Former President Corazon Aquino, people power icon, passes away
The 76-year-old Aquino was diagnosed with colon cancer in March of last year and was treated with chemotherapy. Last May, she underwent surgery to remove parts of her colon and was brought to the Makati Medical Center (MMC) in June due to loss of appetite. She never left the hospital, as her declining condition sparked a wave of emotion in the country and prompted the widespread appearance of yellow ribbons - on trees, car antennas, and even the Web.
"She would have wanted us to thank each and everyone of you for all your continued love and support. It was her wish for all of us to pray for one another and for our country," Senator Aquino said. "Hinihiling ng aming pamilya ng kaunting panahon para makasama ang aming ina."
He added that they chose a private funeral arrangement for the late president rather than avail of a state funeral in Malacañang. [See: No state funeral for Aquino]
After being confined for barely two months at the MMC, Mrs. Aquino passed away early Saturday morning surrounded by her children.
Celebrity host and family friend Boy Abunda was inside Mrs. Aquino’s hospital room during the final moments of the former president's bout with cancer.
"They were praying the sorrowful mystery… Doon niya hininga ang last gasp niya(That's where she gasped her final breath). They were praying around the bed [with] the children… Pagkatapos dumating iyong malalapit na kamag-anak at malalapit na pamilya(Then, the close relatives arrived)," Abunda recounted to reporters waiting outside the MMC.
Abunda observed that while the other Aquino children “silently wept" when their mother died, celebrity Kris Aquino, the youngest of the five siblings, seemed the strongest.
"Kris was very quiet. She was [showing] such courage," Abunda said.
Dressed in her signature yellow, Mrs. Aquino rallied the middle class in a series of protests culminating in the 1986 people power revolt that toppled the 20-year regime of strongman Ferdinand Marcos and swept her to the presidency.
She blamed the Marcos government for the assassination of her husband, opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy" Aquino Jr., who was gunned down at the Manila airport upon returning from exile in 1983.
The former housewife reluctantly took over as Marcos’ main challenger, becoming an international icon of democracy after her victory sparked a wave of pro-democracy movements around the world. Time Magazine named Mrs. Aquino its Woman of the Year in 1986.
Adopting a policy of national reconciliation, Mrs. Aquino freed more than 500 political prisoners, including some of the top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines, when she became president.
She oversaw the writing of a new constitution through a commission that hammered out a new charter. The 1987 constitution replaced the Martial Law-era 1973 Constitution and restored democratic institutions such as free elections, the bicameral congress and an independent Supreme Court that were absent during Marcos’ rule. To prevent a reprise of Marcos’ one-man rule, the new charter set term limits on elected officials, including six years for the presidency.
The economy started to recover from the slump when she assumed office, with the gross domestic product rising progressively and reaching 6.7 percent two years later. However, the contraction of the US economy in 1991, along with a series of coup attempts against her and 10-12 hours of blackouts during her last few years, crippled the Philippine economy.
Critics have also claimed that she fell short of the promise of social and economic reforms, refusing to write off the country’s massive foreign debt which many of her supporters hoped would follow the ouster of Marcos.
But supporters point out that Mrs. Aquino also pushed for labor-intensive projects and started the trend of setting targets for the reduction of poverty and unemployment in the country.
Solita Collas Monsod, who served as Socioeconomic Planning Secretary during Mrs. Aquino’s term, said that although the former president was landed, one of her landmark programs was the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The first three years of her administration were tumultuous, with restive soldiers and Marcos loyalists mounting a series of violent coup attempts against her. Mrs. Aquino survived all of them, holding office until 1992. She then campaigned for Fidel Ramos, a key figure in the People Power Revolution, whose presidential victory is widely credited to Aquino’s endorsement.
In an article commemorating the 20th anniversary of the people power revolt on the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism website, Aquino was quoted as saying, “I don't know how they will judge [my presidency], but I just hope that they will realize that it was not an easy thing restoring democracy after a dictatorship. Also being the first woman president certainly had its problems and then we were dealing with a very strong military that were spoiled during the Marcos dictatorship."
After her presidency, Mrs. Aquino retired to private life. She took an active interest in painting, with flowers and women as subjects, and joined various art exhibits to raise funds for her advocacies: the Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Foundation, PinoyMe, ASA Foundation, and People Power People.
But she remained an influential figure in Philippine politics, lending her presence to political causes that needed her iconic stature.
In January 2001, she participated in the second EDSA Revolution that brought down the popularly elected President Joseph Estrada, who was accused of plunder, and installing his vice president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo into power.
In 2005, Mrs. Aquino supported the group of cabinet secretaries that resigned in the wake of the “Hello Garci" wire-tapping scandal, and joined opposition figures in calling for the resignation of Arroyo over allegations of vote-rigging in the 2004 presidential elections.
She remained active in social and political causes in recent years, publicly supporting Marine Col. Ariel Querubin during a stand-off at the Marine headquarters in 2006 and NBN-ZTE whistleblower Jun Lozada last year.
Mrs. Aquino has expressed regrets for supporting EDSA II due to the controversies hounding the Arroyo administration, and apologized publicly to Estrada.
"Of course who wants to get sick? But if that’s my fate, so be it... I don’t want to live for such a long time. Sabi ko nga, 75 na ako, tama na iyon (I have said, I'm 75, that's enough)." - With reports from Sophia Dedace, Andreo Calonzo, Aie Balagtas See, Ruby Anne M. Rubio and Cheryl M. Arcibal GMANews.TV
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