By Elaine Kim
Northwest Asian Weekly
During her lifetime, Corazon Aquino was a symbol of hope and change for Filipinos. She was the first female president in all of Asia. To many, Aquino was more than a president. She was considered to be a mother to all Filipinos, and her recent death has caused sorrow for many in Seattle.
“I’m saddened by her passing,” said Senior Policy Adviser and Outreach Coordinator of HomeSight Velma Veloria. “Her ascent to the presidency was historical for me and all those who were against the Marcos dictatorship.”
Aquino did not take an easy route to power as she carved her own path. She was born into a wealthy family on Jan. 25, 1933. Her prominent background allowed her to study in the United States. She had five children with her husband, Benigno Aquino, Jr. She supported her husband in his political career.
For opposing then-President Ferdinand Marcos, Aquino’s husband was arrested. During his imprisonment, Aquino became his sole connection to the outside world. She delivered her husband’s speeches to the public. However, in August 1983, her husband was assassinated as he was stepping out of a plane.
Aquino vowed to continue her husband’s work. She ran for presidency against Marco in the 1986 snap presidential elections. Trying to retain his power, Marcos declared Aquino a communist and denounced her as “just a woman.”
Marcos was accused of fixing the election by bribing and intimidating the voters. After public demonstrations and pressure from the United States, Marcos was found guilty and was exiled to Hawaii. Aquino became the first female president.
“She was truly a symbol for freedom and democracy for Filipinos all over the world,” said former Seattle City Council Member David Della. “Her courage, determination, and leadership showed us all that it is possible for regular people to fight for and attain democratic rule and power in the Philippines.”
During her presidency, Aquino created a new constitution called the Freedom Constitution. One of her hallmarks is her agrarian reform. Despite her family ties to plantations, she passed a law that authorized the redistribution of land from landowners to tenant farmers.
“[Aquino] was able to defend [democracy] against serious seven coup attempts during her administration,” said Bert Golla, president emeritus of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest. “The freedom that people enjoy now in the Philippines was the product of this great woman’s sacrifices, pure intentions, courage, and faith in God.”
Aquino presided over free elections, appointed an independent judiciary, encouraged a free press, and restored other democratic institutions that were restricted by Marcos during his 20-year authoritarian rule.
“Cory represents a leader who had to step up to the call of her larger community, the nation,” said Filipino Seattleite Lauren Divina. “She may have hesitantly responded to the higher calling, but she knew she had to make personal sacrifices for the good of the country … She said that those who have less deserve to have the government’s support.”
After her presidency, Aquino assisted nonprofit organizations and became a member of the Council of Women World Leaders. She was nominated for the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.
“I had the rare opportunity to interview President Corazon Aquino in 1996 for the Manila Edition talk show I hosted in Seattle,” said Ning Rogge, media relations manager of the Filipino Community of Seattle. “I was truly grateful to be able to ask her non-political questions. The story we were producing was on women and family, about the courage of women to fight for what they believed in, take risks, and at the same time, continue to perform duties as wife and nurturer of their children. President Aquino’s responses were humble and unequivocal.”
Aquino also visited Seattle to discuss social justice and received an honorary degree from Seattle University on March 3, 2002.
On March 24, 2008, her family announced that Aquino was diagnosed with colon cancer. She passed away on Aug. 1, 2009. Aquino is survived by her son and four daughters.
Many local Filipinos see Aquino as a symbol of strength.
“Let us honor Cory by continuing the fight for genuine democracy against those who are trying to weaken it,” said Jeff Rice.
Eloisa Rigor Cardona echos this. “She only needed to be who she was … pure and unadulterated,” she said. “In a male dominant Asian culture, that [is] quite a power to reckon with. She was, in her own unpresuming, quiet, [and] humble way, a force of nature.” ♦
The folks who sponsored the August 7, 2009, healing Mass over at St. Edward’s Church were Bukas-Loob sa Diyos Catholic Community members.
Elaine Kim can be reached at email@example.com.