Former Philippines President Aquino Dies

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Former Philippines' President Corazon Aquino has died. She was 76. For the past year, Aquino had been battling colon cancer. She swept to power in February 1986 on a wave of public discontent with 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. David Steinberg, president of Long Island University and a Philippines specialist who knew Aquino, offers his insight.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Corazon Aquino, former president of the Philippines and tireless advocate for democracy has died. She was 76. The widow of a prominent opposition leader, she led a movement that came to be known as the People Power Revolution that drove dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power in 1986 that same year she became president, though she referred to herself as a plain housewife.

David Steinberg is here now, he's president of Long Island University and he's a Philippines specialist. He also knew Corazon Aquino personally. And would you describe those dramatic times when she was thrust into the presidency?

Mr. DAVID STEINBERG (Philippines Specialist; President, Long Island University): Well - with pleasure. She was an accidental president who rose to the challenges with remarkable grace and determination. Mrs. Aquino was born of privilege. She was a woman who was very, very pious. She believed passionately in her husband's legitimacy. And all the way through, before he was assassinated, she was literally that housewife bringing up the children and staying in the background.

When he was cut down ruthlessly by Marcos, she came back to the Philippines several days later and in a remarkable expression of courage, she kept his coffin open, she had the coffin moved from place to place while a national movement was organized. And by the time this was over, this dreadful dictator was, in fact, doomed, though, it took some substantial while for the process to play itself out.

BRAND: So then she became president, and she survived many, many coup attempts, I understand.

Mr. STEINBERG: Correct. She was never trained and never thought of herself as a politician or as someone who could do this. And so it became very interesting as she struggled to gain control. She herself did not win that election. Marcos stole the election, but he claimed he won it. I was there as an observer of the International Observer Team.

And it was the intercession of Cardinal Jaime Sin, the archbishop of Manila, and several key members of Marcos' former government, who, in fact, took power away from Marcos. And then they bestowed it on her. So, she had the people's mandate, but she didn't have the electoral victory.

And the army remained deeply ambivalent, having been very loyal to Marcos. And she had four coups against her - that was not successful, but four coups were launched to try and overthrow Corazon.

BRAND: And did she still, throughout her presidency, retain the support of the people?

Mr. STEINBERG: Absolutely. And you will see, I think, in the next days, the outpouring of love and affection. There was an integrity about her. And I remember my wife and I visited her at the palace when she president. The woman carried natural grace and with an ecclesiastical sense and a more secular sense. She was a very special human being.

BRAND: And why did she leave power?

Mr. STEINBERG: Her term was up. And there was a great deal of pressure on her to stay on the grounds that such a good thing should be kept. And she decided to let go and did. And her presidency was fraught with all kinds of problems. She had to restart an economy. The Marcos' had really raped and pillaged the place. They had destroyed democratic institutions and they had perverted them. So that people were elected governor, but, really, it was not a real election - that kind of perversion.

And as she came into power, she had to start everything anew, including the constitution and the legitimacy of the rule of law and a whole bunch of things. The country is much better off because she was in a position to become president.

BRAND: David Steinberg, thank you very much.

STEINBERG: It's been my privilege (unintelligible) very great lady.

BRAND: David Steinberg is president of Long Island University, a Philippines specialist. We were speaking about Corazon Aquino, who was the former president of the Philippines, who has died at the age of 76.

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