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Corazon Aquino, Former Philippine President, Dies

The Philippines mourn the death of its first woman president, Corazon Aquino, who died early Saturday in Manila at the age of 76. Her son announced the death. His mother had been battling colon cancer for over a year. She is known as the woman who defeated a dictator.

Aquino returned from exile in Boston to Manila in August 1983 to bury her husband, Senator Benigno Aquino Junior. But she was thrust into the heart of a people's struggle against the Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.

Her husband, a leading critic of Mr. Marcos, was assassinated upon his return to the Philippines.

His death shocked the nation, and as the grieving widow, Mrs. Aquino became the most potent weapon of the opposition against Mr. Marcos. Many Filipinos rallied to support her; in gatherings across the nation, crowds chanted her nickname "Cory, Cory, Cory".

Mrs. Aquino's critics belittled her abilities as a politician. Yet, three years later, she did the unthinkable - ran for president against Mr. Marcos.

In February 1986, the world watched as thousands of Filipinos faced tanks and armed soldiers on a section of Manila's main highway. They massed to protect a group of high ranking military and defense officials who defected from the government, and the crowd demanded Mr. Marcos step down for rigging the election.

After days of a stand-off, on February 25, 1986, Cory Aquino was sworn in as the country's new president, even as Mr. Marcos defiantly claimed a new term. That evening the Marcos family fled to the United States.

The peaceful removal of Mr. Marcos stunned the world, and President Aquino was welcomed as a beacon of democracy in a world then polarized by the Cold War.

But she was left with a country in disrepair - with a runaway national debt, widespread poverty and corruption, and rebel insurgencies. Later that year, she spoke before the U.S. Congress.

"To all Americans, as the leader of a proud and free people, I address this question: Has there been a greater test of national commitment to the ideals you hold dear than that my people have gone through? You have spent many lives and much treasure to bring freedom to many lands that were reluctant to receive it, and here you have a people who won it by themselves and need only the help to preserve it.

But the honeymoon ended quickly. Discontented soldiers, including some who helped catapult her into power, launched a series of coup attempts, nearly killing her only son in 1990.

"We shall not entertain any offer to negotiate from those who have so shameless betrayed the solemn oath of a soldier to defend the constitution," she said. "We leave them with two choices: to surrender or die."

Mrs. Aquino was born in 1933 to a wealthy Chinese-Filipino family, the Cojuangcos. She was educated in the United States. She quit law school when she married the rising politician, Benigno Aquino Junior.

Mrs. Aquino used the political views of her husband as her guiding principles, saying she was fulfilling her husband's vision for the Philippines.

She restored the country's democratic institutions through a new Constitution, and decentralized the government. She signed a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front, then the country's biggest Muslim separatist insurgency group. She also initiated an agrarian reform program, but it was criticized for still favoring big landowners, including her own family.

When she stepped down in 1992, she retreated to a low-key life. But she remained a steadfast defender of Philippine democracy, speaking out against alleged abuses of power by her successors.

News that she was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 was greeted with an outpouring of public support and prayers.

Her daughter, actress Kris Aquino, spoke of her mother's Catholic faith. "Over and above everything else she is a woman who had lived her entire life entrusting everything to the Lord and she has always been a woman of great faith," she said.

Jose de Jesus was a former Aquino cabinet minister. "All her thoughts and all her actions were for the good of the country," she said.

Mrs. Aquino believed in the power of prayer and of the people to bring about change. Over the years, she joined thousands of her countrymen in opposing attempts to tinker with the 1987 Constitution and erode the democracy that many Filipinos see as her greatest legacy.