only with your policies but also what’s in your heart.” Philanthropist Mona Lisa Yuchengco, who organized the service, commended Aquino as “incorruptible” and like his parents, “simple, unaffected by ambition or vanity, by power or wealth.” (Full remarks in Upside.)
On behalf of the family, Ken Kashiwahara reiterated the fallen leader’s fealty to his predecessors’ “pattern of honesty, patriotism and heroism.” The retired ABC News West Coast chief correspondent often reminds of and did repeat his wife Lupita Aquino’s caution early in their relationship that marrying her was marrying the whole Aquino family, which he soon realized was also marrying the entire country because of the famous Aquino dedication to the nation.
The second member of the family who ascended to the presidency, the only son of national hero – the martyred Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and the Philippines’ first woman President Corazon “Cory” Aquino is widely recognized for steering the country toward economic growth. It was under his administration from 2010 through 2016 when the country pushed back against China for its incursion in the West Philippine Sea through an international court in The Hague that found no legal basis for the occupation.
Then-Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has lauded Aquino, whose relatively brief political experience began in 1998 as member of the House of Representatives and then the Senate. In a text they traded in December, the former envoy to the US disclosed: “I would like you to know, Mr. President, that there is one person I truly look up to – and that would be you.” He said his former boss’ “simple reply” was typical and expected: “Thank you for your kind words, Albert.”
US Representative K. Jackie Speier issued a statement appreciated by her predominantly Filipino American constituents in San Mateo County:
“President Benigno Aquino III stood in the hinge of history. When he became president, the Philippines needed continued stable government and he provided it.”
Speier noted the “challenges in the Philippines that require the assured guidance of multiple presidents over many, many years” including economic, environmental and societal issues she said Aquino met “with a love of his nation and fellow citizens which was inspirational.”
In fact Aquino ended his term with a popularity rating of 57%, per polster Social Weather Stations, topping that of his recent predecessors. But he was flayed for his government’s response to the devastating Typhoon Haiyan and the bungled effort to arrest a terrorist that resulted in the deaths of scores of police officers and civilians. Aquino was named a respondent in an anti-graft case related to the latter matter, for which he was subjected to relentless attacks by political adversaries. He chose not to respond, saying his conscience was clear, his sisters recalled to reporters.
The former president had been undergoing dialysis these past few months but kept his health condition private, said his sister Pinky Aquino-Abelleda, who gave the official cause of death was “renal disease secondary to diabetes.”
“I was shocked,” Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara shared her reaction with Philippine News Today upon receiving word of her nephew’s death moments earlier. She immediately called one of her daughters in Manila, who likewise had not heard the news. “She made calls and then confirmed the report.”
Calls rained on communication devices at the Millbrae, California, home of Kashiwahara, de facto leader of the U.S. branch of the much-admired clan. In his remarks, Ken Kashiwahara confided that Lupita and the president did not always see eye to eye politically but their nephew always was respectful and never lost sight of their personal relationship.
“Don’t you think we should have a Mass for ‘Noynoy,’” Kashiwahara told PNews Today how the event unfolded as a suggestion by Mona Lisa Yuchengco, a resident of Redwood City and a longtime confidante.
Yellow flowers matched the yellow touches on attendees’ attire reminiscent of the early 1980s, after the color became symbolic of defiance against the Marcos dictatorship, particularly after the assassination of “Ninoy” Aquino upon arrival from exile at the Manila airport that now bears his name. The hue washed over the Philippines and beyond when “Cory” Aquino transformed from “simple housewife” to freedom fighter challenging the overstaying president Marcos. Bright yellow blossomed again with the emergence of her husband’s namesake after her death, when he was named Liberal Party bet for president.
Chita LaO Lopez Taylor gave the first reading followed by Aquino Kashiwahara’s daughter Isabel Concio, who read the psalm. Colma Council Member Joanne del Rosario, youngest sister of the former envoy to the US and foreign secretary, led the prayers of the faithful. Ennie Arguelles, wife of then-Consul General Romeo Arguelles, one of the first officials to defect from the Marcos administration in 1986, joined retired Assistant City Attorney Ernie Llorente in offering the bread and wine. Goya Navarrete and Zeni Mallari present floral offerings.
A premier assembly since the Covid19 lockdown at the Philippine Consulate, the event seemed fitting as it brought together activists banned from entry prior to People Power and who frequently inhabited it as community leaders afterwards. With an without their masks, attendees hugged and comforted one another.
Memories of the 1980s flooded conversations between former BART board member Rodel and wife Edna Rodis, domestic violence prevention advocate Leni Marin and writer Mila De Guzman, author Miles Garcia, Dr. Agnes Alikpala, Bes Roces, Susan Po Rufino and her daughter Georgina, NaFFAA officer Jinni Bartolome, former Tourism Attache Rene Santiago, retired KTVU South Bay Bureau chief Lloyd LaCuesta, whom Philippine News Today met for the first time when the Philippine Consulate opened its doors with the ouster of the Marcos regime and PNews Today publisher Francis Espiritu, who experienced the era through the precious archives his family acquired a decade later.
Aquino relatives Ching Falcon, Gang and Didoy Aquino were among the many reunited for love of the ancestral country in the name of the unassuming member of the most prominent political family in the Philippines who served with grace but died too young.