Cory Aquino’s Legacy

Nuns circle the casket of former Philippine President Corazon Aquino during services at the cathedral in Manila Aug. 3.
Nuns circle the casket of former Philippine President Corazon Aquino during services at the cathedral in Manila Aug. 3. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

When she was thrust into the political limelight in the Philippines in 1983 following the assassination of her politician husband Benigno, Corazon Aquino described herself as “just a housewife.”

Well, housewives can and do make extraordinary contributions to public life as well as to family life, as Aquino proved by becoming the political leader of the Filipino “People Power” revolution that toppled the corrupt regime of dictator Fernando Marcos in 1986.

Aquino, who died last weekend at the age of 76, went on to serve as her country’s president for six years, overseeing the establishment of the democratic institutions that continue to govern the Philippines today.

In an article about Aquino’s legacy posted at, Sheila Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University and a founder of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, writes this about the Philippines’ “unlikely heroine”:

Cory Aquino was not a visionary or a social reformer. She was very much a product of her time and place. She belonged to one of the biggest landowning families in the Philippines, was a loyal believer in the Catholic faith, and believed she was destined to restore democracy to what she knew it to be: the 1960s-style elitist democracy of political families and patronage. But the political circumstances of the time meant that she became the vehicle of a more participatory democracy. During her presidency, Aquino recognized the key role of non-governmental organizations and was active in them during her retirement.

This commitment revealed an enduring strength of character which Marcos, the rebel colonels, and even at times the Filipino people underestimated. After her presidential term ended, she successfully defended the constitution she had introduced in February 1987 — ratified by an 80% majority in a referendum — against attempts to amend it. She even successfully led a second people-power revolt in 2001 against former president Joseph Estrada, who went on to be convicted of corruption in 2007.

Even in death, it is likely that Cory Aquino will remain the symbol of Filipinos’ hopes. After the period of mourning ends, her ultimate political legacy will continue to be discussed and debated. But there is one thing her compatriots can agree on: in 1986 she showed Filipinos that they were capable of greatness, and thus surely can be again.