Friday, Jul 29, 2016
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A woman of substance

THE Philippines and the world lost an important, precedent-setting political figure with the passing Saturday of that nation's former president, Maria Corazon Aquino.

Cory Aquino, who died of cancer in Manila, was known for her signature yellow dress, her courage, and, above all, her integrity, which was buttressed by her strong Catholic faith.

She came to the Philippines presidency reluctantly, having arrived at the post in the wake of the assassination by the 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 Ms. 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 Ms. Aquino set precedents. During her presidency, she restored the Philippines' freely elected parliament and independent judiciary. Most remarkably, she successfully rode the bucking bronco of Philippines politics 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 Ms. Aquino be seen as a saint - as opposed to a gutsy, canny, political figure - she left undone some political tasks, 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 the authority of the central government 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 Philippines people and for the friends of her country the iconic image of a strong woman who stood 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 leaders.

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