Former President Benigno Simeon Aquino Jr.’s last fight — and rare public appearance after his stint in Malacañang — was when he joined an indignation rally against the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on 18 November 2016.
He marched with the people at the Rizal Park to counter historical revisionism, the records that several forces of society felt would have been erased by Marcos’ internment at the cemetery for heroes, allowed no less by his successor President Rodrigo Duterte to fulfill a promise to the Marcos family that supported his candidacy.
That appearance was a brave move for Aquino, who six years before had bungled his handling of the Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis, the scene of which was just a stone’s throw away from the site where he added his voice against the Marcos burial.
The grandstand mishap was the first test to Aquino’s presidency on 23 August 2010 — two days after he had commemorated the 27th anniversary of his father Ninoy Aquino’s assassination at the Manila International Airport, purportedly by forces loyal to Ninoy’s rival, Marcos.
It was among the issues his foes had tainted him with to cement the road for the rise of Duterte. Aquino’s fault was being there when a corrupt policeman commandeered a bus full of Hong Kong Chinese tourists to demand his reinstatement, resulting in the death of nine, including the perpetrator. It could have been a mere police matter.
That ill-advised appearance had led to more criticisms that followed his presidency, but he left the Palace awaiting a victory from elsewhere that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had described as “firm,” just the day before Aquino died.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra sees history as the right judge to Aquino’s victory in the Philippines’ arbitral win over China in an international court over the West Philippine Sea.
“Only history will judge if it was his greatest decision,” Guevarra stated.
Guevarra said it was one of the former President’s biggest decisions that resulted in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to declare that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within its so-called “nine-dash line”.
Duterte was to inherit that victory just days after his inauguration as President as it came on 12 July 2016, when the special arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines.
On Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. reaffirmed the 2016 arbitral ruling awarded to the Philippines as “final” just days ahead of its fifth anniversary.
“The Award is final. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it; nay, even erase it from the law, history, and our collective memories,” Locsin said in a statement.
“The Award conclusively settled the status of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea,” the country’s top diplomat said.
“In summary, the Award gives littoral states guideposts on how much waters their features — be they islands or rocks — can generate, where their fishermen can fish, where they can exercise law enforcement patrols, where they can send their ships without permission from the nearest state, without creating a cause of action or a casus belli between them,” he added.
Manila has repeatedly raised the award in its maritime dispute with Beijing but China refused to acknowledge the Philippine victory, calling it “null and void”.
Chinese ships were constantly seen encroaching parts of Philippine territory over the years, the latest fleet spotted last month.
Despite this, Locsin issued the strong warning and reiterated the position made by President Rodrigo Duterte during the United Nations General Assembly saying that the award “is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon”.
“The Philippines is proud to have contributed to the international rules-based order, to the affirmation of UNCLOS, and the strengthening of the legal order over the seas,” Locsin said.
He further described the ruling as “a milestone in the corpus of international law” stressing that it “benefits the world across the board” as it can be used as the basis for other countries with “same problematic maritime features”.
“It puts one issue out of the way of conflict; because there is nothing there taken by force that results in any gain in law,” he added.
On Thursday, the DFA honored the President who helped make it happen.
In a statement, the agency said: “The Department of Foreign Affairs joins the nation in mourning the passing of former President Benigno S. Aquino III.”
“During his term as the 15th President of the Philippine Republic, President Aquino elevated the country’s conduct of foreign relations, steered foreign policy towards a principled direction that earned international respect and esteem, and invigorated the foreign service with a collective sense of patriotism, commitment to service, and professionalism.”
“He has left a remarkable legacy on our country’s foreign policy and national history.”
“The Department offers its condolences to the former President’s family and friends, and joins the Filipino people in grieving the loss of a great man, leader and nationalist.”