Ex-officials remember Aquino for challenging China, paving path to peace in ARMM
In this July 2014 photo, lawmakers and officials welcome then-President Noynoy Aquino who arrives at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City to deliver his State of the Nation Address.
Philstar.com/AJ Bolando, file

Ex-officials remember Aquino for challenging China, paving path to peace in ARMM

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - June 24, 2021 - 2:55pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:18 p.m.) — For former government officials, the late President Benigno Aquino III was a "transformational leader" who tasked a battery of lawyers with asserting the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea and securing a historic win in the maritime dispute.

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza said Aquino will be remembered for initiating the filing of the arbitration on West Philippine Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

"This is, to me, his lasting legacy to the Filipino people. We will do him honor, by helping our present president, President [Rodrigo] Duterte and future presidents, chart a durable enforcement mechanism, by joining the present, and future, debate on enforcement,” he added.

Jardeleza was a solicitor general in the Aquino administration and was part of the team that won the historic arbitral ruling. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2014.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra — Aquino’s former deputy executive secretary for legal affairs —  emphasized that leading a country like the Philippines “with enormous social, economic, and political challenges is a colossal task.”

Aquino took on such “awesome responsibility" and "he deserves our utmost respect, admiration, and gratitude,” Guevarra told reporters Thursday.

"One of former President Aquino's biggest decisions was to confront China in an international tribunal over the issue of the West Philippine Sea. Only history will judge if it was his greatest decision," he also said.

READ: 'His death diminishes us all': Senators remember former president Aquino

A chance at peace

Domestically, Aquino and his team worked on the signing a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, concluding 17 years long negotiations.

Aquino signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro that preceded it, that parliament member of Zia Alonto Adiong noted, was a “significant breakthrough” in the peace process.

"His administration showed its commitment to working with the Bangsamoro people and facilitated a peace process that has helped ease the weight of armed conflict and displacement on the Bangsamoro’s shoulders," Alonto continued.

SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen recalled that he "saw [Aquino] carry his title with dignity and integrity. It was an honor to have served with him."

Leonen was Aquino’s chief government peace negotiator before he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

“I knew him to be a kind man, driven by passion to serve our people, diligent in his duties, and with an avid and consuming curiosity about new knowledge and the world in general,” Leonen continued.

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A fight for the people

Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales stated that it was with great honor that she served as the country’s top graft-buster during Aquino’s term, where she said "honesty, integrity and the rule of law guided our government."

"He was brave. He went after powerful people who did wrong. But he was fair and allowed justice to prevail even to his discredit. He was an example of decency and earned us international respect," Carpio-Morales added.

Aquino championed a “daang matuwid” (straight and righteous path) principle during his term, as he vowed to run after corrupt officials and banner transparency in government.

Just weeks before her retirement as ombudsman, Carpio-Morales found probable cause to indict Aquino for usurpation of legislative powers over the implementation of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program, which was earlier struck down by the Supreme Court for being unconstitutional.

Ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno remembered Aquino as a “responsible leader,” who “invested in the long-term strengthening of justice and accountability.”

Sereno recalled that he had only spoken thrice to the late president before she was appointed as top judge. The last instance was for an interview before she was named as chief justice.

“My candidacy to the Supreme Court was not backed by any politician nor businessman, yet he chose to vet me via a long-distance interview. His key question to me was, whether I can be like a Teehankee who had bravely soldiered as a lonely dissenting voice during the Marcos years. I said yes,” she shared.

“To the President who asked me to do the right thing and nothing more, I thank you. Generations will thank you for the high regard you held for professionals in government, for asking them to do only the right thing,” Sereno continued.

Aquino appointed Sereno as chief justice in 2012, defying the seniority tradition at the high court. Sereno was eventually booted out of the SC in 2018 through a quo warranto petition that accused her non-filing of wealth declaration documents.

His former finance secretary, Cesar Purisima, remembered Aquino as a “transformational leader who humbly took the long view, one who understood perfectly how change is always an ongoing process in a continuum, and how we ran but a small leg of a never-ending relay race for the betterment of our people.”

“The character of his conviction shone the brightest in the most difficult moments: time and again, I saw him face down tough choices between the judgment of history on the one hand and the treatment of headlines on the other: always making a dignified decision for the former no matter the immediate repercussions,” he added.

Lawyer Edwin Lacierda, who was Aquino’s spokesperson, traced Aquino’s history in politics as "the son of a martyr and a mother who became our president" and who "governed our country with honest leadership, decency and civility."

“History will judge his governance with favor, but for now, he belongs to ages,” Lacierda added in his tweet.

In one of his iconic lines, Aquino in his penultimate State of the Nation Address borrowed lines from his father’s words: “The Filipino is worth dying for.”

But, he added: “The Filipino is definitely worth fighting for.”

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