By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – Outgoing President Benigno Aquino III has urged Filipinos in an Independence Day speech to preserve the democracy they gained after a bloodless uprising in 1986 saw the downfall of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Speaking Sunday from the Presidential Palace, Aquino -- who is set to be succeeded by Rodrigo Duterte as president June 30 -- stressed that Filipinos had lost their freedom under Marcos, who ruled for 20 years, and are in danger of losing it again if they remain passive.
"Freedom has been 'kidnapped' from Filipinos. That is, if we are not vigilant it can happen again. Now we enter a new chapter in our history, may we never forget that freedom, must monitor and take care of it,” local media quoted him as saying.
In his warning, Aquino recounted the fate of his late father, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., who had returned to the Philippines from exile in 1983 to challenge Marcos when he was shot at Manila’s international airport.
The assassin was then shot by police and soldiers, leaving his motive unclear.
The assassination sparked rallies that led to the so-called People Power revolution that forced the Marcos family, who had allegedly amassed millions of dollars, to flee the country and catapulted Aquino III's mother Cory to the presidency.
"Today proved that we can enable democracy for the good of our people. It reached us all, we enjoy it today with respect to the process and the law and rights of every person," he said.
"We did it without oppressing anyone’s voices and valued the freedom that was fought for by our predecessors,” he underlined.
As the Philippines marked the 118th anniversary of its independence from Spain, Aquino also listed various achievements under his six-year term including strong economic growth and improved social services and government programs.
He described the developments as having allowed the country to transform from the "Sick Man of Asia" to the "Darling of Asia".
Before the May 9 election, Aquino had warned that then candidate Duterte had the makings of a dictator.
Since winning the polls on a crime-fighting campaign, Duterte has vowed to work toward re-imposing the death penalty and offered a bounty to officers who capture drug dealers “dead or alive”.
He has also drawn criticism for a statement on media killings, claiming some slain media workers had received payoffs or were involved in shady deals.
In Duterte's 22 years as mayor of southern Davao, the city transformed from a crime-ridden hovel to a peaceful and investment-friendly city, where he imposed bans on public smoking, and the selling of alcohol and the operation of entertainment spots past midnight.
Duterte, a devout Christian, has backed the outgoing government's peace process with one-time largest Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as well as indigenous peoples’ calls for greater autonomy. He has also made overtures toward negotiating with a decades-old communist insurgency.
Duterte has made a controversial promise to bury late dictator Marcos -- whose son Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. placed second in the vice-presidential race last month -- in the national Heroes’ Cemetery.