The Philippines and the world lost an important, precedent-setting political figure with the passing Saturday of former Philippine President Maria Corazon Aquino.
Cory Aquino, who died of cancer in Manila, was known for her courage, her signature yellow dress and, above all, for her integrity, buttressed by strong Catholic faith. But there was more to her than that. She came to the Philippine presidency reluctantly, having arrived at the post in the wake of the assassination by the Philippine military of her husband.
Although it was never proven, it is likely that his death was ordered by longtime Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, in power with his acquisitive wife Imelda for 20 years. Mr. Marcos was a favorite of several American presidents through Ronald Reagan, who supported him until it was clear that his sun had set. Mr. Marcos died in Hawaii three years after having been forced out by Mrs. Aquino, who led a nonviolent uprising after having lost what were considered to have been cooked elections in 1986.
Asia has become accustomed to female leaders, starting with India's Indira Gandhi, who took office in 1966, but Mrs. Aquino set precedents. During her presidency she restored the Philippines' freely elected parliament and independent judiciary. Probably most remarkably, she sat on top of the bucking bronco of Philippine politics successfully for six years, heading off repeated attempts by the country's military to carry out coups d'etat, an omnipresent threat to any civilian government there.
Lest Mrs. Aquino be seen as a saint -- as opposed to a gutsy, canny political figure -- she left some Philippine political tasks undone, which remain to this day as significant problems. She did not take on needed land reform. (Her family owned a 15,000-acre sugar plantation.) She did not seek to change the Philippines' traditional big-family control of government. She also chose not to negotiate with the country's Muslim and other dissidents, an issue that remains a challenge to this day to central government authority as well as to the country's largely ineffective but highly politicized military forces.
With her life and with her passing she has left behind for the Philippine people and for the friends of her country the iconic image of a strong woman in a yellow dress who stands out among the leaders of a country not always known for integrity.
Cory Aquino was a great figure of her times. She set a personal example for people who would aspire to lead any country that is under the thumb of corrupt, autocratic, homicidal leaders.