Former President Cory Aquino’s enduring legacy: Icon of democracy

Published January 25, 2023, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Today, Jan. 25, 2023, is the 90th birth anniversary of Maria Corazon “Cory” Sumulong Cojuangco-Aquino who served as the 11th President of the Republic of the Philippines from Feb. 25, 1986 to June 30, 1992.
She opposed then President Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. in a hotly contested snap election held on Feb. 7, 1986 that ultimately led to the EDSA People Power Revolution. The day of her oath-taking as President, Feb. 25, continues to be observed as a special non-working holiday in the country. She holds the distinction of being the first female Philippine President.

When she stepped down at the end of her term, she took pride in pointing out that she had presided over the first peaceful transition from one President to another since 1965.

The present Constitution of the Philippines was written by members of a Constitutional Commission that she appointed in June 1986. Ratified by the people in a plebiscite in 1987, this Constitution restored free elections that enabled the revival of a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. It also reestablished press freedom and other democratic institutions that were gutted by the dictatorship.
The triumph of the EDSA People Power Revolution that brought her to power became a template for democracy movements in South Korea, Romania, Poland, Burma (Myanmar), Czechoslovakia, South Africa, Thailand and Indonesia. Observed the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation that honored her in 1998: “Cory Aquino did not have a direct hand in any of these events. But in these many places and others, we know that those who yearned and worked peacefully for freedom consciously emulated her and the movement she led. Her example inspired their hopes.”

Indeed, she served as an Icon of Democracy.

Aside from the ratification of the constitution, two landmark legal codes, namely, the Family Code of 1987, which reformed the civil law on family relations, and the Administrative Code of 1987, which reorganized the structure of the executive department of government, were promulgated during her administration. Other vital legislation enacted during her watch included the Build-Operate-Transfer Law, Foreign Investments Act and the Consumer Protection and Welfare Act were enacted.

When she passed away on Aug. 1, 2009 after a bout with cancer, she was honored by tens of thousands of Filipinos throughout her wake and a massive funeral procession that matched that of her assassinated husband Ninoy in August 1983. Her spiritual adviser, Reverend Catalino Arevalo, SJ, recalled asking an elderly woman who lined up for several hours under the rain to pay homage to her remains. The elderly woman’s reply was: “Kasi po, mabait siyang Presidente. Hindi po siya nagsamantala sa kapangyarihan.” (It’s because she was a good President who did not take advantage of her power.)

Her death inspired her son Benigno III, or Noynoy, to follow in her footsteps. He was elected with an overwhelming majority as the 15th President in 2010.

Her words at her final State of the Nation Address in July 22, 1991, serves as a testament to her legacy as a leader: “I hope that history will judge me… favorably… because, as God is my witness, I honestly did the best I could.”