Corazon Cojoangco Aquino

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Corazon Cojoangco Aquino

Corazon Cojoangco Aquino (born 1933) was the first woman to run for the office of the president of the Republic of the Philippines. The results of the 1986 election were so fraudulent that both Aquino and her opponent, the incumbent, Ferdinand Marcos declared victory. As a result of the election, the Filipino people rose in protest and Marcos was forced to flee the country and Aquino assumed the office of president.

Corazon Cojoangco Aquino was born on January 25, 1933, the sixth of eight children born to Jose Cojoangco of Tarlac, a prosperous province 65 miles northwest of Manila, the Philippines capital. The Cojoangcos were members of a wealthy landowning family prominent in politics.

Aquino attended an exclusive Catholic school for girls in Manila before travelling to America to attend Philadelphia's Raven Hill Academy. After earning a degree in French and mathematics from New York's Mount Saint Vincent College in 1953, she returned to the Philippines and enrolled in a Manila law school. While at law school she met her future husband, Benigno Aquino and married him in 1954. The marriage united two of Tarlac's most prominent families.

The Politician's Wife

Aquino's husband belonged to a family whose involvement in politics went as far back as the last century. One year after they were married, Aquino's husband was elected mayor of the city of Concepcion at the age of 22. Her husband was considered one of the Philippines' brightest political hopes.

Moving up in politics, Aquino's husband became the youngest territorial governor and later the youngest senator in the Philippines. Throughout all her husband's political successes, Aquino stayed in the background, preferring to concentrate her energies on raising their four daughters and a son.

As her husband rose in prominence, he became an outspoken critic of the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. When Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972, Aquino's husband was one of the first persons arrested and put in jail. During the long years of her husband's incarceration from 1972 to 1980, Aquino's role as a quiet wife slowly changed. Becoming her husband's main link to the outside world, she was instrumental in having his statements passed along to the press and to activists outside the prison walls. From inside his cell, Aquino's husband even ran for a seat in Parliament, with his wife conducting a large portion of the campaign.

In 1980, Aquino's husband was released from jail in order to undergo heart surgery in the United States. Aquino's husband worked as a research fellow at Harvard University for the next three years. His family lived with him in the Boston area and his wife described the time as the best years of her life.

In 1983 supporters of the anti-Marcos factions persuaded Aquino's husband to return to the Philippines and to lead their cause. When his plane landed on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983, Aquino's husband was assassinated. A commission formed to investigate the murder indicted the military men assigned to escort him as well as their military superiors. However, the court which eventually tried them for the murder acquitted all 26 defendants.

Homemaker Turns Politician

Her husband's assassination served as the turning point of Aquino's life. As her dead husband became the rallying focus of anti-Marcos groups she, as his widow, became the unifying figure for the different factions of the opposition. Aquino was catapulted into the role of keeping the unity alive. On October 15, 1985, the Aquino presidential campaign was launched at the National Press Club in Manila by 250 founding members, many of whom were business-people and professionals.

Aquino agreed to run if one million supporters signed an endorsement of her candidacy and if President Marcos called for a snap election. The supporters collected more than one million signatures, and her candidacy was endorsed by six opposition political parties as the common candidate for president in the election called for February 7, 1986. The political support she amassed, and the exoneration of the military men tried for her husband's murder, made Aquino accept the mandate to run for the presidency, "not in vengeance but in search of justice."

She picked Salvador Laurel, leader of the opposition's largest faction, as her running mate. Initial negotiations fell through in a disagreement about which party's name to carry—her husband's LABAN (Fight) Party or Laurel's UNIDO (United Nationalist Democratic Organization). Before the deadline for filing candidacy she and Laurel agreed to run under the UNIDO banner.

Countering Marcos's charges of her political inexperience, Aquino counted as her main asset her diametrical opposition to the president. Her supporters considered her a fresh new face with a reputation for moral integrity. Her main assets in the campaign were her reputation for moral integrity along with her avowal of her slain husband's ideals. To these were added the quiet support of the influential Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, whose prelate Jamie Cardinal Sin was instrumental in the Aquino-Laurel reconciliation.

The homemaker-turned-politician responded to the challenge with enthusiasm and a singular commitment to the cause of justice. Her opponent, Marcos, had extended his term of office for more than 20 years through a declaration of martial law and constitutional changes that increased his powers. The true results of the election may never be known as the incumbent forces used intimidation, scattered violence, and overt fraud to declare Marcos the winner. The people took to the streets in protest; some army leaders revolted; the United States expressed its indignation. Less than three weeks after his alleged election victory in February 1986, Marcos fled the Philippines. Aquino became the acknowledged president of the republic.

The Presidency and Beyond

Aquino admitted that she faced numerous challenges as the new Filipino president. The release of 441 political prisoners and the forced retirement of 22 pro-Marcos generals were among her first actions as president. She also reinstated the writ of habeas corpus, the right of a prisoner to appear before a judge, and abolished the government's ability to imprison people at will, which had been in effect since 1981. Aquino promised to promote the right to assemble peaceably, and free speech along with prosecuting corruption and abusers of human rights.

Protecting the countryside was another of Aquino's goals. She planned to accomplish this by disarming the private armies that roamed the rural areas and establish industries there. Aquino said she would revitalize the sugar industry by breaking the monopoly. She acknowledged the special relationship with the United States but emphasized that her concern was with the Filipinos, not the Americans.

Aquino knew her popularity would wane and that her leadership would be harshly criticized. At least seven coups were directed at her government during her tenure as president, many times by former allies who had helped her come to power. Besides dealing with factious parties both within her cabinet and in the nation, Aquino had to contend with natural disasters and frequent power failures.

In 1991, a constitutional amendment was passed by referendum which enabled Aquino to remain president until June 30, 1992. Her successor was Fidel Ramos, her former secretary of defense and Marcos' former deputy chief of staff of the armed forces. Ramos, who assisted Aquino in fending off the coup attempts, has continued to support Aquino's democratic ideals. Aquino has still retained her popularity with the Filipino people and works for reform by participating in cooperatives and non-governmental organizations in the Philippines.

Further Reading

Materials on Corazon Aquino include a historical biography of the Aquino family by Nick Joaquin, The Aquinos of Tarlac; anEssay on History as Three Generations (Manila, 1983). Other sources include Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen Thompson Hill, Aquino Assassination: the Story and Analysis of the Assassination of Philippine Senator Benigno S. Aquino (1983) and National Library of Australia, Benigno Aquino: A Select Bibliography of Articles in Periodical Publications Held in the National Library of Australia (Canberra, 1983). Cover stories in Time magazine appeared February 3 and 24 and March 10, 1986. See also "Making Up is Hard to Do," Time (March 11, 1996) and "MacArthur Park: Manila Postcard," New Republic (January 23, 1995). □