MANILA (Reuters) - Former President Corazon Aquino, whose “people power” revolution swept dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power in the Philippines, died on Saturday after a 16-month battle against colon cancer, her family said. She was 76.
Aquino was diagnosed with the disease in March 2008 but kept up public appearances this year. A devout Catholic, she was a regular at weekend mass until shortly before being admitted to hospital in late June.
“Our mother peacefully passed away at 3:18 a.m. (1918 GMT Friday) of cardio-respiratory arrest,” her son, Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., told reporters in Manila.
Aquino, known as Cory to millions of Filipinos, was president from 1986 to 1992 and will be best remembered as the slim woman in yellow who deposed Marcos in 1986.
The tumultuous events of those weeks reached a crescendo when up to 1 million people waving rosaries and flowers stopped tanks advancing toward Aquino-backed army rebels.
When a bewildered Marcos and his wife Imelda fled the country, it set a precedent for dissidents from South Africa to South America and Pakistan. Aquino was hailed by many as a modern-day Joan of Arc.
“She would have wanted us to thank each and every one of you for all the prayers and your continuous love and support. It was her wish for all of us to pray for one another and for our country,” Aquino Jr said.
Cory was a reluctant leader. She shed the housewife’s apron only after her politician husband, opposition leader Benigno, was assassinated at Manila’s international airport in 1983 on his return from exile in the United States.
Accusing Marcos of ordering the murder, Aquino led protest marches but hesitated when an election was called in 1986.
“What on earth do I know about being president?,” she said before taking up the challenge to run against Marcos.
Inevitably, her presidency was less successful than the revolution, with a series of coup attempts by the military keeping the administration hamstrung.
Aquino was lauded for her courage but the spectre of army intervention haunted her entire rule. Natural disasters, including Mount Pinatubo’s huge volcanic eruption in 1991, severely battered the economy.
Aquino often turned to her faith to steer her through difficult times.
“There was never any moment that I doubted God would help ... If it was time to die, so be it,” she said when rebel mortars pounded the presidential palace in 1987.
“I have not always won but ... I never shirked a fight,” she said in 1992 before handing power over to her successor, former defence minister Fidel Ramos.
She oversaw the writing of a new constitution which limited a president’s time in office to one six-year term.
Born on January 25, 1933, into one of the country’s richest families, the Cojuangcos, Aquino grew up in a world of wealth and politics. The daughter of a congressman, she married Benigno, a politician with promise, and they had four daughters and a son before he was thrown into prison by Marcos and then forced into exile.
Aquino seemed frail in later years, but was still game for a fight when she thought it necessary. She brought half a million people on to the street in the 1990s when her Ramos flirted with the idea of trying to extend his term in office.
She was involved in the protests that brought an end to the presidency of Joseph Estrada in 2001, and had supported the campaign to remove current president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Last year, just before Christmas, she publicly apologized for helping bring down Estrada.
“We all make mistakes, please forgive me,” Aquino said.
Estrada, once an implacable foe, said of the apology: “It was the best Christmas gift I have ever received.”
It mattered to him because it came from “the most trusted person in the country.”
Reporting by Manny Mogato and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Robert Woodward