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Obituary: Corazon Aquino

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Some of the key moments in Corazon Aquino's life

A political novice, Corazon Aquino was thrust to the forefront of opposition to President Ferdinand Marcos following the murder of her husband, a prominent senator.

Not only did she replace Marcos as president but went on to gain a worldwide reputation as a fighter for peace and democracy, and an advocate for her strong Catholic faith.

Maria Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco was born on 25 July 1933 in Tarlac province, the daughter of a wealthy family of Filipino, Chinese and Spanish descent.

Her father had extensive interests in banking as well as controlling a 15,000-acre sugar plantation.

After attending local schools she was sent, at the age of 13, to the US where she completed her education at Roman Catholic convent schools in Philadelphia and New York.

On her return to the Philippines she enrolled at Far Eastern University to study law but left in 1954 to marry Benigno Aquino, a journalist and the son of a wealthy family from her home province.

During the following 20 years "Cory" Aquino remained in the background supporting her husband whose career in politics saw him become the youngest mayor, youngest governor and, eventually, the youngest senator ever elected in the Philippines.

A friend once described the Aquino marriage as one where "he was the warrior. She polished his sword and took care of his horse."

Assassination

Her baptism into politics followed the imprisonment of her husband in 1973 after the declaration of martial law by President Marcos.

During the next seven years she became her husband's sole link with the outside world, conveying his thoughts and speeches to news conferences in an effort to keep his memory alive.

Benigno Aquino
Benigno Aquino's murder thrust his wife into the political spotlight

Exposure to the glare of the media - and the regular strip searches when she visited the jail - had a immense effect on a woman who had, until then, been an intensely private person.

Following pressure from the Carter administration Benigno was released in 1980, and the family moved to Boston where Cory Aquino resumed her role as a housewife.

In August 1983 Benigno returned to the Philippines to prepare for the following year's presidential elections but, as he stepped from his plane at Manila airport, he was gunned down.

The Philippine opposition accused President Marcos of arranging the killing and there were mass anti-government demonstrations across the country.

Cory Aquino led more than a million mourners in her husband's funeral procession and, standing by his grave, vowed to carry on his work.

Moral message

She led calls for Marcos's resignation and, ignoring calls to boycott the May 1984 elections, saw the opposition win a third of the seats.

Fearful of a growing communist influence in the Philippines, Ronald Reagan put pressure on Marcos to carry out sweeping social and political reforms.

In what was seen as a bid to prove to the US that he was still in control, Marcos called a snap presidential election and Cory Aquino came under pressure to stand against him.

Ferdinand Marcos
She led the opposition against Ferdinand Marcos

For some time she wavered but, following the decision of a court to release army officers implicated in her husband's murder, she decided to contest the election.

Skilfully uniting the two major opposition parties, she emphasised her lack of political experience as a virtue and, in a predominantly Roman Catholic country, her deeply moral message was well received by people fed up with the corruption of the Marcos regime.

As voters went to the polls, reports began to come in of bribes, intimidation and missing ballot boxes, as the Marcos government desperately tried to retain power.

With conflicting results both candidates claimed victory and held rival inaugurations in February 1986.

A combination of key defections from the Marcos camp, public demonstrations and pressure from the US, forced Marcos to flee the country and Aquino became president.

Nobel nomination

In the face of doubts about her ability to govern she swiftly set about dismantling the worst excesses of the Marcos regime.

Cory Aquino
While in office she faced a series of coups

She released political prisoners, reinstated habeas corpus and forced a number of pro-Marcos judges and generals to resign.

Faced with an entrenched Marcos faction in the national assembly and provincial administrations, she took a major gamble and announced that she would rule by decree until a new constitution was written; it finally came into force in 1987.

Despite her personal popularity, her government faced a series of coup attempts from Marcos loyalists and disgruntled military officers.

She stepped down in 1992 but remained active in politics and played a major role in the ousting of President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and his replacement by Gloria Arroyo.

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 (she lost to Elie Wiesel) she subsequently received a number of awards and citations for championing democracy and human rights.



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