MANILA (UPDATE) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday called on the public to "unite in prayer and set aside our differences" to pay tribute to his predecessor, the late former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, who he said had "given his best to serve the Filipino people.
Aquino, the son of two of the Philippines' democracy icons, died in a Manila hospital of renal failure as a result of diabetes earlier in the day. The 61-year-old was president of the Philippines from 2010 to 2016.
Duterte extended his condolences to Aquino's four sisters and loved ones. "May you take comfort in the knowledge that he is now in a better place with his Creator," the President said in a statement.
"Let us all take this opportunity to unite in prayer and set aside our differences as we pay respects to a leader who has given his best to serve the Filipino people," said Duterte.
"His memory and his family's legacy of offering their lives for the cause of democracy will forever remain etched in our hearts," he added.
In a speech in Malacañang, Duterte thanked Aquino "for his service to our country."
"I hope that my fellow Filipinos will be inspired by his legacy," said Duterte.
"I offer my heartfelt condolences to the Aquino family. Be assured of the government’s assistance in this period of mourning and above all, please accept the love and the prayers of a grateful nation," he added, before offering a moment of silence for his predecessor.
Paraphrasing a Bible verse, he said, "There is always a time for everything in this planet. Whatever it is, we will always have our appointed time."
"Sometimes we just take for granted life. But in times like this, lalo na kilalang Presidente (especially when a President is popular), we always put on notice our mortality in this world, that we cannot last forever," the 76-year-old leader said.
PNOY AND PEOPLE POWER
Known popularly as "PNoy", Aquino rode a wave of public support to the presidency after the 2009 death of his mother, the revered "People Power" leader Corazon "Cory" Aquino, who was herself president from 1986 until 1992.
His namesake father, a senator who staunchly opposed the rule of strongman Ferdinand Marcos, was assassinated when he returned home from political exile in 1983.
The killing shocked the nation and helped propel Marcos out of office in the 1986 People Power revolution and ushered in his mother's presidency.
Aquino still carried a bullet wound from a 1987 attempted military coup against his mother’s administration, during which he was shot five times and three of his bodyguards were killed.
STATE FUNERAL FOR NOYNOY?
Duterte made no mention of a state funeral for his predecessor.
A state funeral is a public ceremony that honors heads of state or other people of national significance. It returns a former leader for the last time to Malacañang, where he or she used to live.
The President "has the prerogative of ordering a state funeral for any citizen who is deemed of sufficient stature to deserve such an honor," according to government journal Official Gazette.
"The last state funeral was held on July 4, 2012 for the late National Scientist Perla Santos-Ocampo. The last state funeral for a former President was for the late President Diosdado Macapagal in 1997,” it added.
The Aquino family turned down a state funeral for their matriarch.
Cory was concerned with expenses that the government would have to spend for a state funeral, given the economic downturn that the country was then facing, Noynoy said in 2009.
Aquino's younger sister, Kris, said his remains have been cremated and burial will be on Saturday at the Manila Memorial Park.
"The cremation is already finished... On Saturday, we will bury him beside our parents in Manila Memorial. Ganun kasimple lang. Sana maintindihan niyo na we did not think it would happen this soon. We are just trying our best na hindi magkaroon ng super spreader event," Kris said.
"Nagpapasalamat kami sa lahat ng mga nagpapadala ng kanilang mga condolences," she added, expressing her gratitude as well to Malacañang and Duterte.
On certain occasions during his term, Duterte scored Aquino over his administration's response to super typhoon Yolanda, the botched police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, and China’s seizure of Scarborough Shoal, among others.
FROM THE ARCHIVES:
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters