Feature

Corazon Aquino

The Filipino president who toppled a dictator

Corazon Aquino1933­–2009

When Corazon Aquino challenged Ferdinand Marcos for the presidency of the Philippines, he scoffed that she had no experience. “It is true,” she replied. “I have no experience in lying, cheating, stealing, and killing.” Soon afterward, in 1986, Marcos’ 20-year dictatorship collapsed, undone by a populist uprising led by Aquino, who became the Philippines’ first female president and an avatar of peaceful democratic revolution. She died last week of colon cancer.

The daughter of wealthy, politically connected sugar plantation owners, Maria Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco graduated from the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, N.Y., said The New York Times. In 1954 she married Benigno Aquino, a rising Filipino politician. “In less than 20 years he became the country’s youngest elected mayor, governor, and senator.” But Marcos regarded him as a threat and, in 1972, imprisoned him for seven years. “As her husband’s only link to the world outside, Mrs. Aquino memorized his messages and statements and passed them onto the press.” Released to the U.S in 1980, Benigno Aquino returned to Manila three years later—only to be shot dead by pro-Marcos forces moments after he landed at the airport. At his massive funeral, his widow instantly “became a national symbol” of opposition to Marcos.

In November 1985, with revolt looming, Marcos called for a snap election, said the Los Angeles Times. Aquino decided to oppose him. “Wearing her signature yellow, she turned her campaign into a crusade in which she played the saintly widow taking on the evil dictator,” and pledged, “I offer you honesty and sincerity in leadership.” In February 1986, “when Marcos claimed victory after an election tainted by massive fraud, Aquino launched a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign.” Quickly labeled “people power,” the wave of popular support led to a mutiny in the armed forces, spurring Marcos and his wife, Imelda, to flee to Hawaii.

The uprising “became the model for democracy movements all over the world, and Aquino was named Time’s Woman of the Year,” said The Washington Post. “But the honeymoon soon began to sour.” Aquino endured seven military revolts or coup attempts, “battled a persistent community insurgency,” and ruled a country beset by so many natural disasters that she earned the nickname “Calamity Cory.” Her administration was also unable to combat poverty, stop corruption, or deliver basic services. When she left office, in 1992, “Aquino returned to private life with relief.” But she also did so with pride over the peaceful transfer of power. “This was what my husband had died for,” she said. Aquino is survived by four daughters and a son.

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