The late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III “gave his all without fanfare” to serve the Philippines, his sister said on Friday, during a Mass marking his first death anniversary.
Aquino succumbed to renal failure as a result of diabetes on June 24, 2021, nearly five years after he stepped down as the 15th President of the Philippines.
“A year ago, our hearts fell apart when Noynoy breathed his last,” Ballsy Aquino-Cruz said during a Mass.
“But we returned him to our creator with gratitude for the blessing that he was: a simple, honest, self-effacing, and decent Filipino who gave his all without fanfare when he was tasked to serve his bosses,” she continued, referring to the Filipino public who her brother often called “boss,” she added.
The son of democracy icons Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino, Noynoy rose to power in 2010 after his mother succumbed to colon cancer the year before.
In his six-year presidency, Aquino delivered annual economic growth, tackled corruption, and stood up to Beijing over competing claims in the West Philippine Sea.
Cruz thanked the “true friends” who attended the Mass for her brother at his alma mater, the Ateneo de Manila.
“We learned the hard way that anyone can show up and celebrate with you when you are up there. But the ones who stay by your side when things are not going your way, they are your genuine friends,” Cruz said.
“Kayong mga minsaý pinagsilbihan ni Noynoy na naririto ngayon para gunitain ang anibersaryo ng kanyang pagsasakabilang-buhay, kayo ang mga tunay na mga kaibigan,” she said.
Those present included outgoing Vice President Leni Robredo, her running-mate Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Sen. Franklin Drilon, and former Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, who attempted to succeed Aquino in 2016.
His sisters Viel and Pinky Aquino were also in attendance. Their youngest sibling, host and actress Kris Aquino was not present. She disclosed last month her battle with a “life threatening” illness.
Noynoy’s long-time househelp Yolly Yebes, who found him unconscious on the day that he passed away, also joined friends and family members who gave away caps, ballers, shirts, and posters during the Mass.
The memorabilia bore Aquino’s face, name, and the line, “We want change.”
In one of Aquino’s last speeches before stepping down as President in 2016, he had urged Ateneans to be “men and women for others”, Fr. Bobby Yap said during the Mass.
“His words ring true to this day as we all face a truly complex and uncertain future. Despite the ups and downs of his term, he will be remembered as a president who showed our nation and the world how leadership with competence, conscience, compassion and commitment can bring about a marked difference in the lives of millions of people,” Yap said.
He added a scholarship fund organized by Aquino’s classmates and friends after his passing has raised at least P15 million to help students from provinces.
Aquino’s first death anniversary coincided with the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, noted Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin.
“Mahal ang tunay na pagmamahal. Lalo pa yung radikal na pagmamahal. Hindi nabibili. Hindi nasisilaw. Dinidibdib ang minamahal at ang dapat mahalin, ‘di naaabala sa lait o suklam,” he said in his homily.
But he added that Aquino, the Philippines’ first bachelor President, often refrained from talking about love.
“Kung kapiling pa natin si Noy, hula ko, hindi puso ang ating pag-uusapan… Matters of state muna bago matters of the heart,” Villarin said.
The mass ended with an a video presentation of Aquino with his with loved ones and a portion of his fifth State of the Nation Address where he quoted his martyred father Sen. Ninoy Aquino and added a line of his own: “The Filipino is worth dying for, the Filipino is worth living for, and the Filipino is worth fighting for.”