MANILA – A decade after her death, the Philippines paid tribute to one of its most cherished former presidents, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the democratic icon who in 1986 led the peaceful overthrow of the “conjugal dictatorship” of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
Dozens of Aquino’s relatives, friends and associates arrived at Manila’s Memorial Park, where the former president was laid to rest next to her husband, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, an opposition politician who was assassinated at the airport in the capital by Marcos-aligned gangs in 1983 as he made his way down an escalator having just returned from exile.
“She didn’t just represent an ideal, but she was a figure who really dedicated her life to the people in both her public and private life,” Aquino’s son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who was also president between 2010-16, told Efe.
Along with his siblings, Noynoy attended a mass in his mother’s honor held at the feet of his parents’ tombs, which were covered in yellow flowers, the color of the peaceful fight for democratic change the Aquino family came to encapsulate.
Known in her day as the Philippines’ Joan of Arc, Cory described herself as a plain “housewife.” But at the age of 40, her husband became a political prisoner, by 50 she was a widow of a martyr and by 53 she was the country’s first woman president, propelled into politics by her husband’s tragic death.
A member of the Cojuangco family, one of the richest in the Chinese-Filipino community, Aquino married her husband in 1954 when he was a prominent pro-democracy opposition figure under the Marcos dictatorship. They went on to have five children.
“My mother is to this day an inspiration, regardless of the challenges we face. We overcame all the difficulties in the past. If we could do it then, we can do it now,” Noynoy said of the challenges Filipino democracy faces under the command of his successor, Rodrigo Duterte.
Several members of the Noynoy’s Liberal Party, including the vice-president, Leni Robredo, have been accused of sedition for their criticism of Duterte’s “dictatorial” policies, such as his brutal war on drugs, harassment of leftist activists and attacks on his detractors.
Duterte has also recast the Marcos family, who were personal and political enemies of the Aquinos, in a positive light. Not only has he helped further the careers of their offspring, Bongbong and Imee Marcos, but he has also ordered for the dictator’s remains to be transferred to the Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila.
The 10th anniversary of Cory’s death comes just after the Philippines held legislative elections in which the Aquino dynasty slumped and the Marcos name rose.
After nine years as governor of Ilocos Norte, the Marcos family fief, Imee Marcos won a seat in the Senate, the most influential legislative chamber often used as a springboard for greater political aspirations.
Her brother, Bongbong, who also served as a senator, almost won the vice-presidency in 2016 but lost to Robredo. Nowadays, he looks poised to become a potential candidate in the post-Duterte presidential elections in 2022.
Bam Aquino, Noynoy’s cousin, was the Aquino family’s best bet to contain the growing Duterte-Marcos power in the chamber but he lost his bid for re-election to the Senate this year.
Cory, who died on Aug. 1, 2009, at the age of 76 after suffering from colon cancer, ruled the country in a turbulent period between 1986-92, the first democratic period after two-decades of iron-fisted dictatorship in which she survived no less than seven coup attempts.
She won in the ballot box following her leadership in the so-called People Power Revolution, also known as the EDSA Revolution, which forced the Marcos family into exile to Hawaii. As president, she advocated a form of reconciliation that meant many of the crimes committed under the dictatorship went unpunished.
According to Amnesty International, during the years Ferdinand Marcos ruled with martial law (1972-81), at least 3,240 opponents were killed, 70,000 jailed and 34,000 tortured, including Cory’s late husband.