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Former Philippines President Corazon Aquino Dies

Corazon Aquino, the unassuming widow whose "people power" revolution toppled a dictator, restored Philippine democracy and inspired millions of people around the world, died Saturday morning (Friday afternoon Eastern time) after a battle with colon cancer. She was 76.

The ouster of a dictatorship through nonviolent popular demonstrations became the model for democracy movements all over the world, and Aquino was named Time magazine's "Woman of the Year" for 1986. She was also the toast of Washington when she visited in September of that year.

When she addressed a joint session of Congress, her path into the chamber was strewn with yellow roses, and lawmakers were smitten by her commitment to democracy as she delivered an emotional appeal for aid.

"You have spent many lives and much treasure to bring freedom to many lands that were reluctant to receive it," Aquino told the standing-room-only audience. "And here you have a people who won it by themselves and need only the help to preserve it." Within hours, the House responded by unexpectedly bypassing normal procedures and voting to approve a $200 million emergency aid package for the Philippines.

When then-Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) told her after the speech, "You hit a home run," Aquino replied without hesitation, "I hope the bases were loaded."

But the honeymoon soon began to sour, and Aquino was beset at home by increasing unrest, including a series of military coup attempts. After one of them, in August 1987, she displayed her combative streak by filing an unprecedented libel suit against a Manila newspaper columnist who wrote that she "hid under her bed" during the abortive revolt. She even took a reporter into her bedroom to show that it would have been impossible to hide under the bed, which sat on a platform.

"I don't want the soldiers of the republic to ever doubt for an instant that their commander-in-chef is a woman of courage that they look upon and respect," she said in explaining the lawsuit.

When her presidential term came to an end on June 30, 1992, it was with unmistakable relief that she turned over the reins to her elected successor, Ramos, her former defense secretary. In a last bit of symbolism to show she was returning to private life as an ordinary citizen, she drove away from Ramos's inauguration in a white Toyota she had purchased, shunning the government Mercedes available to her.

In a speech at the U.S. State Department in October 1996 to accept the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding, Aquino explained her role and motives with characteristic modesty.

"I am not a hero like [Nelson] Mandela," she said, referring to the South African leader who spent 27 years as a political prisoner before becoming president. "The best description for me might, after all, be that of my critics who said: 'She is just a plain housewife.' Indeed, as a housewife, I stood by my husband and never questioned his decision to stand alone in defense of a dead democracy against an arrogant dictatorship enjoying the support of the United States."

She said she ruled out sharing power with the Philippine military because she wanted to "rebuild democracy" and "there was just no room for a junta" in her country.

"Perhaps the military were also envious that in the first year of my term, I ruled by decree," Aquino said in her speech. "This was necessary to abolish the rubber-stamp parliament, sequester stolen wealth, annul the Marcos Constitution, pare down the powers of the president and sweep the judiciary clean. Each law I promulgated diminished my powers until, with the last decree, I stripped myself of the power to legislate. Could I have trusted the military to share so much power with me?"

Her departure from office as "one of the proudest moments of my life," Aquino recalled. "I was stepping down and handing the presidency to my duly elected successor. This was what my husband had died for; he had returned precisely to forestall an illegal political succession. This moment is democracy's glory: the peaceful transfer of power without bloodshed, in strict accordance with law."


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