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The Philippines Loses Its Sincere Revolutionary

Corazon Aquino had five children to raise. But as she told Newsweek in 1985, "Sometimes life does not proceed as you expected it to. You must deal with the circumstances you're in."

Cory Aquino died yesterday, at the age of 76.

She was living in suburban Boston with her family in the early 1980s after Ferdinand Marcos, the president of the Philippines, who had declared martial law and locked up his opponents, let her husband, Senator Benigno Aquino, out of prison after eight years so that he could have heart surgery. Benigno Aquino stayed on as a fellow at Harvard.

Cory Aquino often told interviewers that those years in exile were her happiest. When your husband is thrown into jail for what he believes, in a country ruled by a dictator's words and whims, it is hard to trust that your children can be safe.

But Cory Aquino had smuggled her husband's writings out of prison to rouse supporters to stay strong. She had brought messages back in to remind Benigno Aquino, in his isolation, that his words could inspire people he couldn't see.

In Boston, the Aquinos could rest, heal, and be together. But by 1983, people struggling for democracy in the Philippines told Benigno Aquino they needed him. Cory Aquino didn't want him to return; she understood that he had to. She stayed in Boston with their children.

And on a blindingly hot day in August, 1983, Benigno Aquino stepped off the airplane that brought him back home to Manila — and was shot through the head and died.

Corazon Aquino came back home for his funeral. And against all expectation — perhaps even her own — she stayed.

"I am just one of the thousands and millions of victims of the Marcos dictatorship," she told crowds. "And I know very well that I am not the victim who has suffered the most. But . . . perhaps I am the best known . . . of Marcos' long list of victims."

When she ran against Ferdinand Marcos for president in 1986, she conceded that she had little experience, and was short on proposals.

"The only thing I can really offer the Filipino people," she said, "is my sincerity."

That seemed revolutionary.

As president of the Philippines, she fought back seven coup attempts. She displeased both leftists who wanted more radical land reform, and rightists who didn't want to talk to leftist radicals.

Those of us lucky enough to have seen the peaceful revolutions in eastern Europe in 1989 will always think the example of this sincere, determined woman emboldened crowds in Berlin and Prague. Corazon Aquino didn't have the life she expected—and because of it, gave hopes to others that they could make better lives, too.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small