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MANILA: Philippine flags were lowered to half-mast on government buildings Friday as people lined up at Manila’s Church of the Gesu to pay their last respects to former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, who has died aged 61.

He led the Philippines from 2010 to 2016 and was the only son of former President Corazon C. Aquino and assassinated opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr.

Aquino died in his sleep on Thursday morning, his family told the media.

A 10-day national mourning period, lasting until July 3, was declared by President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday evening to pay tribute to Aquino’s “lasting legacy” to the Filipino people.

“His memory and his family’s legacy of offering their lives for the cause of democracy will forever remain etched in our hearts,” Duterte said, as he called on Filipinos to “unite in prayer and set aside our differences” during the mourning period.

Vice President Leni Robredo, accompanied by her two daughters, attended Aquino’s wake at the Church of Gesu at the Ateneo de Manila University’s Loyola Heights campus in Quezon City.

“He showed the kind of leadership that our country needs. His passing is like the end of an era,” she told reporters. “The challenge is upon every one of us to continue what he fought for.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said his department joined the nation in mourning for Aquino, who had strengthened the country’s military.

“As commander-in-chief, he recognized the importance of equipping our military to better respond to the evolving domestic and regional security challenges,” Lorenzana said in a statement.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) held an eight-gun salute at military camps on Friday to honor their former commander-in-chief.

His memory and his family’s legacy of offering their lives for the cause of democracy will forever remain etched in our hearts.

President Rodrigo Duterte

The eight-gun salute represents the first eight provinces that participated in the Philippine revolution against Spanish colonial rule from 1896 to 1899.

“We give our former president and commander-in-chief our snappiest salute and our pledge to continue to perform our mandate. The banner of his legacy will continue to fly on the hallowed grounds of our camps anywhere in the country,” AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said in a statement.

During his term, Aquino advocated the strengthening of the country’s defense and security capabilities.

The Republic Act No. 10349, also known as the revised AFP modernization act, was enacted under his leadership to build a defense system capable of addressing security issues such as the South China Sea dispute
with China.

There were also condolences from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, with leaders recognizing Aquino’s contributions to the region’s peace and development.

Between 2011 and 2012, Aquino negotiated peace between the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, ending decades of separatist conflict.

“We are forever grateful for his administration’s efforts in revitalizing the peace talks and their help in laying the groundwork for lasting peace in Mindanao,” Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim said, adding that Aquino would also be remembered for his commitment to fighting corruption and “just like his parents, his unwavering commitment to democracy.”

Senator Imee Marcos, the daughter of the former dictator President Ferdinand Marcos whom Aquino’s parents helped topple, also paid tribute.

“I will always treasure the memories of our long years together as freshmen legislators and members of a tiny opposition,” Marcos said. “Far beyond politics and much public acrimony, I knew Noynoy as a kind and simple soul. He will be deeply missed.”

Condolences continued to arrive also from abroad, with US President Joe Biden bidding farewell to “a valued friend and partner to the United States.”

“President Aquino’s steadfast commitment to advancing peace, upholding the rule of law, and driving economic growth for all Filipinos, while taking bold steps to promote the rules-based international order, leaves a remarkable legacy at home and abroad that will endure for years to come,” Biden said. “I greatly valued our time working together, and I extend my heartfelt sympathies to his family and to all who will mourn his absence.”

The funeral mass for Aquino will be held at the Church of the Gesu on Saturday at 10 a.m.

It will be streamed live on Ateneo de Manila University’s Facebook and YouTube pages, as well as on Radyo Katipunan 87.9 FM.

Aquino will be laid to rest at Manila Memorial Park on Saturday, beside his parents.

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