** Tribute to CORY





(January 25, 1933 – August 1, 2009)



1. Champion of Democracy

TIME chose Corazon Aquino as its Person of the Year for 1986, recognizing her central role in one of the most compelling dramas in recent history — the widowed housewife who avenges her husband's death by overthrowing the regime widely blamed for his murder. In February 1986, Aquino rose to the presidency of the Philippines after a popular uprising that forced Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos from power. She was the first woman to be designated TIME's Person of the Year since Queen Elizabeth II for 1952.


2. A Life of Privilege

She was born Corazon Cojuangco, an heiress to one of the great fortunes in the Philippines. In 1954, she married Benigno Aquino, one of the most ambitious and promising politicians in the country. Before they met, however, Benigno had dated a young beauty queen named Imelda Romualdez. Years later, his political career would turn him into the political nemesis of the man Imelda married, Ferdinand Marcos, who was elected president in 1965.


3. The Martyr's Wife

With Benigno Aquino's political star rising, Marcos assumed dictatorial powers in 1972 and imprisoned his archrival. Under international pressure, Aquino was eventually allowed to leave the country with his wife and children for exile in Boston. In 1983, however, he chose to return to the Philippines to try to offer himself as a political alternative to an ailing Marcos. The regime warned it could not guarantee his safety; but Aquino flew back anyway and was assassinated allegedly by a lone gunman while being escorted off his plane by Philippine soldiers. Corazon Aquino flew home for his funeral.


4. In Her Husband's Name, Challenging the Tyrant

Without Benigno Aquino, contending ambitions prevented the opposition from coalescing around a single candidate, even as the country appeared to be galvanized against the regime. Marcos sensed their disarray and, confident in the support of his friend President Ronald Reagan, declared a snap election to prove he still had a popular mandate. Only then did the soft-spoken, pious Catholic widow to realize, reluctantly, that only she could unite the opposition, that only she could make her husband's dream come true.


5. The Yellow Tide

Aquino turned yellow into the color of her campaign. It was, personally, one of her favorite hues; but its political significance stemmed from the yellow ribbons tied around Manila's trees and posts (inspired by an American pop song) by the supporters of her husband to welcome him on what proved to be his tragic return home. Her rallies were seas of yellow.


6. An Election Against All Odds

Aquino proved to be an inspiring campaigner, evoking tears and passion wherever she spoke. Hundreds of thousands turned out for many of her rallies; Marcos responded by bussing in thousands of his own for counter-rallies. The country seemed to be polarized. Almost immediately after the Feb. 7, 1986 polls closed, Aquino stunned Marcos by claiming victory; then the official tabulation trickled to a stop and Marcos was declared the winner by the government. Aquino declared she had been cheated.


7. Stand-Off and then a Catholic Rebellion

Two weeks of a tense political stand-off occurred; U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who had long professed friendship with Marcos, sent in an envoy to suggest Aquino share power with the dictator. She refused, feeling it repugnant to be asked to work with a man she believed had ordered her husband's murder. Then, Marcos' Defense minister and the second-in-command of the armed forces led a mutiny against the regime; the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Manila, Jaime Sin, gave up all pretense of neutrality and ordered the faithful in the streets to support the mutineers in the name of Aquino. They came out in the millions.


8. Madame President

On Feb. 25, even as Marcos appeared to be adamant about remaining president, Aquino was sworn in by a justice of the Supreme Court as the first woman to lead the Philippines. In Washington, meanwhile, seeing the populace turn against his friend, Reagan called Marcos and convinced him to leave the Philippines for exile in Hawaii. The man who had ruled the Philippines for two decades said farewell to his loyalists as his wife Imelda sang a final song. Then they took off for American territory on U.S. Helicopters.


9. Taking the Palace

Shortly after the Marcoses departed, the successful mutineers and Aquino supporters took the presidential palace, photographing themselves at Marcos' desk, poking guns at his portraits and, most startlingly, finding Imelda Marcos' enormous collection of shoes. The tacky but expensive furnishings of the First Couple disgusted Filipinos; as were allegations of billions of dollars that they had deposited in foreign countries.


10. A Washington Welcome

Apart from winning the presidency, one of Aquino's sweeter triumphs was her reception in Washington in Sept. 1986, where she was greeted at the White House by Ronald Reagan, the friend of her old nemesis. Her speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress was widely praised and interrupted numerous times by applause.


11. The Difficult Years After

Her ascendancy to the Presidency was perhaps the most important event in Aquino's life. But it would not be the only drama she would face. She would face down several attempted military coups. She delivered on her promise of closing down U.S. Military bases in the country. But the Philippine economy would sputter on, set back by several factors, including the catastrophic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. Yet, Aquino had just enough popular goodwill to preserve the democracy that her husband gave up his life for. After her single six-year term allowed her by the constitution, the people elected the candidate she endorsed for the presidency. Aquino died after a long battle with cancer on August 1, 2009. She was 76.






Corazon Aquino 1933-2009: The Saint of Democracy

By Hannah Beech

Monday, Aug. 17, 2009



It shouldn't have been surprising, really, that the world's most populous continent would give birth to a movement called People Power. In 1986, a housewife from the Philippines whose given name meant "heart" gave lifeblood to her wounded nation. The only weapon she possessed was moral courage. But with it she discovered a groundbreaking truth: that a populace holding nothing more than candles and rosary beads could face a cavalcade of tanks, topple a dictator and, most improbable of all, usher in democracy.


By the time Corazon Aquino died on Aug. 1 of colon cancer at the age of 76, People Power was so ingrained in our political consciousness that it acquired a patina of tired normalcy that hid its exceptional innovation, like electricity, say, or suitcases with wheels. Yet when Aquino led a sea of yellow-clad supporters to reclaim an election that had been stolen by strongman Ferdinand Marcos, not even the clearest-eyed political sage could have predicted that her actions would be the first crest in wave after wave of citizen-led, nonviolent movements that would reshape the world. (Read "People Power's Philippine Saint: Corazon Aquino.")


Within a few years of People Power in the Philippines, it was hard to keep up with all the peaceful uprisings that were sweeping aside authoritarian regimes across the globe: Solidarity in Poland, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the antiapartheid movement in South Africa, the end of dictatorships in South Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan. Even the extinguished idealism of student protesters in Tiananmen or the monks in Burma drew succor from the example of a certain Filipino homemaker's bravery — a woman who herself almost inadvertently assumed the mantle of Mohandas Gandhi after the assassination of her political-dissident husband in 1983. "Cory Aquino's struggle for and success at fortifying constitutional democracy in the Philippines," says Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian opposition leader, "was one of the signal battles in the last quarter of the 20th century."


Today, the surge of political change during that momentous era, from Eastern Europe to Eastern Asia, seems like an inevitability. Back then, it felt like an impossibility. No one was more surprised than the bespectacled widow who admitted that she didn't even like politics and might just as easily have ended up spending her days pruning her beloved bonsai. Nevertheless, in 1986 Aquino made People Power — and People Power made the world we now inhabit a freer place. "When we were struggling with apartheid," recalls retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the moral force of South Africa's political change, "we spoke of People Power. You had to be with the people to make change happen." At the dawn of a new century, his words may feel stunningly obvious. Yet to a planet conditioned by colonialism or Confucianism or tyranny to think that the people's obligation is to follow, not lead, Aquino's inspiration was truly transformative.


A Thin Line


If the purity of people power's message remains unblemished today, its political legacy is more complicated. True, in recent years, Aquino's quiet defiance has continued to inspire regime-changing street demonstrations, from the "Reformasi"-chanting crowds who overthrew Suharto in neighboring Indonesia in 1998 to the so-called color revolutions that catalyzed change in places like Georgia (rose) and Ukraine (orange) in the early 2000s. Like People Power, many of these movements gained momentum when the international media broadcast images of thousands upon thousands of people uniting peacefully against corrupt or cruel governments. Under the scrutiny of satellite-TV cameras, traditional exercises of power — guns, truncheons, tanks — often backfired against the force of nonviolent protest.


Also like People Power, many of these latter-day protests have profited from the power of communication to mobilize. Back in 1986, some 1 million marchers who flooded the now iconic Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) were summoned by samizdat radio stations that broadcast a political call to prayer. During the recent mass protests in the former Soviet bloc, it was thumbs tapping out cell-phone text messages that brought crowds onto streets. This year in Iran, Twitter and other social-networking sites have served as the carrier pigeons of incipient revolution.


But politicians and the public have also distorted People Power, using its catalyzing effect not to overthrow dictators but to dissolve democracies. A second EDSA uprising in 2001 against elected President Joseph Estrada cheapened the impact of its noble forerunner. Similarly in Thailand three years ago, an elected — if divisive — Prime Minister was forced out by massive street rallies that culminated in a military coup. In a perverse reworking of history, the Thai putsch's supporters dubbed it a victory for People Power. Later, in a bid to reclaim the leadership their side lost in another set of elections, the so-called People's Alliance for Democracy took over Bangkok's international airport, dealing a body blow to Thailand's vital tourism industry. Since then, yellow- and red-shirted supporters of two political camps have taken turns occupying the government, and international visitors continue to stay away. Instead of relying on the sanctity of the ballot box, a disenchanted citizenry is finding it easier to simply swarm the streets to foment regime change. The line between mob rule and People Power, it turns out, is dangerously thin.


The warping of an ideal must have distressed Aquino, who was one of the few opposition leaders to succeed as commander in chief. Just three days after a pair of Marcos allies defected from his camp because of the egregiously rigged electoral result that favored a decaying dictator over Aquino, Asia's first female President was sworn in. At the time, Cory Aquino took office as little more than a symbol: the grieving widow of opposition politician Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino Jr., who was gunned down at the Manila airport just moments after returning from exile in the U.S. (See Aquino's life in photos.)


But after a rocky beginning and a slew of attempted coups, Aquino evolved into a President who merited her six years in office. She did so not as the devout Catholic whose impassioned rhetoric inspired EDSA, but as an administrator driven by a more Protestant industriousness. In the end, her tenure was nothing more than a brick-by-brick laying of democracy's foundation. That, though, was more than enough. Look at what happened, by contrast, to other figureheads of peaceful resistance: Poland's Lech Walesa, for instance, fumbled so badly after taking office that he lost a bid for re-election. (A further attempt to regain power elicited just 1% of the Polish vote.)


Half the Battle


Aquino also understood, like nelson mandela, that the enduring success of People Power depends upon the leaders it thrusts into office knowing how to make a graceful exit. Even though the Filipino electorate would surely have granted her another presidential term, she anointed a political successor, Fidel Ramos, and eased into retirement. Yet Aquino's example has not been fully followed in her homeland, where another woman President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has taken advantage of electoral loopholes to elongate her tenure. Far worse are the Robert Mugabes of the world, once genuine heroes who long outlived their welcomes. Aquino's rare gift was to realize that People Power was only half the battle. Equally important was knowing when to relinquish that power bestowed by the people.


Cory's wisdom — she was, after all, one of the few leaders who was so beloved that her supporters often dispensed with her last name — will be all the more crucial at this juncture in history. Democracy, if only in name, has touched much of the developing world. But the legacy of People Power is constantly threatened by the repressive actions of those who later claim to represent it, from Pakistan and Iran to the Philippines itself. Aquino, in her helium-inflected voice, once mused: "I came to power peacefully, so shall I keep it." Like much of what Cory said, this idea — that power comes as much from the consent of the governed as the barrel of a gun — seems a simple insight. But in the world today, it remains nothing short of revolutionary.