The Woman Who Saved Her Country
This is The Story…of what one woman did when an evil dictator attacked her family and threatened her home.
This article is a written version of Episode 2 of The Story Podcast: The Woman Who Saved Her Country.
Season 1 features twelve women trailblazers who changed the world, and it’s brought to you exclusively by Salesforce.
And now… onto The Story
The phone rang in the middle of the night.
It awakened the woman who was sleeping alone.
After weeks of insomnia, Cory had finally been able to fall asleep. Now, it was two in the morning, and she was wide awake. The ringing stopped. In the distance, she could hear her daughter answer the phone. She sounded frantic.
Cory leapt out of bed. It was so late, she knew the phone must be her husband calling. Her daughter’s voice was getting louder.
Two years ago, Cory fled her home country with her husband, and their five children. They escaped to the United States because her husband was a wanted man. He was a Senator who advocated freedom and democracy, and these views put a target on his back. With the country’s secret police after them, their family was forced to flee. Now after years of living in exile in America, they heard rumors that it might finally be safe to return home.
So her husband left for their country — alone. What he was doing was unprecedented. He was deliberately disobeying a government with a secret police and killers on their payroll.
As she sprinted down the stairs, Cory’s mind was racing to remember the conversation when she dropped him off at the airport.
She had told him that, “If no one stands up to him, then they will continue to marginalize and kill any political opposition. ”
Her husband replied, “I know. And if I don’t stand up to him, no one else will.”
She remembered her husband smiling as he kissed her. Then he boarded the plane.
The man they were referring to was the leader of the ruling party — a vile dictator who used his power to control everything. If anyone threatened his regime, the perpetrators often ended up dead, or worse.
As she walked into the kitchen, she saw her daughter’s face. It was blank. Cory grabbed the phone from her and moved the receiver to her ear.
The voice on the other end was a news reporter. He asked her to confirm the reports about her husband.
“What reports?” she stammered.
“That he is dead?” he replied.
Tears began to form in her eyes, but she refused to believe it was true. Cory slammed the phone and called a friend who was traveling with her husband.
Her friend picked up the phone. He could barely speak.
Her husband was assassinated. Shot by the government’s secret police as he stepped off the plane.
In a matter of minutes, her world was destroyed. Cory grabbed onto her daughter as her legs gave out from under her. They slumped to the floor.
Images of him cascaded through her mind. Her husband was gone. The father of their five children. Not only was the love of her life gone, but everything they had built together was in jeopardy.
All of those sacrifices that she supported him through… for what? He’d been shot to death because he was a champion of non-violence. He had proposed solutions to end the corruption that plagued their country, and now he was gone.
She had two choices. She could quit, and stay in the U.S. where it was safe. Or, she could return to the country they were fighting to save. Her mind revolted at the thought of returning to her own country. She couldn’t justify putting herself and her children at risk… Could she?
If she quit, everything they had sacrificed would be in vain. Her country would continue to descend into a hell where the government killed anyone who disagreed.
She blinked her eyes to see through the tears. She would not quit. She knew there was a nonviolent way to fight back.
Facing that evil is terrifying. She saw what had happened to those that tried.
Years ago, Cory and her husband started their movement, it got the attention of the dictator. At their first large event, his troops were ready. When she and her husband arrived, they walked on stage only to witness two massive explosions rip through the crowd. The corrupt government thugs had thrown two grenades into their supporters. After the attack, the dictator would blame the attack on “terrorists” and use it as an excuse to declare martial law. He told the populace that the country was under attack, and only by handing over their rights could they be protected.
Once martial law was in place, the corrupt leader quickly threw her husband in jail. He was locked away for seven years, and during that time Cory raised their children on her own.
Although her husband was trapped in a prison cell, he did everything he could to continue to spread his ideas. To get the attention of journalists, he went on a hunger strike. He only drank water with salt and amino acids… for forty days. On the 40th day of his fast and scared for his health, Cory had begged him to end it. Hesitant, but not wanting to worry Cory or his family any further, he finally broke his fast.
That was how much her husband was dedicated to freedom.
All of these memories flashed through Cory’s mind as her friend on the phone continued talking. He recounted her husband’s final moments as they arrived at their home airport. Before they exited the plane, the Senator had turned to the reporters beside him. He urged them to pay attention, and document everything. He said:
“In a matter of three or four minutes, it could all be over.”
The Senator walked down the plane steps and onto the tarmac. The reporters rushed up and threw microphones in his face. His statement was prophetic:
“I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through non-violence. I seek no confrontation.”
Before he could walk any further, government assassins emerged out of the crowd, and a gunshot rang out.
Her husband was shot in the head by his own government. He was instantly killed.
The entire time Cory listened on the phone, the tears never stopped. She thanked her friend and hung up the phone.
There was a war raging for the future of her country, and she knew that someone had to lead the fight against the monsters.
Within days, she was on a flight back home. When she arrived she lead the funeral procession for her husband.
At the funeral, she expected to find her husband’s supporters demoralized. But when she arrived, more than two million people were there to celebrate his life.
He had lived his life in such a way that his death turned him into a martyr.
With that wave of support, Cory felt a surge of inspiration to fight and win.
A few days later, a bribed jury and judge acquitted all 26 defendants in the murder of her husband. The corruption was unbearable, it was time for her to take the country back.
Her mission was clear. She must run for president.
The realization made her head spin. But her country would not elect a woman. It had never been done. But maybe a woman is exactly who they needed.
Up until this moment, it would be easy for people to discount Cory. She had zero political experience. She was a self-described housewife. But that was her strength. She had mothered and raised five children. She had hosted political figures in her home and planned public demonstrations. She had helped her husband become the most famous Senator in their country.
She started to attend demonstrations and protests. As Cory’s following grew, the dictator made a surprise announcement. He would hold a snap election on February 7, 1986. This was a move designed to catch her flat-footed, before she had fully campaigned.
Although she was reluctant to run against the dictator on his terms, her supporters were persistent. When they presented her with one million signatures of support, Cory agreed. It was time to challenge the dictator and his murderous, two-decade rule.
But the dictator was no pushover. Networks of thugs worked for him, even more depraved than he was. Many men tried to defeat him in a peaceable way, including her husband. All had failed, but their sacrifices had created a moment of opportunity.
Slowly the dictator was becoming more terrified. He began to realize that this ‘lowly housewife’ may wield the exact experience required to defeat him. She successfully raised five children. She helped her grandparents and parents start and run a number of small businesses. She was vital in helping her husband during his tenure in the Senate. When he was wrongly imprisoned, she was there to support him. Cory was a force to be reckoned with.
While campaigning, the dictator desperately jumped on every opportunity to bash her publicly. At a critical moment during the debates, he tried to end her political run once and for all. He knew that she was smart and powerful; that she could, and would, win the debate if they actually discussed the issues at hand. So… he resorted to insults.
The dictator said that she was “just a woman” and alluded that her place was in the bedroom.
But Cory had done her homework. She knew the dictator’s health was failing. Rumors were flying that the dictator’s wife was the one who was really running the show.
Cory didn’t miss a beat. She calmly replied with:
“May the better woman win in this election.”
The dictator was stunned, and so were the people watching. Nobody dared to speak like that to him!
Grasping for anything to drag her down, he attacked her by saying that her “lack of political experience” would threaten and destroy the country.
Again, she countered with truth. She said, “I don’t have experience in cheating, lying to the public, stealing government money, and killing political opponents”. So yes, she had less “political experience” than the kind he was talking about.
Election day arrived. It was tainted by electoral fraud, violence, intimidation, and coercion. One of her closest allies, a Governor, was murdered.
Without even counting the votes, the dictator declared himself the winner.
But Cory and her followers decided otherwise. They held a “People’s Victory Rally” the following day. People gathered to protest as she called for peaceful civil disobedience. They organized boycotts of the media and businesses controlled by the dictator and an enormous crowd formed.
The dictator ordered troops to stop protesters. But no shots were fired. The peaceful protestors convinced the troops to defect and they refused to follow the unlawful orders. The peaceful demonstrations proved their point, and the world took notice.
Soon, other leaders around the world voiced support for the courageous widow who had run against the dictator. President Ronald Reagan made an official statement and expressed his support for Cory.
As a result of the tremendous opposition, the dictator, Marcos E. Ferdinand, was forced to flee the Philippines.
The woman who stepped into his place was Corazon Aquino.
She saved herself, her family, and her people, and won the highest political office in her country. Moreover, she had done it all in a non-violent way.
On the day she was sworn in as President, she didn’t drive to the inauguration in a government-issued Mercedes as other VIPs did. She rode into town in a simple Toyota Crown.
Corazon’s supporters recognized her struggle, and would go on to honor her murdered husband as “the greatest president we never had”. “Cory” was responsible for fulfilling the rekindled hopes of her people. They believed that her presidency signaled a new era.
She didn’t disappoint.
During the first few months of her presidency, the Philippines experienced radical changes. Cory created the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) that reclaimed money Marcos had stolen. She also abolished the 1973 Constitution that had led to Martial Law. In its place, she issued a new Constitution, one that was modeled after the US Constitution.
Things continued to improve for the Filipinos. Every day, Cory’s administration emphasized civil liberties and human rights. They focused on re-establishing economic trade and the rule of law.
They paid off $4 billion of the country’s outstanding debts. They had inherited hundreds of problems, and instead of complaining, they fixed them all.
When her tenure in office was finished, Cory did not seek re-election. Close advisers explained to her that under the new constitution, she was eligible. But Cory wanted to set an example for both citizens and politicians. She did not believe that the presidency was a lifetime position.
Corazon Aquino was the first female president of the Philippines and in all of Asia. And her influence did not stop after her presidential run was over. She gave speeches on issues of liberty, economic development, human rights and women empowerment.
In 2009, when she passed away, hundreds of thousands of people attended her funeral. She was regarded as a champion of freedom and liberty, as well as a pioneer for women in politics everywhere. She made an incredible impact on her country and around the globe. One of her most powerful statements still echoes to this day:
“I would rather die a meaningful death than live a meaningless life.” → Click to Tweet!
Cory is the model for all political reformations. She is a true leader of the people. Her, “inexperience at politics” made her perfectly suited to hold the highest political office in her land.
In Spanish, Corazon means “heart”.
And through peaceful demonstration, Corazon Aquino was able to win over the hearts of her country and the world. She was the woman who saved her country.
That’s her story, what’s yours going to be?
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