Duterte: The country needs more citizens like Ninoy Aquino

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In his message for the 35th death anniversary of former Senator Ninoy Aquino, President Rodrigo Duterte also says change can only be achieved if Filipinos work together to implement reforms to remedy what he calls 'many social ills.'

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte says the country needs more citizens like Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., as the nation marks the former senator's 35th death anniversary.

"In this time of real and lasting change, we need more citizens like him so we can steer our country towards the direction where a brighter and better future awaits us all," Duterte said in his message Tuesday.

The President also said change can only be achieved if Filipinos work together to implement reforms to remedy what he calls "many social ills."

"Let us take this opportunity to reflect on his sacrifice as we honor the courage and patriotism that Ninoy demonstrated during his struggle," he said.

Aquino, father of former President Benigno Aquino III, was the top opposition figure when strongman President Ferdinand Marcos  governed the country for more than two decades under Martial Law.

Marcos' presidency was marred by human rights controversies and reported accumulation of  ill-gotten wealth, which Aquino fought against.

Aquino then became a political prisoner during the Marcos regime, but was allowed to seek treatment in the U.S. in 1980 after he suffered a heart attack.

The senator returned to the country on August 21, 1983, but he was assassinated at the tarmac of the then Manila International Airport.

The assassination sparked outrage among Filipinos, with Aquino's wife Cory leading the opposition which called for Marcos' ouster. Marcos then left the Presidency on February 25, 1986 due to the mass movement known as People Power I.

Duterte is a known ally of the Marcoses. His move to allow Marcos' burial at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in August 2016 was met with heavy criticism, but Duterte claimed he was merely enforcing the law.

READ: Duterte defends hero's burial for Marcos: A matter of enforcing the law

Meanwhile, Duterte's relationship with Aquino's son, former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has also been strained amid the latter's criticism of Duterte's drug war, and their back-to-back tirades on the West Philippine Sea dispute.

READ: Ex-Pres. Aquino belies Duterte's remarks on his alleged inaction on sea row

Read the President's full message below: