When former President Benigno S. Aquino III passed away on the morning of June 24, 2021, the Filipino nation paid tribute to his selfless service as the country’s 15th chief executive and commander-in-chief. Only five years earlier, he completed his term and witnessed the peaceful transition of power to his duly elected successor in a ceremony that his mother, former President Corazon C. Aquino, once characterized as the most important event in the life of a democratic republic.
He was only 50 when he took his oath of office as President on June 30, 2010 at the Luneta. He had served half of his six-year term as senator; previously, he served three terms as representative of the second district of Tarlac.
Only a few months earlier, on September 9, 2009, he announced his candidacy for president on the 40th day of mourning following the death of his mother.
He reflected on that momentous decision when he received an honorary degree in humane letters from Loyola Marymount University on February 17, 2016 after attending a special ASEAN-United States summit hosted by then President Barack Obama:
“On the fortieth day after she died, I felt I had to make a decision. And part of the grieving process had to be put aside to answer this question: We have a chance to make a difference...and a significant difference at that. Do we shirk away from this challenge and give our people no chance? Or take on that challenge and at least give them the possibility of that chance at really changing the situation?”
In retrospect, his decision to run for President made a significant difference in the lives of more than 100 million Filipinos.
His focus on sustained inclusive growth resulted in a 6.2 percent GDP growth, the highest since the 1970s. As of the first quarter of 2016, inflation was at a low of 0.9 percent compared to 3.7 percent when he assumed office. The Philippine Stock Exchange Index (PSEi) soared 135.2 percent during his six-year term and posted several record highs that the exchange attributed to “strong macroeconomic fundamentals” and were a “testament to investor confidence in his governance.”
Social development and investment on human capital was another area of emphasis. His administration cleared a backlog of 66,800 classrooms; initiated the K to 12 program that aligned the country’s educational system with the rest of the world; conducted a massive employment oriented technical skills program; and institutionalized a conditional cash transfer program to lift the marginalized sectors out of poverty.
Shortly after the completion of his term, the international arbitral tribunal at The Hague upheld the Philippines’ claims to sovereign rights based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Thus did he fulfill the essential components of the Social Contract with the Filipino People that he announced at the start of his campaign for the presidency. His 62nd birth anniversary today coincides with the official start of the campaign period for nationally elected positions.
PNoy’s enduring legacy is now framed in his declaration that “The Filipino is worth fighting for.”