MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte praised on Wednesday late senator Ninoy Aquino on the 36th anniversary of his assassination.
Opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, a critic of dictator Ferdinand Marcos who was imprisoned between 1972-1980, was shot dead on Aug. 21, 1983, after landing in Manila on his return from a three-year self-imposed exile in Boston, USA.
“I... hope that Ninoy’s remarkable life as a public servant will move my fellow government workers to serve with honor, integrity and purpose as well as inspire our youth to be of service to their country and fellowmen,” Duterte said in a statement on the occasion of Ninoy Aquino Day, a national holiday in the Philippines.
Duterte’s remarks triggered controversy as the leader has repeatedly defended the legacy of Marcos – who ruled the country between 1972-1981 under martial law with a history of human rights violations – as well as his children, Bongbong and Imee, who are among his political allies.
On Aug. 1, the 10th anniversary of the death of former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino – Ninoy’s wife, who led the opposition to the dictator after her husband’s death and the peaceful revolt that overthrew him in 1986 – Duterte mocked her and questioned her legacy.
“Cory Aquino may be popular. She is popular today. Why? For losing the husband in the hands of Mr. Marcos,” Duterte said of the first female president of the Philippines.
However, in his statement on Wednesday, Duterte stressed the “important role” of Ninoy Aquino in “restoring our democratic institutions more than three decades ago.”
“Let his example guide us as we strive to uplift and protect the most vulnerable in our society” and ensure “freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” the president urged.
“His sacrifice altered the course of nation’s history and still continues to ignite the spirit of heroism among our people,” said Duterte, who in 2016 reopened the wounds of the Marcos era after ordering that the dictator’s remains be transferred to the Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila amid huge opposition.