MANILA – Former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino passed away Saturday morning after battling colon cancer for more than a year. She was 76.
“Our mother peacefully passed away at 3:18 a.m. August 1, 2009 of cardio respiratory arrest. She would have wanted us to thank each and every one of you for all the prayers and your continued love and support. It was her wish for all of us to pray for one another and our country. Hinihiling po ng aming pamilya ang konting panahon para makasama namin ang aming mahal na ina,” a statement from the Aquino family read.
Details of the former president’s wake will be announced later, the family said.
Once a reluctant housewife, Aquino was known as an icon of Philippine democracy after the EDSA ‘People Power’ revolution removed the Marcos dictatorship and restored democracy in the Southeast Asian archipelago in 1986.
Aquino served as the nation’s president until 1992 when she gave way to her successor, President Fidel Ramos. Even in retirement, she remained in the public eye and continued to speak out on political issues.
In March 2008 her family announced that Aquino had colon cancer.
Various healing masses had been held in different parts of the country after she was confined at the Makati Medical Center starting June 25. Thousands attended the masses praying that one of of the world’s democracy icons would recover. Prayers and get-well messages were also posted on her website, coryaquino.ph.
Last Monday, the Aquino family said Mrs. Aquino’s condition had turned to “guarded” due to her fluctuating blood pressure. On the same day, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo started her State of the Nation Address by leading a moment of silence for her predecessor.
Her son, Senator Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, confirmed that the former leader’s cancer had already spread to her liver.
“Her weakened condition does not allow chemotherapy. We have reached the point where you’re not sure if the intervention will help or worsen the condition,” he told reporters.
Last week, her supporters tied yellow ribbons along Times St. and Examiner St. in Quezon City near Mrs. Aquino’s residence, and also outside the Makati Medical Center, symbolizing hope and prayers for her recovery and as a show of support for Philippine democracy.
Aquino was propelled to the Philippines presidency in the ‘People Power’ revolution in 1986.
For three days in February of that year, the world watched as the woman in a bright yellow dress led millions in a peaceful uprising that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who had ruled with an iron fist for two decades.
During the next six years, Aquino — a devout Roman Catholic – led the restoration of democracy and changed the country’s Constitution.
But her presidency was marred by at least six failed military coups, political squabbling, insurgent attacks and her failure to change a political system dominated by elite family clans.
Time magazine in 2006 named Aquino one of Asia’s heroes, praising her “quiet courage” and describing her as “the symbol of People Power and an inspiration to others around the world struggling against tyranny.”
On June 25, Aquino was brought to the Makati Medical Center due to loss of appetite. She reportedly refused further medical treatment. Family members were by her side and the country prayed for her recovery.
Privilege and wealth
Born into the Cojuangco clan in the northern province of Tarlac on January 25, 1933, Aquino was a product of privilege, power and wealth.
Educated in the United States and Manila, she entertained no political ambitions — but all that changed when she met and married Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., a bright young journalist from another prominent Tarlac clan, in 1954.
Ninoy was seen by many to be a president in the making, but for Marcos, the then-senator was a threat. In September 1972, Marcos declared martial law and jailed hundreds of his opponents and critics, including Ninoy.
Corazon Aquino helped keep the opposition alive, speaking out on behalf of her husband and demanding change.
In 1983, against the advice of friends, Ninoy flew back to the Philippines from exile in Boston to seek an audience with the ailing Marcos. But before he could even get off the plane, he was gunned down by assassins.
His grief-stricken widow flew back to the Philippines, where she was quickly thrust into the role of uniting the opposition.
“I don’t seek vengeance, only justice, not only for Ninoy but for the suffering Filipino people,” Aquino declared as she reluctantly accepted the nomination of her peers.
Marcos won the 1986 elections, which were marred by massive irregularities.
The Aquino-led opposition, backed by the Catholic church, soon rallied about one million people on the street — “People Power” was born, Marcos was quickly ousted and Aquino took the presidential oath of office.
She quickly set up a commission to draft a new constitution, dismantled the network of Marcos cronies that controlled the economy and freed scores of political activists.
Aquino also began talks with communist and Muslim insurgents, but her efforts would soon be undermined by problems within the coalition government she built. She later survived a series of bloody coup attempts.
In retirement, Aquino has remained in the public eye, often speaking out against alleged abuses in government.
Seventeen years after she stepped down from office, Aquino continued to enjoy the trust of the majority of Filipinos. A February 2009 survey of Social Weather Stations showed 3 out of every 5 adult Filipinos have much trust in the former president. She enjoyed a net trust rating of +38.
She has also become a vocal critic of current President Arroyo, whose family has been accused of massive corruption, and joined street protests against her until she was diagnosed with colon cancer in March of last year.
In the 1990s, Aquino said the presidency had taught her a valuable lessons in governance.
“I realized that I could have made things easier for myself if I had done the popular things, rather than the painful but better ones in the long run. After all, in the long run, I wouldn’t be around to be blamed,” she said.
As “Citizen Cory,” she was active in non-government organizations promoting democracy, peace, and woman empowerment, and in recent years, micro-enterprise.
Until her last years as a private citizen, she remained a strong political influence and moral force, opposing moves toward charter change, which many fear will lead to a term extension for President Arroyo.
But on March 24, 2008, Mrs. Aquino faced another tough battle. Her children, Noynoy and Kris, announced that the former president had been diagnosed with colon cancer.
Aquino underwent chemotherapy, and in public remarks made in May 2008, she said she had been responding positively to treatment.
But on Saturday, she lost, perhaps, her toughest battle. — reports from AFP; Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News