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Then & Now: Corazon Aquino

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"Cory" Aquino plans to spend the rest of her life working with charitable groups to help Filipinos.

SPECIAL REPORT

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Corazon Aquino
Philippines
Violent Demonstrations
Coup d'Etat

(CNN) -- In 1986, Corazon Aquino, a self-professed housewife and mother, became an international symbol for non-violent political resistance when she became the first woman president of the Philippines three years after her husband, a political opposition leader, was assassinated.

Today, the 72-year-old grandmother continues to concern herself with the welfare of her fellow Filipinos. She works with various charitable organizations to address issues of poverty, education and democracy.

"I see myself now as still trying to bring people together and wanting Filipinos to really look at each other as brothers and sisters and helping each other make life better, especially for the poor," she told CNN.

She was born into one of the richest families in the Philippines and sent to the United States for an education, earning a college degree in French. Nearly 30 years before she ascended to the presidency, she returned to her native country and met and married Benigno Aquino Jr., a young man with a burgeoning political career.

The couple had five children, and Mr. Aquino proved his political skill by becoming a governor and then a senator.

But her husband was a political foe of President Ferdinand Marcos, the autocrat who eventually had Mr. Aquino arrested, sentenced to death and exiled in 1980.

The family fled to the United States where they lived for three years before Mr. Aquino returned to the Philippines.

"... Prior to my husband's return to the Philippines we had discussed the different scenarios that would await him once he got here ... and he said, 'Well, if Marcos makes a mistake and has me killed then that will be the best thing that will happen to me because I've always wanted to die for our country,'" she said.

Moments after returning to his country, Mr. Aquino was gunned down on the tarmac at Manila International Airport. The murder inspired an uprising that split the military and eventually toppled the Marcos regime.

In 1986, Mrs. Aquino garnered the support of the Catholic Church and many of the Filipino people when she stood up against the Marcos regime to protest election results that had been manufactured to keep Marcos in power. She became president when Marcos fled the country after the military would not support his claims of an election victory.

In just three years, Mrs. Aquino was transformed from housewife to president.

"I never thought of becoming president. He (Benigno Aquino) did what he believed he could best do and that was that he gave his life for our country. That was the beginning of the restoration of our democracy. It awoke the Filipino people from their apathy, their indifference and from their fear," she said.

Mrs. Aquino has been roundly praised for her commitment to democracy and for her work to ratify a new Filipino constitution. In 1986, she was named Time magazine's Woman of the Year.

But her term as president did not play itself out without a struggle.

A series of coup attempts plagued the administration and threatened the nation's fragile economy.

"My biggest disappointment was, of course, the coup attempts," Mrs. Aquino said. "The economy was proceeding very well, but in 1989 we had the most serious coup attempt and ... many of the investors who were set to come here had to tell me that they chose to go to other countries because of the uncertainty brought about by (the coup attempt.) If that had not happened, I'm sure our economy would just be booming today ..."

After more than six years as president, Mrs. Aquino retired from office following democratic elections that selected her successor, Fidel V. Ramos.

In a symbolic gesture, Mrs. Aquino left Ramos' inauguration ceremony in her own modest Toyota instead of the government-issued Mercedes offered to her.

Today, Mrs. Aquino is involved with a charitable foundation created in her late husband's name. She helps to replicate successful programs and projects from across the globe.

Her only son has followed in his parents' footsteps. He is a democratically elected congressman.

"I was very privileged and really blessed with so many material and spiritual gifts that I should give back," Mrs. Aquino said. "I should do something for my people, but ... it's not just in politics that you can be a servant of the people, you can do it in so many other ways."

"I'd like to be known as woman of faith, somebody who believed in God and who believed in her people," She said.

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