Maria Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco Aquino, more fondly known as Cory, was born on January 25, 1933 in Tarlac, Philippines. She was born to Jose Conjuangco and Demetria Sumulong, and was one of eight children. She completed grade school at Saint Scholastica’s College in Manila, and attended one year of high school at the Assumption Convent in Manila before coming to the United States. Her high school education was completed at Ravenhill Academy in Philadelphia, after which she attended Mount Saint Vincent College in New York and earned her Bachelor of Arts in French with a minor in Mathematics. After graduating from college she returned to the Philippines to study law at the Far Eastern University, but her studies were cut short by her marriage to a young aspiring politician.
She married Benigno Aquino, Jr., more commonly known as Ninoy, and took on the role of wife and mother to their five children. Cory Aquino mostly stayed out of the public political sphere of her husband’s life, but continued to be one of his most trusted confidants and advisors. As her husband emerged as a prominent politician in the country, he also became known as one of the staunchest critics of the authoritarian regime of Ferdinand Marcos. When Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972, Ninoy Aquino was one of the first to be arrested due to his opposition involvement. Marcos allowed the Aquino family to leave the Philippines in 1980 for exile in the United States, where they settled in Boston for the next three years. Ninoy Aquino decided to return to the Philippines without his family on August 21, 1983, but was assassinated on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport.
Cory Aquino returned to the Philippines and followed in the political footsteps of her late husband, by becoming a prominent figure in the anti-Marcos movement. After Marcos declared in 1985 that he would hold a snap presidential election the following year, the opposition pegged Aquino as the candidate to run against him. Marcos attempted to sabotage Aquino’s campaign by claiming that she had communist connections, as well as criticizing her lack of political experience and that fact that she was a woman. The snap presidential elections of 1986 were marred by fraud and the results were highly contested, as both candidates were declared the winner. As a response, Aquino called on the Filipino citizens to rally for her win and boycott the businesses controlled by the Marcos regime. An enormous crowd gathered in support of Aquino at Rizal Park in Manila, which was later referred to as the People’s Victory Rally. She also called the Filipino citizens to organize in support of Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos, two political figures who announced their withdrawal of support for Marcos. This non-violent demonstration was successful in pushing Marcos to step down, and became known as the People Power Revolution.
Aquino was able to secure her place as president, and began her term by instituting radical changes in order to bring democracy back to the Philippines. She quickly abolished the 1973 Constitution enacted by Marcos during martial law, and assembled the Constitutional Commission to begin drafting the New Constitution of the Philippines. The new Constitution, which emphasized social justice, civil liberties, and human rights, was ratified on February 2, 1987. In addition, Aquino initiated reforms that would stabilize the Philippine economy after years of instability under the Marcos regime, in order to make the country once again attractive to foreign investments. Improving the economy, restoring democracy, and constitutional reforms continued to be Aquino’s focus until the end of her term in 1992. She continued to be politically active following her presidency until her death on August 1, 2009 due to colon cancer.
Corazon Aquino is a significant Filipino cultural figure for a number of reasons. As an anti-Marcos activist, Aquino became the head figure of the opposition and the leader of the People Power Revolution, which was one of the largest and most powerful political demonstrations in Philippine history. Aquino also made history by becoming not only the first woman president of the Philippines, but also the first female head of state in Asia. Therefore, she served as symbol for progress, change, and women’s rights. Most importantly, the constitutional reforms Aquino was able to accomplish during her term changed the Philippines forever by helping to restore democracy and end authoritarian rule. Even after her presidency, she continued to be an influential advocate of human rights and social justice. Corazon Aquino’s vast accomplishments allowed her to gain admiration and acclaim not only from the Filipino public, but also from the international public, making her one of the most famous Filipino global icons in history.
– Stephanie Enano