Corazon Aquino was swept into the presidency by the February 1986 "People's Power" uprising amid high expectations that she would be able to right all of the wrongs in the Philippine body politic. It soon became evident, however, that her goals were essentially limited to restoring democratic institutions. She renounced the dictatorial powers that she had inherited from President Ferdinand E. Marcos and returned the Philippines to the rule of law, replacing the Marcos constitution with a democratic, progressive document that won overwhelming popular approval in a nationwide plebiscite, and scheduling national legislative and local elections. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The new constitution, ratified in 1987, gives the Philippines a presidential system of government similar to that of the United States. The constitution provides the checks and balances of a three-branch government. It provider for the presidency; a two-house Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives; and an independent judiciary capped by the Supreme Court. The constitution also provides for regular elections and contains a bill of rights guaranteeing the same political freedoms found in the United States Constitution. Fueled by a constitutionally guaranteed free and open press, the freewheeling political life that had existed before the martial law period (1972-81) soon resumed. But most of the political problems, including widespread corruption, human rights abuses, and inequitable distribution of wealth and power, remained. *

Corazon Aquino had wide popular support but no political organization. Her vice president, Salvador H. “Doy” Laurel, had an organization but little popular support. Enrile and Ramos also had large stakes in what they saw as a coalition government. The coalition unraveled quickly, and there were several attempts, including unsuccessful military coups, to oust Aquino. She survived her fractious term, however, and was succeeded in the 1992 election by Ramos, who had served loyally as chief of staff of the armed forces and secretary of national defense under Aquino. *

According to Lonely Planet: “If people thought that ousting the Marcoses would lead to period of political stability, they were wrong. Cory Aquino had helped shepherd through a new constitution that greatly limited presidential power to do undemocratic things like declare martial law or appoint oneself president for life. The first real presidential elections were held in 1992 and showed how messy democracy could be. Aquino's endorsed successor, Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos, won with barely 24 percent of the vote. This lack of a resounding mandate left people restless.” [Source: Lonely Planet]

Corazon (Cory) Aquino

Corazon Cojuangco Aquino was president of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992. The first female leader of a Southeast Asian country, she was named Time Woman of the Year in 1986 primarily for her role in the “People Power” revolution that ousted Ferdinand Marcos. Often described as a shy housewife who became leader of country, she liked to wear yellow, a symbol of democracy. Her years in power were anything but tranquil. Among other things she survived family coup attempts (six to nine depending on the source), mostly by rightists and Marcos sympathizers.

Aquino, universally and affectionately known as "Cory," was a Philippine president quite unlike those who preceded her. Observers have groped for the right word to characterize the Aquino presidency. She was first called a "revolutionary," but later a mere "reformer." When the old landed families recaptured the political system, she was called a "restorationist." She has received many honorary degrees and awards such the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, the United Nations Silver Medal, the Canadian International Prize for Freedom, and the International Leadership Living Legacy Award from the Women’s International Center.

Aquino was the person who coined the term “people power” to describe by huge crowds that gathered in support of her after the disputed election in February 1986. Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Demure but radiant in her familiar yellow dress, Mrs. Aquino brought hope to the Philippines as a presidential candidate, then led its difficult transition to democracy from 20 years of autocratic rule under her predecessor, Ferdinand E. Marcos. That initial triumph of popular will — after a fraudulent election in which Mr. Marcos claimed victory, though most people believed that Mrs. Aquino had won — was a high point in modern Philippine history, and it offered a model for nonviolent uprisings that has been repeated often in other countries. But it also set a difficult precedent in the Philippines, where people nostalgic for their shining moment continue to see mass movements as an acceptable, if unconstitutional, answer to the difficulties of a flawed democratic system.[Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2009]

Aquino was sort of like the Philippines’s Joan of Arc. A slight woman who wore big glasses, she was a reluctant rallying point for the People Power revolution and was thrust into that position primarily because her husband Benigno Aquino, Marcos’s primary opponent and a martyr of the anti-Marcos movement. In any case, she seized the moment when it presented itself and helped restore the democracy to the Philippines that Marcos took away. After winning the general election in 1986, Aquino said, “This is my message to Mr. Marcos and his puppets: do not threaten Cory Aquino, because I am not alone.”


Cory Aquino as the Leader of the Philippines

As president, Aquino was determined to “lead by example.” To indicate she was serious about making a break from the past, Aquino insisted that her driver stop at red lights to let civilians pass as she was being driven to her inauguration. During her six years in power she made every effort possible to expunge the imperial trappings of the Marcos years. In 1992, when she drove to the inauguration of her successor, she arrived not in Mercedes as other VIPs did but in a humble Toyota Crown.

Although many saw her weakness and delay, Aquino did not waiver from her decision that the most important legacy of her presidency would be her presidential leadership style, as she was always more concerned with process over policy. In March 1986, she proclaimed a provisional Constitution and soon after appointed a commission to write a new Constitution. This document was ratified by a landslide popular vote in February 1987. She served for one term that lasted six years as defined by the new Constitution, as she decided not to seek re-election. [Source:]

There was however no change in the social and economic circumstances under Aquino's government. It is important to realize that her government was pressured by huge popular expectations, as the people prior to her had been living under martial law for 14 years. She saw herself as a transition president, from going to dictatorship to democracy, as she believed the Philippines would take at least 10 years to recover after Marcos Regime. It is also important to understand, that what could have impacted her ability to create change was the fact that she had to survive 6 coups and no one was loyal to her. [Ibid]

As President Corazon C. Aquino entered the final year of her six-year term in 1991, she presided over a demoralized nation reeling from the effects of natural calamities and economic malaise. The country had slid into dictatorship and gross economic mismanagement during Ferdinand E. Marcos's twenty-year presidency. When Aquino was elevated to the presidency in an inspiring People's Power Revolution in 1986, Filipinos' hopes rose. Inevitably, the stark realities of the nation's economic and political predicaments tarnished Aquino's image. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Aquino's achievements, however, were significant. She helped topple a dictator who had unlimited reserves of wealth, force, and cunning. She replaced a disjointed constitution that was little more than a fig leaf for Marcos's personalistic rule with a democratic, progressive document that won overwhelming popular approval in a nationwide plebiscite. She renounced the dictatorial powers she inherited from Marcos and returned the Philippines to the rule of law; she lived with the checks on her own power inherent in three-branch government; and she scheduled national elections to create a two-chamber legislature and local elections to complete the country's redemocratization. *

Cory Aquino’s Image and Character

Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein wrote in The Guardian, Aquino “was the most recognisable symbol of the turbulence endured by her country over the last four decades. Aquino avoided the limelight, and was more comfortable among priests and nuns than politicians. Yet, with dignified stoicism, she persevered with the duties of a presidency that had been thrust upon her by tragedy and circumstance. This "Mother of Sorrows" image proved both endearing and effective. It enabled her to count on the support of Cardinal Jaime Sin, ecclesiastical primate in the world's third largest Catholic nation, and shielded her in the seven coup attempts launched by her enemies over the six years of her presidency. Yet for all her moral virtue, as a president Aquino was naive and weak.” [Source: Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein, The Guardian, August 1, 2009]

Howard Chua-Eoan wrote in Time, “The arc of Corazon Aquino’s life lent itself to maxims, but two hard-nosed ones seem particularly worth pointing out. First, political sainthood is a gift from heaven with a Cinderella deadline — once past midnight, you are a pumpkin. Second, personal virtues are never a guarantee of effective or successful governance. What was truly shocking about Aquino’s tumultuous six-year term as President of the Philippines was that those maxims proved untrue. Midnight always threatened Aquino but never struck; and she was a good woman whose goodness alone, at the very end, was what proved enough, if only by an iota, to save her country. [Source: Howard Chua-Eoan, Time, August 17, 2009]

“The exact opposite was foretold by the husband whose murder she vowed to avenge and whose political legacy she promised to preserve. Anyone who succeeded Ferdinand Marcos, Benigno Aquino declared, would smell like horse manure six months after taking power.” But “ Benigno Aquino’s widow lasted more than six months; indeed, she lasted her entire six-year term. Furthermore, she retained a whiff of sanctity even as her government rotted, even as Filipinos worked hard to prove George Orwell’s aphorism that saints are guilty until proven innocent. As Aquino ruled, every month seemed to diminish the political miracle of her astonishing rise to power, but she survived. And her survival guaranteed the continuation of democracy in her homeland.” [Ibid]

Aquino's Early Life

Maria Corazon Sumulong Conjuangco was born on January 25, 1933 in Paniqui, Tarlac, which is in central Luzon, north of Manila. Her maiden name indicates Chinese mestizo ancestry. Many of her descendants came from China. Her parents were Jose Chichioco Cojuangco and Demetria "Metring" Sumulong, and the family were of mixed Chinese, Filipino, and Spanish descent. The family surname is a Spanish version of the Chinese name "Koo Kuan Goo." Among the wealthiest families in the province, the Cojuangcos had various banking and commercial interests owned a sugar plantation covering 15,000 acres. A Cory was the couple's the sixth of eight children. Corazon means “Heart” in Spanish.

Cory Marcos’s father was a three-term congressman and her mother pharmacist, who was the daughter of a senator. The Cojuangcos were one of richest clans in the Philippines. Her Chinese great-grandfather's name could have been romanized to Ko Hwan-ko, but, following the normal practice of assimilationist Catholic Chinese-Filipinos, all the Chinese names were collapsed into one, and a Spanish first name was taken.

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “ Like the Aquinos, they belonged to the class of oligarchs of Chinese, Spanish and Malay descent who have held the real power in the Philippines since colonial days. She attended exclusive schools in Manila until she was 13, when she was sent to finish her education at convent schools in the United States. Teachers and students remembered her as a quiet, studious and devoutly Catholic girl. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2009]

Aquino’s teenage years was that of a privileged, well-educated girl sent abroad. She attended Ravenhill Academy in Philadelphia and the Notre Dame Convent School in New York. She earned a bachelor's degree at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York, where she majored in French and minored in mathematics and worked in the campaign of American presidential candidate Thomas Dewey in 1948. In 1953, she returned to the Philippines to study law. She was fluent in four languages: Tagalog, Kapampangan, French and English.

Cory Aquino as Benigno “Ninoy” Acquinos Wife

After returning to Manila she briefly studied law at the Far Eastern University. There, she met a young man from one of the Philippines' other wealthy families, a fellow student named Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino, Jr. She abandoned her plans to become a lawyer after marrying Benigno. Ninoy was a restless, rich scion of another prominent Tarlac family and a journalist with political aspirations. He became a mayor, then soon afterwards became the youngest governor ever elected in the Philippines, and then the youngest member of the Senate ever in 1967. Corazon concentrated on raising their five children: Maria Elena (b. 1955), Aurora Corazon (1957), Benigno III "Noynoy" (1960), Victoria Elisa (1961), and Kristina Bernadette (1971).

Kallie Szczepanski wrote in in “As Ninoy's career progressed, Corazon served as a gracious hostess and supported him. However, she was too shy to join him on stage during his campaign speeches, preferring to stand at the back of the crowd and watch. In the early 1970s, money was tight, so Corazon moved the family to a smaller home and even sold part of the land she had inherited in order to fund his campaign.” [Source: Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Expert, \*/]

“When Mr. Marcos declared martial law in 1972, extending his presidency beyond its two-term limit, Mr. Aquino was arrested and charged with subversion and illegal possession of firearms. He spent the next seven years behind bars. “Ninoy had become an outspoken critic of Ferdinand Marcos's regime, and was expected to win the 1973 presidential elections, since Marcos was term-limited and could not run according to the Constitution. However, Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972 and abolished the Constitution, refusing to relinquish power. Ninoy was arrested and sentenced to death, leaving Corazon to raise the children alone for the next seven years. \*/

“In 1978, Ferdinand Marcos decided to hold parliamentary elections, the first since his imposition of martial law, in order to add a veneer of democracy to his rule. He fully expected to win, but the public overwhelmingly supported the opposition, led in absentia by the jailed Ninoy Aquino. Corazon did not approve of Ninoy's decision to campaign for parliament from prison, but she dutifully delivered campaign speeches for him. This was a key turning-point in her life, moving the shy housewife into the political spotlight for the first time. Marcos rigged the election results, however, claiming over 70 percent of the parliamentary seats in a clearly fraudulent result. \*/

“Meanwhile, Ninoy's health was suffering from his long imprisonment. US President Jimmy Carter personally intervened, asking Marcos to allow the Aquino family to go into medical exile in the States. In 1980, the regime allowed the family to move to Boston. Corazon spent some of the best years of her life there, reunited with Ninoy, surrounded by her family, and out of the scrum of politics. Ninoy, on the other hand, felt obligated to renew his challenge to the Marcos dictatorship once he had recovered his health. He began to plan a return to the Philippines.”

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Mrs. Aquino played the dutiful wife as her husband’s political star rose. During her husband’s time in jail, Mrs. Aquino’s political education began in earnest. As her husband’s only link to the world outside, she memorized his messages and statements and passed them on to the press. In 1980, Mr. Marcos allowed Mr. Aquino to go to the United States for a triple-bypass heart operation. Mr. Aquino accepted academic posts at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the family settled in Newton, a suburb of Boston, for what Mrs. Aquino later recalled as the happiest three years of her life. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2009]

Corazon C. Aquino: The Last Time I Saw Ninoy

Corazon and her children stayed in the U.S. while Ninoy took the circuitous route back to Manila. Corazon Aquino wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “The last time I saw Ninoy alive was on Aug. 13, 1983. We had all attended Mass that morning at Saint Mary’s Chapel in Boston College. Both of us had very little sleep the night before. I remember being so nervous and in fact I was shivering that night, which was quite unusual because it was a warm summer night in Boston. (Whenever I feel very nervous, I usually shiver regardless of the temperature.) I could sense that Ninoy was also feeling quite apprehensive, but he reminded me that we had already discussed the matter and he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I guess he did not want me to worry more. And so we left it at that. I just prayed and prayed as I could not sleep even as I felt that Ninoy was just pretending to be asleep. [Source: Corazon C. Aquino, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Thursday, August 21, 2003 <~>]

“We saw Ninoy off at the Logan airport and we tried to be cheerful as we told him that we would see him in two weeks. Ninoy had to take another route home – from Boston on Aug. 13, 1983, to Los Angeles, then to Singapore, next to Malaysia, where we had friends in the ruling family, to Hong Kong, and then Taipei. And from Taipei to Manila. He had chosen Taipei as then final stopover because the Philippines had severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This made him feel more secure; the Taiwan authorities could pretend they did not know of his presence. There would also be a couple of Taiwanese friends to take care of him. <>

“Ninoy and I talked for the last time on Aug. 20, 1983, at 7 p.m. Boston time, which was Aug. 21, 1983, 7 a.m Taipei time. He told me that he had written letters for me and each of our five children, and that he would soon be leaving for the airport. I told him I had been informed that AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver had warned any airline bringing Ninoy in that Ninoy would not be allowed to disembark, and that the airline would be ordered to fly Ninoy back to his original port of embarkation. Ninoy said they could not do that to him because he is, was and always would be a Filipino. And he told me that most likely he would be re-arrested and brought back to Fort Bonifacio. In that case, he said, he would ask Gen. Josephus Ramas for permission to call me up. <~>

“At around 2 a.m Boston time, Aug. 21, 1983, a Sunday, our phone rang and my eldest daughter Ballsy who answered it was shocked when Kyodo news agency representative in New York asked her if it were true that her father had been killed at the Manila International Airport. United Press International and Associated Press reporters also called, asking for verification. I was hoping and praying that all these reports were false. But when Member of Parliament Shintaro Ishihara of Japan called me up from Tokyo and told me that from Manila and verified the shooting report, my children and I cried as we had to accept the cruel fact that Ninoy had been shot dead.” <~>

Cory Aquino After her Husband’s Death

Ninoy was assassinated as he got off the plane from Taipei to Manila on August 21, 1983. Corazon Aquino was a widow at the age of 50. A grieving Cory returned to the Philippines the following day. Instead or mourning in private she allowed Ninoy's open coffin to travel to different places before the funeral, which attracted a crowd of 2 million.

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Despite warnings from Mr. Marcos’s powerful and eccentric wife, Imelda, Mr. Aquino pursued a sense of mission and returned to the Philippines on Aug. 21, 1983. He was escorted from his airplane by two soldiers, who gunned him down on a side stairway leading to the tarmac. It was at his funeral, dressed in black and standing beside his open coffin, that Mrs. Aquino became a national symbol, showing the dignity and composure that would characterize her most difficult moments as president. Her popularity reached its peak during her presidential campaign against Mr. Marcos in January 1986, when she was surrounded by enthusiastic crowds chanting, “Cory! Cory! Cory!”“ [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2009]

Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein wrote in The Guardian, “Overwhelmed by the public reaction, she managed to control the potentially explosive shock and anger, and soon learned how to harness public outrage to spectacular effect, holding weekly demonstrations of more than a million people. Coming from a wealthy family with investments in sugar, real estate and banking, she also managed to involve sectors not normally motivated to protest – the business community and upper classes, as well as the church, students and the poor. Ayala Avenue, the Wall Street of Manila, became one of the biggest centres for her rallies.” [Source: Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein, The Guardian, August 1, 2009]

“When, in November 1985, Marcos called a snap election, she was the obvious choice of the previously fragmented opposition – 1.2m signatures were gathered to endorse her candidacy. It was not a challenge she relished, however. "Please don't overestimate me, don't expect too much of me," she pleaded at one rally. She announced her candidacy a day after a Marcos-appointed court acquitted 26 military men accused of being involved in Ninoy's assassination. Marcos called her "a snake in the Garden of Eden", and his beauty-queen wife Imelda, bitter with jealousy over Cory's popularity, pooh-poohed her million-strong endorsement. Cory rose above these cheap shots, however, comparing herself with "the young boy David about to face the giant Goliath".” [Ibid]

Cory Aquino the Politician

Aquino was portrayed in the media as just an ordinary housewife who was challenging a 20-year dictator for presidency, but this was never true. As she had been tutored in politics from an early age, was college educated, was part of a wealthy political family, and had a husband with political instinct and ambition. She came to power as a "clean-up mom," trying to move her country out of social and financial turmoil, and she also wanted to keep her husband's political vision alive. She appeared shy and a silent student and wife, but she is also seen as eventually growing into role as a leader. [Source:]

Corazon Aquino became actively involved with politics, as her husband, Benigno, was a popular critic of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. After Begnino’s assassination, Cory Aquino had hoped that the party would find someone else to run against Marcos in 1986, so that she would not have to be considered. She agreed to run if she had a million signatures on petitions requesting her to run, and so she did. [Ibid]

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “An observant Roman Catholic who sometimes retreated to convents for contemplation, she attributed much of her success to a divine will. She also said she sought guidance from the spirit of her late husband, Benigno S. Aquino Jr., who had been a chief challenger to Mr. Marcos. His assassination in 1983 fueled the opposition against Mr. Marcos and made his widow a popular figure. “What on earth do I know about being president?” Mrs. Aquino said in an interview in December 1985, after a rally opening her election campaign. But that was beside the point. For many Filipinos, she embodied a hope of becoming a better nation and a prouder people. “The only thing I can really offer the Filipino people is my sincerity,” she said in the interview. It was what they hungered for, and what she delivered as president. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2009]

Cory Aquino and the People’s Power Revolt

After her husband’s death, Aquino though that she could fight Marcos from behind the scenes. She had no plans or desire to become an opposition leader. In 1985 she joined the United Nationalist Democratic Organization, she said, to help elect others. After mediating and paraying for 10 hours at a convent, finally came to the realization that she alone could unify the opposition. Afterwards she said, “We had to present somebody, who is the complete opposite of Marcos, someone who has been a victim. Looking around I may not be the worst victim, but I am the best known.” A combination of deep faith, sereneness, and hard work, propelled Aquino through the People Power revolution and the subsequent election. Though hampered by the government’s near monopoly of the media, Aquino’s appearances attracted millions of passionate supporters, many decked out in yellow, the reluctant candidate’s favorite color.

Kallie Szczepanski wrote in in “Literally millions of Filipinos poured into the streets of Manila for Ninoy's funeral. Corazon led the procession with quiet grief and dignity, and went on to lead protests and political demonstrations as well. Her calm strength under horrific conditions made her the center of anti-Marcos politics in the Philippines - a movement known as "People Power." Concerned by the massive street demonstrations against his regime that continued for years, and perhaps deluded into believing that he had more public support than he actually did, Ferdinand Marcos called new presidential elections in February of 1986. His opponent was Corazon Aquino. [Source: Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Expert, \*/]

“Aging and ill, Marcos did not take the challenge from Corazon Aquino very seriously. He noted that she was "just a woman," and said that her proper place was in the bedroom. Despite massive turnout by Corazon's "People Power" supporters, the Marcos-allied parliament declared him the winner. Protestors poured into the Manila streets once more, and top military leaders defected to Corazon's camp. Finally, after four chaotic days, Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda were forced to flee into exile in the United States.” \*/

Aquino as President

Aquino was elected in a general election after the "People Power" revolution of 1986. Her vice president was Salvador H. Laurel. Aquino did not seek to create a political party to perpetuate her rule, preferring instead to rely on her personal popularity, which initially was strong but diminished throughout her term.

Aquino was largely regarded an ineffectual and indecisive ruler who devoted her efforts to wiping out vestiges of the Marcos regime but accomplished little else. The economy faltered during her term and there was a great deal of discontent. Under Aquino a new “dictator-proof” constitution was ratified in February 1987; political prisoners were released; the American military bases were closed down; and peace talks were launched with Muslim insurgents. She pledged agrarian reform and land redistribution, but her background as a member of the landed classes made this a difficult promise to keep.

A devout Catholic, Aquino often dealt with crises by praying. She followed the church by discouraging birth control and dismantling her country's family planning program. After taking office Aquino ordered an exorcism of the Marcoses palace by a Roman Catholic priest, and turned into a tourist attraction to bring attention to the excesses of the Marcos regime.

President Aquino's early years in office were punctuated by a series of coup attempts. Her greatest frustration, and a most serious impediment to economic development, was a fractious, politicized army. Some officers wanted to regain the privileges they enjoyed under Marcos; others dreamed of saving the nation. Although all coup attempts failed, they frightened away foreign investors, forced Aquino to fire cabinet members of whom the army did not approve, pushed her policies rightward, and lent an air of impermanence to her achievements. [Source: Library of Congress]

Land Reform Efforts Under Corazon Aquino

The Corazon Aquino government introduced laws in the 1980s and 90s to break up big landholdings and limit individual property ownership to roughly 12 acres. Under the law, landowners could either sell their land to the government at prices set by the government or sell it voluntarily, preferably to peasants, and receive a cash bonus. According to the plan peasants would receive loans and financial assistance from the government and pay back loans at a discounted rate over 20 years. The Department of Agrian Resources was set up to hand over the transfer of land. As of 2002, it had managed to give out about 80 percent of the 10.6 million acres targeted by the plan to 1.8 million peasants.

Getting the last 30 percent was difficult. In many cases it was the best land and it was owned by the richest and most powerful landlords, who had thwarted government effort to claim the land using lawyers, armed militias and political influence. In many cases the landowners create conditions, namely high montage rates, that made peasants feel they have no choice but to lease back land to the landowners under terms that made them worse off than they were before.

The failure of the Marcos land reform program was a major theme in Aquino's 1986 presidential campaign, and she gave land reform first priority: "Land-to-the-tiller must become a reality, instead of an empty slogan." The issue was of some significance inasmuch as one of the largest landholdings in the country was her family's 15,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita. But the candidate was quite clear; the land reform would apply to Hacienda Luisita as well as to any other landholding. She did not actually begin to address the land reform question, however, until the issue was brought to a head in January 1987, when the military attacked a group of peasants marching to Malacañang, the presidential residence, to demand action on the promised land reform killing 18 and wounding more than 100 of them. The event galvanized the government into action: a land reform commission was formed, and in July 1987, one week before the new Congress convened and her decree-making powers would be curtailed, Aquino proclaimed the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. More than 80 percent of cultivated land and almost 65 percent of agricultural households were to be included in a phased process that would consider the type of land and size of holding. In conformity with the country's new Constitution, provisions for "voluntary land sharing" and just compensation were included. The important details of timing, priorities, and minimum legal holdings, however, were left to be determined by the new Congress, the majority of whose members were connected to landed interests. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Criticism of Aquino's plan came from both sides. Landowners thought that it went too far, and peasant organizations complained that the program did not go far enough and that by leaving the details to a landlord-dominated Congress, the program was doomed to failure. A World Bank mission was quite critical of a draft of the land reform program. In its report, the mission suggested that in order to limit efforts to subvert the process, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program needed to be carried out swiftly rather than in stages, and land prices should be determined using a mechanical formula rather than subjective valuation. The World Bank mission also was critical of a provision allowing incorporated farm entities to distribute stock to tenants and workers rather than the land itself. The scheme would be attractive, the mission argued, "to those landowners who believed that they would not have to live up to the agreement to transfer the land to the beneficiaries." The mission's recommendations were largely ignored in the final version of the government's program. *

On June 10, 1988, a year after the proclamation, Congress passed the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. Landowners were allowed to retain up to five hectares plus three hectares for each heir at least fifteen years of age. The program was to be implemented in phases. The amount of land that could be retained was to be gradually decreased, and a non-land-transfer, profit-sharing program could be used as an alternative to actual land transfer. *

Especially controversial was the provision that allowed large landowners to transfer a portion of the respective corporation's total assets equivalent in value to that of its land assets, in lieu of the land being subdivided and distributed to tenants and farm laborers. In May 1989, the 7,000 tenants of the Aquino family estate, Hacienda Luisita, agreed to take a 33 percent share of the hacienda's corporate stock rather than a portion of the land itself. Because the remaining two-thirds of the stock (the value of non-land corporate assets) remained with Aquino's family, effective control of the land did not pass to the tillers. Proponents of land reform considered the stock-ownership provision a loophole in the law, and one that many large landowners would probably use. Following the example of the Hacienda Luisita, thirty-four agrocorporations had requested approval for a stock transfer as of mid-1990. Although legal, the action of the president's family raised questions as to the president's commitment to land reform. *

It is difficult to estimate the cost allowing for inflation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Early on, in 1988 estimates ranged between P170 billion and P220 billion; the following year they were as high as P332 billion, of which P83 billion was for land acquisition and P248 billion for support services and infrastructure. The lowest mentioned figure averages to P17 billion a year, 2.1 percent of 1988 GNP in the Philippines and 8.9 percent of government expenditure that year. The sum was well beyond the capacity of the country, unless tax revenues were increased substantially and expenditure priorities reordered. To circumvent this difficulty, the Aquino government planned to obtain 50 to 60 percent of the funding requirements from foreign aid. As of 1990, however, success had been minimal. *

Government claims that in the first three years of implementation the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program met with considerable success were open to question. Between July 1987 and March 1990, 430,730 hectares were distributed. About 80 percent of this, however, was from the continuation of the Marcos land reform program. Distribution of privately owned lands other than land growing rice and corn, 3,470 hectares, was insignificant not only in absolute terms, but it was also only 2 percent of what had been targeted. The inability of the Department of Agrarian Reform to spend its budget also indicated implementation difficulties. As of June 1990, the department had utilized only 44 percent of the P14.2 billion allocated to it for the period January 1988-June 1990. In part because of Supreme Court rulings, the Department of Agrarian Reform cut its land acquisition target in late 1990 by almost half from 400,000 hectares to 250,000 hectares. *

Privatization in the Philippines Under Cory Aquino in the 1980s

When Aquino assumed the presidency in 1986, P31 billion, slightly more than 25 percent of the government's budget, was allocated to public sector enterprises--government-owned or government-controlled corporations--in the form of equity infusions, subsidies, and loans. Aquino also found it necessary to write off P130 billion in bad loans granted by the government's two major financial institutions, the Philippine National Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines, "to those who held positions of power and conflicting interest under Marcos." The proliferation of inefficient and unprofitable public sector enterprises and bad loans held by the Philippine National Bank, the Development Bank of the Philippines, and other government entities, was a heavy legacy of the Marcos years. [Source: Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Burdened with 296 public sector enterprises, plus 399 other nonperforming assets transferred to the government by the Philippine National Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines, the Aquino administration established the Asset Privatization Trust in 1986 to dispose of government-owned and government-controlled properties. By early 1991, the Asset Privatization Trust had sold 230 assets with net proceeds of P14.3 billion. Another seventy-four public sector enterprises that were created with direct government investment were put up for sale; fifty-seven enterprises were sold wholly or in part for a total of about P6 billion. The government designated that about 30 percent of the original public sector enterprises be retained and expected to abolish another 20 percent. There was widespread controversy over the fairness of the divestment procedure and its potential to contribute to an even greater concentration of economic power in the hands of a few wealthy families. *

Congress and Congressional Elections Under Cory Aquino

The first free congressional elections in nearly two decades were held on May 11, 1987. The pre-martial law Philippine Congress, famous for logrolling and satisfying individual demands, was shut down by Marcos in 1972. The 1973 constitution created a rubber-stamp parliament, or National Assembly, which only began functioning in 1978 and which was timid in confronting Marcos until some opposition members were elected in May 1984.In the 1987 elections, more than 26 million Filipinos, or 83 percent of eligible voters, cast their ballots at 104,000 polling stations. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Twenty-three of twenty-four Aquino-endorsed Senate candidates won. The lone senator opposed to Aquino was former Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile, her husband's former jailer and her one-time defender. Enrile was seated as the twenty-fourth and final member of the Senate, after the Supreme Court ordered the Commission on Elections to abandon plans for a recount. The new legislature was formally convened on July 27, 1987. [Source: Library of Congress*

At least three-quarters of those elected to the House were endorsed by Aquino, but her influence was less than these results might seem to indicate. She never formed her own political party but merely endorsed men and women with various ideologies who, because of their illustrious family names and long political experience, were probably going to win anyway. Out of 200 elected House members, 169 either belonged to or were related to old-line political families. Philippine politics still was the art of assembling a winning coalition of clans. *

Congress did not hesitate to challenge the president. For example, in September 1987, less than two months after the new Congress convened, it summoned the presidential executive secretary to testify about the conduct of his office. The following year, Congress also rejected Aquino's proposed administrative code, which would have conferred greater power on the secretary of national defense. *

Political Forces During Cory Aquino’s Term

Criticism of the Aquino administration came from all parts of the political spectrum. Filipino communists refused to participate in a government they saw as a thin cover for oligarchy. The democratic left criticized Aquino for abandoning sweeping reform and for her probusiness and pro-American policies. Her own vice president, Salvador H. Laurel, castigated her mercilessly from the beginning and even encouraged the army to overthrow her. The far right (sugar barons, military malcontents, and ex-Marcos cronies) characterized her as naive and ineffective and ridiculed her for being what she always said she was, a "simple housewife." In reality she was far more than that. Amidst this cacophony, Aquino seemed to have calmly accepted that she would not be able to resolve the Philippines' deeply rooted structural problems and that it would be enough to have restored political democracy. She prepared the ground for her successor. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Roman Catholic Church also was a major political factor. It had reverted to a less visible (but no less influential) role than in the declining years of Marcos's rule, when its relative invulnerability to harassment spurred priests and nuns to become political activists. Most church leaders criticized human rights abuses by military units or vigilantes, but they supported constitutional government. Cardinal Jaime Sin, who played such a pivotal role in Aquino's triumph over Marcos, recognized her personal virtue but denounced the corruption that stained her administration. Some parish priests, disgusted by the country's extreme polarization of wealth and power, cooperated with the New People's Army. *

The communist insurgency had not been eradicated, although guerrillas posed less of a threat than they did before 1986. They conducted murderous internal purges. Still, if a guerrilla army wins by not losing, the New People's Army was a real alternative to the elected government. It fought for more than twenty years, and the class inequities it condemned continued to grow in the early 1990s. The fight against Filipino Muslim separatists in Mindanao likewise continued, also at a diminished level. *

Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein wrote in The Guardian, “Her "reconciliation" policy towards Marcos's henchmen meant that many such apparatchiks remained unpunished for crimes committed during the martial law era of 1972-86. Chief among them was Marcos's cousin, General Fidel Ramos, the military strong man who spearheaded the repressive state machine: Aquino appointed him armed forces chief, and he eventually succeeded her as president in 1992. Another was Marcos's judge general, Anniano Desierto, who was appointed national ombudsman. Even Marcos's defence minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, brutal jailer of the democracy campaigners, was placated by Aquino, eventually finishing up as a senator. Her dependence on the pro-Marcos military and their supporters came at a heavy price. In the southern provinces, military hit squads roamed freely, mowing down peasant leaders, human rights campaigners and Catholic activists. Aquino proved incapable of bringing those forces to heel, as she also failed to secure the extradition of Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda from their exile in Hawaii or the return of the sums they had looted from their nation, estimated at $800 million. [Source: Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein, The Guardian, August 1, 2009]

Aquino’s Shaky Coalition

Ferdinand Marcos had perfected the art of ruling by dividing his enemies: scaring some, chasing others out of the country, playing one clan against another, and co-opting a few members of each prominent provincial family. The "oppositionists," as the controlled Manila press called them, were never united while Marcos was in Malacañang, and only through the intervention of Cardinal Jaime Sin did they agree on a unified ticket to oppose Marcos in the "snap election" that the ailing dictator suddenly called for February 1986. The widow Aquino had public support but no political organization, whereas the old-line politico Salvador H. "Doy" Laurel had an organization but little popular support. After difficult negotiations, Laurel agreed to run for vice president on a ticket with Aquino. Aquino won on February 7, 1986, but the margin of victory will never be known, for the election was marred by gross fraud, intimidation, ballot box stuffing, and falsified tabulation. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Aquino had to perform a delicate balancing act between left and right, within society at large and later within her own cabinet. Aquino and Laurel triumphed in good part because of the defection of Enrile, who was then minister of defense, and Fidel V. Ramos, the acting Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff. Both men had served Marcos loyally for many years but now found themselves pushed aside by General Fabian Ver, Marcos's personal bodyguard and commander of the Presidential Security Command. They risked their lives defying Marcos and Ver at the crucial moment. Enrile and Ramos conceived of the new government as a coalition in which they would have important roles to play. Laurel saw it the same way. *

In one sense, the Aquino government initially was a coalition--it drew support from all parts of the political spectrum. The middle class was overwhelmingly behind "Cory," the democratic alternative to Marcos. Most leftists saw her as "subjectively" progressive even if she was "objectively" bourgeois. They hoped she could reform Philippine politics. On the right, only those actually in league with Marcos supported him. Aquino's support was very wide and diverse. *

Aquino’s Shaky Coalition Falls Apart

The coalition, however, began unraveling almost immediately. Enrile thought that Aquino should declare her government "revolutionary," because that would mean that the 1986 elections were illegitimate and that new presidential elections would be held soon. When Aquino made it clear that she intended to serve out her entire six-year term, Enrile and Laurel set out to undermine her. Ramos took a cautiously ambivalent position but ultimately supported Aquino. Without his loyalty, Aquino would not have survived the many coup attempts she successfully put down. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Aquino's political honeymoon was brief. Arturo Tolentino, Marcos's running mate in the February election, proclaimed himself acting president on July 6, 1986, but that attempt to unseat Aquino was short-lived. By October 1986, Enrile was refusing to attend cabinet meetings on the grounds that they were "a waste of the people's money." Aquino fired him the next month, after he was implicated in a coup plan code-named "God Save the Queen" (presumably because the conspirators hoped to keep Aquino on as a figurehead). The plotters were suppressed, and on the morning of November 23, Aquino met with her entire cabinet, except for Laurel, who was playing golf. She asked for the resignations of all other members of her cabinet and then jettisoned those leftists who most irritated the army and replaced Enrile with Rafael Ileto as the new minister of national defense. Aquino started a pattern, repeated many times since, of tactically shifting rightward to head off a rightist coup. *

Enrile was out of the government, but Laurel remained in, despite his vocal, public criticism of Aquino. She relieved him of his duties as minister of foreign affairs on September 16, 1987, but could not remove him from the vice presidency. A month later, Laurel publicly declared his willingness to lead the country if a coup succeeded in ousting Aquino. The next year, he told the press that the presidency "requires a higher level of competence" than that shown by Aquino. *

Aquino’s Popularity Takes a Dive as She Struggles with Military

The disintegration of the original Aquino-Laurel-Enrile coalition was only part of a bigger problem: The entire cabinet, government, and, some would say, even the entire nation, were permeated with factionalism. Aquino also had difficulty dealing with the military. The first serious dispute between Aquino and the military concerned the wisdom of a cease-fire with the New People's Army. Aquino held high hopes that the communists could be coaxed down from the hills and reconciled to democratic participation if their legitimate grievances were addressed. She believed that Marcos had driven many people to support the New People's Army. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Philippine military, which had been fighting the guerrillas for seventeen years, was hostile to her policy initiative. When talks began in September 1986, military plotters began work on the "God Save the Queen" uprising that was aborted two months later. Aquino tried reconciliation with the Moro National Liberation Front and sent her brother-in-law to Saudi Arabia, where he signed the Jiddah Accord with the Moro National Liberation Front on January 4, 1987. A coup attempt followed three weeks later. In the wake of these coup attempts, Aquino reformed her cabinet but she also submitted to military demands that she oust Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo, a political activist and her longtime confidant. Her legal counsel, Teodoro Locsin, whom the military considered a leftist, and her finance secretary, Jaime Ongpin, also had to go. (Ongpin was later found dead; the coroner's verdict was suicide, although he was lefthanded and the gun was in his right hand.) *

Aquino had been swept into office on a wave of high expectations that she would be able to right all of the wrongs done to the Philippines under Marcos. When she could not do this and when the same problems recurred, Filipinos grew disillusioned. Many of Aquino's idealistic followers were dismayed at the "Mendiola Massacre" in 1987 in which troops fired into a crowd of protesting farmers right outside Malacañang. The military was simply beyond her control. The entire staff of the Commission on Human Rights resigned in protest even though Aquino herself joined the protestors the next day. Those people who hoped that Aquino would liberally use emergency power to implement needed social changes were further dismayed by the fate of her promised land reform program. Instead of taking immediate action, she waited until the new Congress was seated, and turned the matter over to them. That Congress, like all previous Philippine legislatures, was dominated by landowners, and there was very little likelihood that these people would dispossess themselves. *

Aquino's declining political fortunes were revealed in public opinion polls in early 1991 that showed her popularity at an alltime low, as protesters marched on Malacañang, accusing her of betraying her promises to ease poverty, stamp out corruption, and widen democracy. Nevertheless, Aquino's greatest achievement in the first five years of her term was to begin the healing process.

Coup Attempts Against Aquino

There were a half dozen or so coup attempts against Aquino, mainly by dissident officers. One was lead by Enrile because Aquino was going to negotiate with Muslim rebels. She barely survived a bloody coup attempt in December 1989. The coups were largely dismal failures in achieving their goals and made the military very unpopular.

The Aquino government had been in office only five months when it was challenged by the first of six coup attempts led by dissatisfied armed forces factions. The first attempt, a relatively minor affair, was quickly put down, but later attempts in August 1987 and December 1989, led by the same reformist officers that had helped bring Aquino to power, came very close to toppling her government. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In the 1989 attempt, elite rebel units seized a major air base in Cebu, held parts of army and air force headquarters and the international airport, and were preparing to move on armed forces headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo when they were turned back. The threat of another coup attempt hung over the capital in 1990, but as Aquino's term drew to a close in 1991 and 1992, the threat had considerably diminished. Most disaffected military officers seemed content to seek change through the political process, and many officers involved in earlier coup attempts had been persuaded to give themselves up, confident of lenient treatment. *

Bloody December 1989 Coup Attempt Against Aquino

The large, bloody, and well-financed coup attempt in December 1989 was led by renegade Colonel Gregorio Honasan, and involved upwards of 3,000 troops, including elite Scout Rangers and marines, in a coordinated series of attacks on Camp Crame and Camp Aquinaldo, Fort Bonifacio, Cavite Naval Base, Villamor Air Base, and on Malacañang itself, which was dive-bombed by vintage T-28 aircraft. Although Aquino was not hurt in this raid, the situation appeared desperate, for not only were military commanders around the country waiting to see which side would triumph in Manila, but the people of Manila, who had poured into the streets to protect Aquino in February 1986, stayed home this time. Furthermore, Aquino found it necessary to request United States air support to put down this uprising. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Politically this coup was a disaster for Aquino. Her vice president openly allied himself with the coup plotters and called for her to resign. Even Aquino's staunchest supporters saw her need for United States air support as a devastating sign of weakness. Most damaging of all, when the last rebels finally surrendered, they did so in triumph and with a promise from the government that they would be treated "humanely, justly, and fairly."

A fact-finding commission was appointed to draw lessons from this coup attempt. The commission bluntly advised Aquino to exercise firmer leadership, replace inefficient officials, and retire military officers of dubious loyalty. On December 14, 1989, the Senate granted Aquino emergency powers for six months. One of the devastating results of this insurrection was that just when the economy had finally seemed to turn around, investors were frightened off, especially since much of the combat took place in the business haven of Makati. <>Tourism, a major foreign-exchange earner, came to a halt. Business leaders estimated that the mutiny cost the economy US$1.5 billion. *

Foreign Policy Under Cory Aquino and the Closing of U.S. Bases in the Philippines

Philippine foreign relations in the late 1980s and early 1990s were colored by the contradiction between subjective nationalism and objective dependency. After nearly fifty years of independence, Filipinos still viewed their national identity as undefined and saw international respect as elusive. They chafed at perceived constraints on their sovereign prerogatives and resented the power of foreign business owners and military advisers. Yet, as a poor nation deeply in debt to private banks, multilateral lending institutions, and foreign governments, the Philippines had to meet conditions imposed by its creditors. This situation was galling to nationalists, especially because the previous regime had squandered its borrowed money. Filipinos also sought to achieve a more balanced foreign policy to replace the uncomfortably close economic, cultural, military, and personal ties that bound them to the United States, but this was unlikely to happen soon. *

These problems has been compounded by a series of natural disasters: in the wake of a massive earthquake in northern Luzon in July 1990 and a devastating typhoon in the central Visyas in November 1990, the Mount Pinatubo volcano in Central Luzon erupted for the first time in 600 years in early June 1991. The eruption covered the surrounding countryside with molten ash and caused serious damage to the infrastructure of the region, including United States military facilities at Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base.

Despite Filipinos' serious concern for maintaining national identity and avoiding any appearance of foreign subjugation, in 1992 congruent interests and a long history of friendly relations made it seem likely that the United States would remain the Philippines' closest ally--even after the long, difficult, and ultimately unsuccessful negotiations to extend the Military Bases Agreement. The original Military Bases Agreement of 1947, amended in 1959 and again in 1979, was scheduled to expire in 1991 unless an extension was negotiated. Negotiations for continued United States use of the two major bases in the Philippines--Clark Air Base in Pampanga Province and Subic Bay Naval Base in Zambales Province--had begun in 1990. The tenor of the negotiations changed significantly, however, in 1991, when the end of the Cold War made the bases less important and the eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano rendered Clark Air Base unusable. By the end of August 1991, United States and Philippine negotiators had agreed to extend the United States lease of Subic Bay Naval Base for another ten years in return for US$360 million in direct compensation for the first year and US$203 million for the remaining nine years of the lease. But in September 1991, the Philippine Senate rejected the agreement. As a result, the United States was expected to vacate Subic Bay Naval Base, its only remaining base in the Philippines, by the end of 1992. *

The conversion to civilian use of the military bases vacated by the United States poses another major economic challenge. The United States forces departed from the huge Subic Bay Naval Base on September 30, 1992, and the United States was expected to leave Cubi Point Naval Air Station, its last base in the Philippines, in November 1992. The Philippine Congress ratified a base conversion bill in February 1992 that created five special economic zones at the vacated United States bases under the Base Conversion Development Authority. The authority, which will exist for five years, will sell the land connected with the bases within six months and use half the proceeds to convert the bases to civilian use. One plan envisions converting the former Subic Bay Naval Base into a tourist center, industrial zone, container port, and commercial shipyard. But this plan will be hampered by the United States removal of major equipment, including three dry docks, from the base. *

Cory Aquino’s Achievements as President

Howard Chua-Eoan wrote in Time, “To govern the Philippines, she would need all the good will she could muster. The country was one breath away from the economic morgue, while Manila’s brand of democracy was built on reeds. Aquino survived eight coup attempts by plotters who hoped to head off her liberal constitution and the return of a bicameral Congress. She took pride in her fortitude. “I have to project my confidence even more than some men do,” she said early in her presidency. “No one can say that Cory did not give it her all.”

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Although often criticized as an indecisive and ineffectual leader, Mrs. Aquino combined passivity and stubbornness and an unexpected shrewdness to hold firm against powerful opponents from both the right and the left. Her survival in office was one of her chief accomplishments. She was succeeded by Fidel V. Ramos, whose challenge to Mr. Marcos was a catalyst for the uprising in 1986 and whose support as Mrs. Aquino’s military chief was crucial to her in quelling coup attempts. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2009]

In the months after she took office, while ambitious people who had wilted under Mr. Marcos’s dominance jockeyed for power, Mrs. Aquino succeeded in restoring a freely elected Parliament and an independent judiciary. One year later, in February 1987, an 80 percent popular vote for a new Constitution was seen as a vote of confidence in her presidency, and coming after her nonelectoral ascent to power, it confirmed her legitimacy and helped keep her challengers at bay. But these challenges, including the attempted coups and continuing agitation from pressure groups, limited her options. Lacking political experience, she held back from making the most of her overwhelming mandate.

As far as her impact on the lives of women both generally speaking and politically in the Philippines, Aquino accomplished a lot for women in terms of being the first woman president of the Philippines, but she did not deal specifically with women's issues. Many of her proclaimed policy priorities, addressing poverty, would have had a positive impact on women, as the majority of those impoverished are women. Also, two women ran after her for president. Although these women did not win, the fact that they even ran, illustrates that in some regards Corazon Aquino is partially responsible for "breaking the glass ceiling" in the Philippines. But as a devout Catholic, Aquino followed the church by discouraging birth control and dismantling her country's family planning program. [Source:]

Cory Aquino’s Failures as President

Blaine Harden wrote in Washington Post: “Although Cory Aquino's honesty was never doubted, her leadership was often feckless, bouncing from crisis to crisis and remembered by many for chronic electricity blackouts. Her signature issue was land reform, but her family resisted -- and some of them continue to resist -- state efforts to distribute the family estate to 10,000 farmers. [Source: Blaine Harden, Washington Post, May 7, 2010]

Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein wrote in The Guardian, “As president Aquino can best be remembered for her noble fight to restore democracy and the systematic dismantling of the worst abuses of dictatorship. Yet her vision of a functional Christian democracy never materialised. The euphoria of February 1986 was quickly replaced by disappointment. Her 1987 constitution, with its ban on abortion and divorce, also restored traditional dynastic government and the presidential system, a feature that benefited powerful families like her own. She was inexperienced and surrounded by squabbling advisers, and her presidency was plagued by massive debts and unremitting intrigues by her enemies. The most serious coup attempt against her, in December 1989, was quashed only when a flyover by US jets deterred mutinous soldiers. Her retirement in June 1992 came as a relief to herself and her hard-pressed allies. [Source: Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein, The Guardian, August 1, 2009]

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Although often criticized as an indecisive and ineffectual leader, Mrs. Aquino combined passivity and stubbornness and an unexpected shrewdness to hold firm against powerful opponents from both the right and the left. Her survival in office was one of her chief accomplishments. She was succeeded by Fidel V. Ramos, whose challenge to Mr. Marcos was a catalyst for the uprising in 1986 and whose support as Mrs. Aquino’s military chief was crucial to her in quelling coup attempts. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2009]

“Aquino did not lead the social revolution that some had hoped for. She failed to institute effective land reform or to address the country’s fundamental structural ailment, the oligarchic control of power and politics. Under pressure from her restive military, she was forced to abandon one of the most strongly held ideas she brought to her presidency, an amnesty and reconciliation with a Communist insurgency. In one of the most striking retreats of her presidency, addressing the graduating class at the Philippine Military Academy a year after taking power, she said, “The answer to the terrorism of the left and the right is not social and economic reform, but police and military action.” She turned her military loose, and the war against the Communist New People’s Army resumed. The four-decade conflict continues today, along with widespread extrajudicial killings by the military that are reminiscent of Mr. Marcos’s time. Although the economy revived under her leadership, it remains weak, sustained by the remittances of millions of overseas workers. Economic growth is also hampered by an exploding population in a largely Roman Catholic nation in which artificial birth control is rejected by the church. [Ibid]

Cory Aquino After She was President

Although Aquino’s supporters urged her to run for a second term in 1992, she refused. The new 1987 Constitution forbade second terms, but since she was elected before the constitution came in to effect, the limitation to one term did not apply to her. Corazon Aquino supported her Defense Secretary, Fidel Ramos, in his candidacy to replace her as president. Ramos won the 1992 presidential election in a crowded field, although he was far short of a majority, with only 24 percent of the vote.

After steeping down as president Aquino chairmaned the Benigno S. Aquino Foundation, which was involved in reducing poverty and providing scholarships for disadvantaged youth. She was also active in politics from time to time and spoke out against changes to the constitution that would make the Philippines less democratic. She helped paved the way for Ramos by endorsing him and was one of those who asked Estrada to step down.

Aquino spent much of her time doting on her grandchildren and painting sunny landscapes. She wrote her memoirs and worked out of an office in the business district of Makati in Manila to further the spread of democracy in Asia. She offered support to Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and Wan Azizah Ismail, the wife of imprisoned Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim. When asked if she could ever become friends with Imelda Marcos, Corazon Aquino said, "Well, you know she spends all her time calling me ugly. How can you reconcile with someone who keeps calling you ugly."

For a long time Aquino’s most well known offspring was her daughter Kris Aquino. See appeared as an actress in some B-films and worked as a television announcer. See Kris Aquino.

In retirement, former President Aquino frequently spoke out on political and social issues. She was particularly vocal in opposing later presidents' attempts to amend the constitution to allow themselves extra terms in office. She also worked to reduce violence and homelessness in the Philippines. In 2007, Corazon Aquino publicly campaigned for her son Noynoy when he ran for the Senate.

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “After Mrs. Aquino left office in 1992, the Philippines has had two electoral transfers of presidential power and two attempts at replicating “people power,” including one that succeeded in removing a democratically elected president, Joseph Estrada, in 2001. Mrs. Aquino spent the decades after her presidency as the fading conscience of her country, supporting social causes and, in her last years. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2009]

Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein wrote in The Guardian, “After stepping down, she initiated a foundation to assist disadvantaged Filipinos create small businesses. From her private resources, she endowed church social projects in poor communities and rescue centres for street children. At the same time, her voice was heard on public issues. On the discovery of alleged evidence linking President Arroyo to ballot fraud in 2005 she called for her resignation. She never again took an active part in politics, however. [Source: Vincent McKee and Claire Wallerstein, The Guardian, August 1, 2009]

Howard Chua-Eoan wrote in Time, “After the presidency, she ran a think tank and center on nonviolence that carried her husband’s name. She also every so often led public protests opposing the policies of her successors, if not her successors themselves. She led demonstrations to remind Ramos that she had promised to dismantle America’s bases in the Philippines. He complied. She also led protests against her former ally, the second woman President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in the wake of corruption charges against Arroyo and her husband. Whenever the country appeared to be in a crisis, Cory Aquino rose above the bureaucratic procrastination that had always bogged it down, reminding her people that they once astonished the world with their bravery — and that they could do it again. [Source: Howard Chua-Eoan, Time, August 17, 2009]

Cory Aquino’s Death and Funeral

In March of 2008, Aquino announced that she had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Despite aggressive treatment, she passed away on August 1, 2009, at the age of 76. She did not get to see her son Noynoy elected president; he took power on June 30, 2010. Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Aquino died in Manila, her son said. She was 76. Her son, Senator Benigno S. Aquino III, known as Noynoy, said in a statement that she died at 3:18 a.m. She learned she had advanced colon cancer a year before and had been hospitalized in Manila for more than a month, he said. The cancer had spread to other organs, he added, and she was too weak to continue chemotherapy. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2009]

At her funeral, Reuters reported: “More than 100,000 mourners have braved heavy rain in central Manila to honour former president Corazon Aquino, heroine of the Philippines' 1986 people power movement. Masses in Ms Aquino's memory were celebrated in Catholic churches throughout the country, with 1,000 officials, diplomats and business figures attending the largest in Manila's 400-year-old cathedral. Ms Aquino's youngest daughter, Kristina Bernadette Yap, a film and television star more popularly known as Kris Aquino, thanked those attending. "The last words mum expressed to each of us were, 'Take care of each other'," she said. "I know that those words weren't meant just for our family, but for all of us as a nation. In the way that all of you have been thanking us for sharing mum with you, our mum never failed to thank each of us." [Source: Reuters, August 5, 2009 \^/ ]

“Ms Aquino is to be buried next to her husband, Benigno, whose assassination in 1983 catapulted her to the national stage. Among those paying respects to Ms Aquino was East Timor leader Jose Ramos-Horta. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to the cathedral from the airport on her return from a visit to the United States. In the cathedral grounds, mourners clad in yellow - the colour associated with Ms Aquino and the 1986 revolution - watched a live broadcast of the mass on two giant screens. \^/

“Police said a procession extending more than two kilometres - more than 100,000 people - later filed slowly behind Ms Aquino's cortege as it wound its way to the cemetery. Those in the procession chanted "Cory! Cory!" and flashed the "L" hand sign, Ms Aquino's trademark during the revolution. White doves were released. Many of those present were too young to have experienced the fairytale revolution which propelled Ms Aquino to power. "I only knew Cory from my history class in school and from my parents who were at the revolution. I came here to show my gratitude to her," said Andrea Corpuz, 16. On Tuesday, Mr Marcos's son, Ferdinand Jr, and daughter, Imee, joined the wake. Their mother, Imelda Marcos, has also expressed her sorrow at Ms Aquino's death. World leaders, including the Pope, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao sent messages of sympathy. The government has announced a 10-day period of mourning, financial markets were closed, and a public holiday was declared.” \^/

Cory Aquino’s Legacy and the Lasting Power of People

Howard Chua-Eoan wrote in Time, “Aquino was convinced that her presidency was divinely inspired, even as her political foes mocked her piety. “If the country needs me,” she said, “God will spare me.” And miracle of miracles, she proved God right and her critics wrong. She would be succeeded by a democratically elected general — the first to be at her side as Marcos threatened to mow down her supporters in the streets. She anointed him despite the opposition of her church. Indeed, Fidel Ramos would be the first Protestant to lead the overwhelmingly Catholic country. And he would give the islands a taste of stability and economic prosperity that she was unable to deliver. But without her withstanding the enemies of freedom, he would never have had the chance.” [Source: Howard Chua-Eoan, Time, August 17, 2009]

Hannah Beech wrote in Time, “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." [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, August 17, 2009 ***]

“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. ***

“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. “

Philippines in 1992 at End of Aquino’s Term

In early spring 1992, as Aquino approached the end of her term, there was no doubt that her administration had restored a functioning democratic system to the Philippines. Aquino herself had decided not to seek another term, however, there was no dearth of aspirants for the position. Eight candidates, including former First Lady Imelda Marcos, who had returned to the Philippines in the fall of 1991 to face embezzlement charges, were considered serious contenders. *

In 1992, although its citizens had many reasons to hope for a brighter future, the Philippines was a nation beset with numerous economic and political problems. The economy, which had slowed to a 3-percent gross national product (GNP) growth in 1990, fell by 0.6 percent in the first six months of 1991 and by slightly more than that in the third quarter. Inflation peaked at 19.3 percent in August 1991, declined to 15.8 percent by November, but remained far above the 9.5-percent International Monetary Fund (IMF) target for the year. Investment, up 19.7 percent from January to September 1991, was nearly offset by the inflation rate, resulting in only a marginal increase. Unemployment was 10.3 percent in July 1991, nearly two percentage points higher than the previous year, and most economists estimated underemployment to be at least twice that rate. *

In the early 1990s, the Philippines was rather densely populated (220 persons per square kilometer), and the annual population growth rate was 2.5 percent. Approximately 57 percent of the population was under twenty years of age. Education was very highly regarded, as it had been throughout most of the twentieth century. The literacy rate of the total population approached 90 percent, and compulsory, free education reached nearly all elementary school-age children, even in the remotest areas. Health care was adequate in urban areas, less so in the countryside. *

In 1992 the threat from domestic insurgents was somewhat reduced. Although the MNLF and other Moro insurgent groups were a major threat in the southern Philippines in the early 1970s, since that time, internal divisions, reduced external support, pressure by the armed forces, and government accommodations-- including the creation of an Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 1990--had greatly reduced that threat. The communist NPA peaked in 1987, when there were 26,000 guerrillas active in the field. In 1992, with approximately 20,000 full-time guerrilla troops, the NPA remained a formidable threat to the government. Arrest of a number of top insurgent cadres and major internal purges, however, had greatly reduced its power. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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