Corazon Cojuangco Aquino (1933-)
7th President of the Republic of the Philippines, 1986-1992
The Philippines' first woman president, Cory Aquino was often fondly called "Tita Cory" by her supporters ("tita" means "Auntie" in Tagalog).
Under Martial Law
During the Marcos administration, Corazon "Cory" Aquino's only claim to fame was her husband; Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino had been a vocal opposition leader to the repressive regime, who was alternately jailed, tortured, and finally exiled to the US in 1980.
While Ninoy Aquino was slated to come home after a medical operation, Marcos kept barring his return, knowing that the opposition counted on the popular senator to call for elections upon his arrival.
Finally allowed to return in 1983, it seemed that there was some hope remaining for a change in government, as Aquino was expected to arrive with backing from the US State Department, which was pressuring Marcos to end martial law and hold presidential elections for the first time in seventeen years.
This hope was suddenly dashed, as Aquino was killed with two bullets to the back of the head, while descending from his plane to the runway. A readied patsy, Rolando Galman, was also killed on the scene by the Army troopers, who they held up as the gunman responsible for the assassination.
Mass outrage met the assassination, with most Filipinos believing Marcos had ordered the killing (many Marcos loyalists even believed that Imelda Marcos was actually the one who gave the order, against her husband's wishes). The funeral was attended by millions (My family and I went - the only scene I remember was Ninoy in his coffin, the exit wounds on his chin crudely sewn closed with black thread).
Almost daily protest marches, strikes, and barricades during the next three years marked the dying gasps of the Marcos administration. During this time, various opposition leaders begged Mrs. Aquino to run for office (most of them wanted her as Vice-President) as she was sure to win, with the sympathy vote.
In late 1985, under pressure from paralyzing strikes and an economy quickly spiraling downward, Marcos declared "snap elections", to show the US State Department that a majority of voters still supported him. He chose as his running mate Arturo Tolentino, a relatively unknown old politician better known for his loyalty than his ability.
Thousands of volunteers signed up for Cory Aquino's Laban party, flashing the "L" hand symbol in defiance of the Marcos loyalists' "V" for victory sign. The administration lost no time muckraking, fabricating rumors and openly insinuating in TV ads that the Laban party was under the control of the Communists ("pula ang kulay ng rally" - "red is the color of their rallies").
Imelda Marcos was even reported as saying "Why would anyone vote for her? She's so ugly, and she has no taste!"
Cory had adopted the color yellow, named after Ninoy's favorite song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon", which was playing all over Manila the day he died. She wore a yellow dress on the stage; yellow banners and streamers filled her rallies, and when they marched down Ayala Avenue, office workers tore up the Yellow Pages and rained down the confetti out the windows.
A devout Catholic, the Church rallied to her cause, with priests campaigning for her from the pulpit, urging churchgoers to "vote your conscience".
My parents toted us along on the campaign trail; we provided free sandwiches and juice for the campaigners. In every town we stopped, schoolteachers had been ordered by local officials to line up the schoolchildren to drown out our speeches with a half-hearted "Marcos, Marcos, Marcos pa rin!".
The actual election, however, would prove to be a disappointment. Despite the presence of foreign press, Marcos goons grabbed ballot boxes at gunpoint and tore up any ballot without a "MARCOS" on it. In many cases, the ballot boxes were burned, unopened, and new, filled boxes substituted in their stead. In our town, the mayor had gone into hiding, and a triumphant citizenry carried the boxes to the town hall for counting, a joyful celebration breaking out when the results were announced. But it seemed we were one of the few exceptions.
The rest, as they say, is history. Angered at the skewed results appearing on TV, a group of programmers and statisticians at the National Computer Center walked out; without them, the counting stopped. Marcos attempted to proclaim himself President; Ramos and Enrile rebelled; the people poured out into the streets to stop the tanks and helicopters closing in on Camp Crame. Within four days, ex-President Ferdinand Marcos was on his way to exile in Hawaii ("I thought you said Paoay! I thought you said Paoay!") and Cory Aquino was President, with Salvador Laurel as Vice-President.
Cleaning Up after the Marcoses
Rebuilding the country was no small task; most local officials of the KBL, Marcos' old party, were now pretending they were for Cory all along. To prevent accusations of favoritism, she replaced every official, from mayor up to her cabinet, with new blood in a general election; in many cases, newly-freed political prisoners went straight to government office. She convened a commission to draw up a new Constitution, one with more safeguards against martial law or military takeover, which the people ratified via plebiscite in 1987.
It wasn't all fun and games, of course. Enrile, one of her allies, was identified as the main instigator behind seven separate coup d'etat attempts on the Aquino administration, the padrino of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and the Young Officers Union (YOU), both militant factions within the military composed of young, ambitious colonels and majors.
None of them succeeded, but people were starting to think a woman as president wasn't such a good idea. Despite her winning Time's Woman of the Year, despite her receiving praise from freedom fighters all over the world, the military still thought to test her if she was tough enough. In a surprisingly politically adept move, she fired Juan Ponce Enrile and strengthened her alliance with Fidel Ramos. She opened negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front, against the wishes of Enrile's boys.
Years later, she further shocked her supporters by naming Ramos her choice as her successor in the coming 1992 elections, after her six-year term. While angering her traditional supporters, the Catholic Church (Ramos was a Protestant), her endorsement gave Ramos the edge needed to win the election against six other contenders.
After her presidency, Cory Aquino has retired to a private life, speaking at several engagements around the world, most notably reading a speech written by Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi. The second EDSA revolution in January 2001 also had her speaking to the people to rise up, although she was now speaking to a generation that did not remember her, and few Coryistas answered her call.
Most sourced from memory; some details taken from:
1986 Woman of the Year (http://www.time.com/time/special/moy/1986.html)
Time 100: Corazon Aquino(http://www.time.com/time/asia/asia/magazine/1999/990823/aquino1.html)