'People Power' Leader Toppled Philippine Dictator

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.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 1, 2009

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 after a battle with colon cancer, her family announced. She was 76. Widely known as "Cory," the slight, bespectacled daughter of a wealthy land-owning family served as president of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992, the first woman to hold that position.

She was widowed in 1983 when her husband, political opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr., was assassinated upon his return from exile to lead a pro-democracy movement against authoritarian president Ferdinand E. Marcos. It was a popular revolt against Marcos after a disputed election that later enabled Corazon Aquino to assume power.

In her six tumultuous years in office in the fractious, strife-torn, disaster-prone archipelago, Aquino resisted seven coup attempts or military revolts, battled a persistent communist insurgency and grappled with the effects of typhoons, floods, droughts, a major earthquake and a devastating volcanic eruption. Her tribulations earned her the nickname "Calamity Cory."

As she dealt with those challenges, she took pride in restoring democratic institutions that had been gutted under Marcos's 20-year rule. And she presided over a series of relatively free elections, the dismantling of monopolies and an initial spurt of economic growth.

Her administration failed to make much headway in alleviating poverty, stamping out corruption or delivering basic services. It bequeathed her successor an economic slump marked by protracted, costly power failures that reflected inattention to the country's energy needs.

Despite the turmoil that dogged her presidency, Aquino oversaw the first peaceful transfer of power in the Philippines in 26 years. She returned to private life with relief, although she remained politically active.

She played a role in popular protests that led to the ouster of President Joseph Estrada in January 2001. She initially supported his successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but increasingly turned against her in recent years, siding with opponents who accused Arroyo of vote-rigging and corruption.

Aquino's transition from housewife to president to respected elder stateswoman and democracy advocate represented a phenomenal metamorphosis for a self-effacing mother of five who, before being drafted to take on Marcos in 1986, had never before run for public office.

Born Jan. 25, 1933, in Tarlac Province, Maria Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco grew up as the sixth of eight children in a family of wealthy landowners in the province about 70 miles north of the capital. After attending exclusive grade schools, she went to the United States in 1946 to continue her secondary education at Ravenhill Academy in Philadelphia, Notre Dame convent school in New York and the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York.

There, in 1953, she earned a degree in French and mathematics. She returned to Manila to study law and met Benigno S. Aquino Jr., an aspiring politician whom she married in 1954. Survivors include their five children, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III, Maria Elena A. Cruz, Aurora Corazon A. Abellada, Victoria Eliza A. Dee and Kristina Bernadette A. Yap; two brothers; three sisters; and a number of grandchildren.

For years she stayed in the background as the quiet, reserved, devoutly Catholic wife of the gregarious and ambitious Benigno Aquino, who was a governor and senator and seemed destined to become the Philippines' president until he was arrested in 1972 just hours after Marcos declared martial law.

He remained in prison until 1980, when Marcos allowed him to seek heart treatment in the United States. Corazon Aquino often described the next three years, when her husband was a fellow at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her family lived together in a Boston suburb, as the happiest in her life.

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