Corazon “Cory” Aquino was the President of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992, and widow of Benigno Aquino Jr., an opposition leader assassinated by the Ferdinand Marcos regime. She reluctantly ran for the presidency in the wake of her husband’s death, and became symbolic of the Filipino people’s desire for change following nearly two decades of authoritarian rule. Aquino immediately undid many of the measures instituted by Marcos, including returning an independent court system, repealing repressive labor laws, releasing political prisoners, and the creation of a commission to investigate human rights abuses under Marcos. Her government also sought peace agreements with militant communist groups as well as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), inviting the latter’s leader to return from exile.
A devout Catholic, she received strong support and guidance from the Catholic Church, including political guidance during the elections. The church framed her as a suffering Mary, mother of Christ, in a narrative that drew upon the pasyon, the Passion of Christ, following Benigno’s “martyrdom.” Such a characterization also drew on prominent categories of gender and ideal gender roles introduced under the Spanish, contrasting the marianismo (qualities of the Virgin Mary) with the machismo of Marcos. The symbolism also drew from pre-colonial female archetypes of motherhood and female power. Thus, Aquino was perceived as a saintly mother to the nation crucified by dictatorship, powerful symbols for Filipino Catholics.
In addition to a $28.5 billion USD national debt and widespread poverty, Aquino’s presidency was plagued by a bloated military, which attempted to unseat her seven times. Marcos had heavily invested in the military and many officers remained loyal to him. Military officers were also frustrated by Aquino’s efforts to settle disputes with leftist groups and the MNLF. The military continued to serve as a repressive force in Filipino society, which drew popular support from Aquino and led to ongoing United States supported confrontations with hostile leftists.
Aquino’s presidency is remembered with mixed emotions by Filipinos. She is considered a heroine by many for her role is replacing Marcos, but critics note that she restored to authority families and power structures that had been displaced by Marcos—namely, the post-colonial Filipino oligarchy—without actually empowering wider Filipino society. Aquino herself was from a wealthy and influential Chinese mestizo family, the Cojuangcos, which owned a 6,000 hectare hacienda.
Steven Shirley, Guided By God: The Legacy of the Catholic Church in Philippine Politics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004).
Marc R. Thompson, “Presidentas and ‘People Power’ in the Philippines: Corazon C. Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” Dynasties and Female Political Leaders in Asia, eds. Claudia Derichs and Mark R. Thompson (Zurich: Lit Verlag, 2013), p. 151-190.
"Corazon Aquino swears in as President of the Philippines at Club Filipino, San Juan on February 25, 1986," Malacañang Palace archives, modified from Wikimedia Commons.