Corazon Aquino (1933-2009)

“Without the right values in the people, a democracy is only a confederacy of fools.”

Cory Aquino, the President of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992, was the focus of opposition to autocratic president Ferdinand Marcos. She challenged Marcos for the presidency in the 1986 election. The official vote tally declared Marcos the winner, but there was evidence of widespread fraud. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in support of Aquino. With the country united against him and the military refusing to intervene on his behalf, Marcos fled the country.

Cory Aquino was a magnanimous women. She abolished dictatorship. “I assumed the powers of the dictatorship, she said, but only long enough to abolish it. I had absolute power, yet ruled with restraint. I created independent courts to question my absolute power, and finally a legislature to take it from me.” Aquino was a singular example of integrity in politics. She served for one six-year term and chose not to seek re-election.

At a time when democracy was worshiped as a god by Western intellectuals, Aquino said she would never accept the idea of democracy for democracy’s sake. “Without the right values in the people,” she said, “a democracy is only a confederacy of fools.” This was a magnanimous, courageous and deeply counter-cultural statement.

Aquino practiced humility: she wanted to bring out the greatness in her subordinates through empowerment and inclusion. She would say: “The ability to work well with others, to listen to different points of view, to credit such views with a sincerity equal to one’s own, and to have the flexibility to accommodate the valid concerns of others: this is an important quality for anyone who wishes to serve the people. It is an expression of the spirit of service. Indeed, how can anyone claim to have a genuine spirit of solidarity with the people in general, if he is incapable of an operational solidarity with those he must work with closely?”

In a time when politics had fallen into the hands of a political cast, Corazon Aquino showed the whole world that professional housewives may be a better fit for politics than many professional politicians, who seem to have lost all sense of greatness and service. When Cory Aquino was campaigning to oust Ferdinand Marcos from the presidency, the old dictator accused her of being unfit to govern because she was a housewife. But this housewife went on to win the election, send Marcos into exile, and thoroughly transform the Philippines.

Long after she ceased to be President, Filipinos still looked up to her as a leader who united the nation.