María Corazón Sumulong “Cory” Cojuangco Aquino was born on January 25, 1933, in Paniqui, Tarlac, María Corazón “Cory” Sumulong Cojuangco was the fourth child of José Cojuangco, Sr. and Demetria Sumulong. Her siblings were Pedro, Josephine, Teresita, Jose, Jr. and Maria Paz. Both Aquino’s parents came from prominent clans. Her father was a prominent Tarlac businessman and politician, and her great-grandfather, Melecio Cojuangco, was a member of the historic Malolos Congress.
Her mother, Demetria, belonged to the Sumulong family of Rizal who were politically influential; Juan Sumulong, a prominent member of the clan, ran against Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon in 1941. As a young girl, she spent her elementary days at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, where she graduated on top of her class and batch as valedictorian. For high school, she transferred toAssumption Convent for her first year of high school. Afterwards, she went to the United States to finish her secondary education. There she continued her college education. She went to theCollege of Mount Saint Vincent in New York City, where she majored in Mathematics and French.
During her stay in the United States, Aquino volunteered for the campaign of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey against then Democrat U.S. President Harry S. Truman during the 1948 U.S. Presidential Election. After graduating from college, she returned to the Philippines to study law at the Far Eastern University (owned by the in-laws of her elder sister, Josephine Reyes) for one year. She married Sen.Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., son of the late Speaker Benigno S. Aquino, Sr. and a grandson of General Servillano Aquino.
The couple had five children: María Elena (born August 18, 1955), Aurora Corazón (born December 27, 1957), Benigno Simeon III (born February 8, 1960), Victoria Elisa (born October 27, 1961) and Kristina Bernadette (born February 14, 1971). Corazón Aquino had difficulty initially adjusting to provincial life when she and her husband moved to Concepcion, Tarlac in 1955. Aquino found herself bored in Concepcion, and welcomed the opportunity to have dinner with her husband inside the American military facility at nearby Clark Field. A member of the Liberal Party, Aquino’s husband Ninoy rose to become the youngest governor in the country and eventually became the youngest senator ever elected in the Senate of the Philippines in 1967.
During her husband’s political career, Aquino remained a housewife who helped raise their children and played hostess to her spouse’s political allies who would frequent their Quezon City home. She would decline to join her husband on stage during campaign rallies, preferring instead to stand at the back of the audience and listen to him. Unknown to many, she voluntarily sold some of her prized inheritance to fund the candidacy of her husband. She led a modest existence in a bungalow in suburban Quezon City. Ninoy Aquino soon emerged as a leading critic of the government of President Ferdinand Marcos. He was then touted as a strong candidate for president to succeed Marcos in the 1973 elections.
However, Marcos, being barred by the Constitution to seek a third term, declared martial law on September 21, 1972, and later abolished the existing 1935 Constitution, thereby allowing him to remain in office. As a consequence, her husband was among those to be first arrested at the onset of martial law, later being sentenced to death. During his incarceration, Ninoy sought strength from prayer, attending daily mass and saying the rosary three times a day. As a measure of sacrifice and solidarity with her husband and all other political prisoners, she enjoined her children from attending parties and she also stopped going to the beauty salon or buying new clothes until a priest advised her and her children to instead live as normal lives as possible.
In 1978, despite her initial opposition, Ninoy decided to run in the 1978 Batasang Pambansa elections. A reluctant speaker, Corazón Aquino campaigned in behalf of her husband, and for the first time in her life delivered a political speech. In 1980, upon the intervention of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Marcos allowed Senator Aquino and his family to leave for exile in the United States, where he sought medical treatment. The family settled in Boston, and Aquino would later call the next three years as the happiest days of her marriage and family life.
On August 21, 1983, however, Ninoy ended his stay in the United States and returned without his family to the Philippines, only to be assassinated on a staircase leading to the tarmac of the Manila International Airport, which was later renamed in his honor (see Assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr.). Corazón Aquino returned to the Philippines a few days later and led her husband’s funeral procession, in which more than two million people joined the procession. Following her husband’s assassination in 1983, Aquino became active and visible in various demonstrations and protests held against the Marcos regime.
She began to assume the mantle of leadership left by her husband Ninoy and started to become the symbolic figurehead of the anti-Marcos political opposition. In the last week of November 1985, Marcos surprised the nation by announcing on American television that he would hold a snap presidential election in February 1986, in order to dispel and remove doubts against his regime’s legitimacy and authority. Reluctant at first, Aquino was eventually prevailed upon to heed the people’s clamor, after one million signatures urging her to run for president were presented to her. Despite this, the erstwhile favorite opposite candidate, Laurel, did not immediately give way to his close friend’s widow.
Laurel was only convinced to run as Aquino’s Vice President upon the urging of the influential Manila Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Sin. As a compromise, Aquino agreed to run under Laurel’s machinery, the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO), then the country’s largest opposition party. With that, the Aquino-Laurel tandem was formally launched to challenge Marcos and finally put an end to his twenty-year martial rule. In the subsequent political developments and events, Marcos charged that Aquino was being supported by communists and agreed to share power with them once elected into power.
A political novice, Aquino categorically denied Marcos’ charge and even stated that she would not appoint a single communist to her cabinet. Running on the offensive, the ailing Marcos also accused Aquino of playing “political football” with the United States with respect to the continued United States military presence in the Philippines at Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base. Further, the male strongman derided Aquino’s womanhood, by saying that she was “just a woman” whose place was in the bedroom. In response to her opponent’s sexist remark, Aquino simply remarked that “may the better woman win in this election.”
Marcos also attacked Aquino’s inexperience and warned the country that it would be a disaster if a woman like her with no previous political experience would be elected president; to which Aquino cleverly and sarcastically responded, admitting that she had “no experience in cheating, lying to the public, stealing government money, and killing political opponents.” The snap election called by Marcos which was held on February 7,
1986 was marred by massive electoral fraud, violence, intimidation, coercion and disenfranchisement of voters. Election Day proved to be bloody as one of Aquino’s staunchest allies Antique Governor Evelio Javier was brutally murdered, allegedly by one of Marcos’ supporters in his province. Further, during the counting and tallying of votes conducted by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), 30 poll computer technicians walked out to dispute and contest the alleged election-rigging done in favor of Marcos.
Despite this, the Batasang Pambansa, which was dominated by allies of the ruling party, declared President Marcos as the winner in the recently concluded snap presidential election on February 15, 1986. In protest to the declaration of the Philippine parliament, Aquino called for a rally dubbed “Tagumpay ng Bayan” (People’s Victory Rally) the following day, during which she claimed that she was the real winner in the snap election and urged Filipinos to boycott the products and services by companies controlled or owned by Marcos’ cronies. The rally held at the historic Rizal Park in Luneta, Manila drew a mammoth-sized crowd, which sent a strong signal that Filipinos were already growing tired of Marcos’ two decade-rule. Further, the dubious election results drew sharp reactions from both local quarters and foreign countries.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a statement strongly criticizing the conduct of the election which was characterized by violence and fraud. The United States Senate condemned the election. Aquino rejected a power-sharing agreement proposed by the American diplomatPhilip Habib, who had been sent as an emissary by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to help defuse the tension. After weeks of tension following the disputed outcome of the snap election, disgruntled and reformist military officers, led by then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel V.
Ramos, surprised the entire nation and the whole world when they announced their defection from President Marcos and their strong belief that Aquino was the real winner in the presidential election on February 22, 1986. Upon the urging and encouragement of the activist Cardinal Archbishop of Manila Jaime Sin, millions of Filipinos trooped to Camp Aguinaldo along Epifanio De los Santos Avenue (EDSA), where Enrile and Ramos have been holding operations, to give their moral support and prayers for the reformist soldiers. At that time, Aquino was meditating in a Carmelite convent in Cebu.
Upon learning of the defection, Aquino called on Filipinos to rally behind Minister Enrile and General Ramos. Later on, Aquino flew back to Manila in order to prepare to assume the presidency upon the ouster of Marcos. Finally, to the amazement and admiration of the entire world, after twenty years of martial rule, Ferdinand Marcos was driven out from power and Corazón Aquino was formally and peacefully sworn in as the new president of a freed and liberated Philippines on February 25, 1986, a historic event which is now known and remembered as the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.
In Presidency, the triumph of the peaceful People Power Revolution and the ascension of Corazón Aquino into power signaled the end of authoritarian rule in the Philippines and the dawning of a new era for Filipinos. The relatively peaceful manner by which Aquino came into power drew international acclaim and admiration not only for her but for the Filipino people, as well. During the first months of Aquino’s presidency, the country experienced radical changes and sweeping democratic reforms. One of Aquino’s first moves was the creation of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which was tasked to go after the Marcos ill-gotten wealth.
Aquino, being a revolutionary president by virtue of people power, abolished the 1973 “Marcos Constitution” and dissolved the Marcos allies-dominated Batasang Pambansa, despite the advice of her vice-president and only prime minister Salvador Laurel. She also immediately created a Constitutional Commission, which she directed for the drafting of a new constitution for the nation. Immediately after assuming the presidency, President Aquino issued Proclamation No. 3, which established a revolutionary government. She abolished the 1973 Constitution that was in force during martial law, and instead promulgated the provisional 1986 Freedom Constitution, pending the ratification of a new Constitution by the people.
This allowed her to exercise both executive and legislative powers until the ratification of the new Philippine Constitution and the establishment of a new Congress in 1987. Aquino promulgated two landmark legal codes, namely, the Family Code of 1987, which reformed the civil law on family relations, and the Administrative Code of 1987, which reorganized the structure of the executive branch of government. Another landmark law that was enacted during her tenure was the 1991 Local Government Code, which devolved national government powers to local government units (LGUs).
The new Code enhanced the power of LGUs to enact local taxation measures and assured them of a share in the national revenue. Aquino closed down the Marcos-dominated Batasang Pambansa to prevent the new Marcos loyalist opposition from undermining her democratic reforms and reorganized the membership of the Supreme Court to restore its independence. In May 1986, the reorganized Supreme Court declared the Aquino government as “not merely a de facto government but in fact and law a de jure government”, whose legitimacy had been affirmed by the community of nations. This Supreme Court decision affirmed the status of Aquino as the rightful leader of the Philippines. To fast-track the restoration of a full constitutional government and the writing of a new charter, she appointed 48 members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission (“Con-Com”), led by retired activist Supreme Court Associate Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma.
The Con-Com completed its final draft in October 1986. On February 2, 1987, the new Constitution of the Philippines, which put strong emphasis on civil liberties, human rights and social justice, was overwhelmingly approved by the Filipino people. As soon as she assumed the presidency of the Philippines, Aquino moved quickly to tackle the issue of the US$26 billion foreign debt incurred by her predecessor, which has badly tarnished the international credit standing and economic reputation of the country. After weighing all possible options such as choosing not to pay, Aquino eventually chose to honor all the debts that were previously incurred in order to clear the country’s image. Her decision proved to be unpopular but Aquino defended that it was the most practical move.
It was crucial for the country at that time to regain the investors’ confidence in the Philippine economy. Since 1986, the Aquino administration has paid off $4 billion of the country’s outstanding debts to regain good international credit ratings and attract the attention of future markets. Nevertheless, the administration borrowed an additional $9 billion, increasing the national debt by $5 billion within six years time since the ouster of former President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Further, recognizing how crony capitalism zapped out the economy due to collusion between government and big business and adhering to the Catholic social principle of subsidiarity, President Aquino set out on a course of market liberalization agenda while at the same time emphasizing solidarity, people empowerment and civic engagement to help alleviate poverty in the country.
The Aquino administration also sought to bring back fiscal discipline in order as it aimed to trim down the government’s budget deficit that ballooned during Marcos’ term through privatization of bad government assets and deregulation of many vital industries. As president, Aquino sought out to dismantle the cartels, monopolies and oligopolies of important industries that were set up by Marcos cronies during the dark days of Martial Law, particularly in the sugar and coconut industries. By discarding these monopolies and allowing market-led prices and competition, small farmers and producers were given a fair chance to sell their produce and products at a more reasonable, competitive and profitable price. This, in a way, also helped a lot in improving the lot of farmers who are in dire need of increasing their personal income and earnings. It was also during Aquino’s time that vital economic laws such as the Built-Operate-Transfer Law, Foreign Investments Act and the Consumer Protection and Welfare Act were enacted.
The economy posted a positive growth of 3.4% during her first year in office. But in the aftermath of the 1989 coup attempt by the rightist Reform the Armed Forces Movement, the Philippine economy remained stagnant. In her final year in office, inflation was raging at 17%, and unemployment was slightly over 10%, higher than the Marcos years. Overall, the economy under Aquino had an average growth of 3.8% from 1986 to 1992. Soon after taking office, Aquino declared that the presence of US military forces in the Philippines was an affront to national sovereignty. She ordered the United States military to vacate U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay and Clark Air Base.
The US objected, pointing that they had leased the property and the leases were still in effect. Also, thousands of Filipinos worked at these military facilities and they would lose their jobs and the Filipino economy would suffer if the US Military moved out. The US stated that the facilities at Subic Bay were unequaled anywhere in Southeast Asia and a US pull out could make all of that region of the world vulnerable to an incursion by the Soviet Union or by a resurgent Japan. She refused to back down and insisted that the USA get out. The matter was still being debated when Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991, covering the entire area with volcanic ash. The destruction to the bases was so severe that the US decided that it would best to pull out after all, so the bases were closed and the United States departed.
President Aquino envisioned agrarian and land reform as the centerpiece of her administration’s social legislative agenda. However, her family background and social class as a privileged daughter of a wealthy and landed clan became a lightning rod of criticisms against her land reform agenda. On February 22, 1987, three weeks after the resounding ratification of the 1987 Constitution, agrarian workers and farmers marched to the historic Mendiola Street near the Malacañan Palace to demand genuine land reform from Aquino’s administration. However, the march turned violent when Marine forces fired at farmers who tried to go beyond the designated demarcation line set by the police. As a result, 12 farmers were killed and 19 were injured in this incident now known as the Mendiola Massacre.
This incident led some prominent members of the Aquino Cabinet to resign their government posts. In response to calls for agrarian reform, President Aquino issued Presidential Proclamation 131 and Executive Order 229 on July 22, 1987, which outlined her land reform program, which included sugar lands. In 1988, with the backing of Aquino, the new Congress of the Philippines passed Republic Act No. 6657, more popularly known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.”
The law paved the way for the redistribution of agricultural lands to tenant-farmers from landowners, who were paid in exchange by the government through just compensation but were also allowed to retain not more than five hectares of land. However, corporate landowners were also allowed under the law to “voluntarily divest a proportion of their capital stock, equity or participation in favor of their workers or other qualified beneficiaries”, in lieu of turning over their land to the government for redistribution.
Despite the flaws in the law, the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 1989, declaring that the implementation of the comprehensive agrarian reform program provided by the said law, was “a revolutionary kind of expropriation.” Despite the implementation of CARP, Aquino was not spared from the controversies that eventually centered on Hacienda Luisita, a 6,453-hectare estate located in the Province of Tarlac, which she, together with her siblings inherited from her father Jose Cojuangco (Don Pepe) Critics argued that Aquino bowed to pressure from relatives by allowing stock redistribution under Executive Order 229.
Canadian International Prize for Freedom, International Democracy Award from the International Association of Political Consultants on 1986. Prize For Freedom Award from Liberal International on 1987. In 1993 she achieved the Special Peace Award from the Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Awards Foundation and Concerned Women of the Philippines.
She also achieved Path to Peace Award on 1995. J. Willia Fullbright Prize for International Understanding from the U.S Department of State. Also Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding and Pearl S. Buck on 1998. In 1999, she achieved One of Time Magazine’s 20 Most Influential Asians of the 20th Century. World Citizenship Award on 2001. In 2005, she also achieved the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Awards and One of the World’s Elite Women Who Make a Difference by the International Women’s Forum Hall of Fame. One of Time Magazine’s 65 Asian Heroes on 2006. One of Different View’s 15 Champions of World Democracy on 2008. Aquino also achieved the EWC Asia Pacific Community Building Award, Women’s International Center International Leadership Living Legacy Award, Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize, and United Nations Development Fund for Women Noel Foundation Life Award.