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Before "People Power,'' a life in Newton for Aquino

Posted by Your Town  August 6, 2009 09:46 AM

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Associated Press photo


The coffin of former Philippines president Corazon Aquino is carried into the Manila Cathedral today.


As former Philippines leader Corazon Aquino was laid to rest in her homeland today, close friends were planning to honor her more than 8,000 miles away, in Newton, where the international icon spent what she often called the happiest three years of her life.

Years before the massive street demonstrations of the 1986 "people power" revolution elevated her to the presidency, Aquino, who died Saturday at age 76 of cancer, was known to Massachusetts friends and former neighbors as a quiet, simple housewife with a big heart. And they have not forgotten her.

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"She was the kind of person that you met for the first time, and it was not long before you felt like you knew her for a long time," said Norma Bucal of Sudbury, who still kept in touch with Aquino in the months before her death. "It was so easy to like her. That is why we became such close friends."

The local community will convene for a Mass in remembrance of Aquino on Aug. 22 at St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, where she would often attend services with her husband, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., the exiled senator and opposition leader.

The couple and their five children lived on Commonwealth Avenue in Newton from 1980 to1983, after Benigno Aquino had to leave their country for opposing the repressive rule of President Ferdinand Marcos. While her husband, who was a lecturer at Harvard and MIT, was described by family friends and former neighbors as charismatic and outgoing, "Cory" preferred to stay in the background, they said.

"They were a happy family in this country," said Rosario Agular, a family friend who lives in Belmont and who met the Aquinos at a mutual friend's party. "Ninoy had been incarcerated for seven years back in the Philippines, so they were kept apart."

Originally from a wealthy family, Corazon Aquino became a housewife in Newton, "doing all the house chores she never had to do before," Agular said. She never discussed politics and tended to not speak unless spoken to, friends said.

But Aquino was an intelligent, well-educated woman who stepped up when her people needed her in difficult times for her and for her country, Agular said.

Benigno Aquino was gunned down in 1983 at the airport in Manila upon his return to the country after three years in exile. Many believe that Marcos ordered the assassination of his 72-year-old longtime rival.

His death sparked millions throughout the Philippines to peacefully take to the streets, catapulting Corazon Aquino into the spotlight as a leading force of democracy. She eventually replaced Marcos's 20-year regime in 1986 during what has come to be known as the People Power Revolution. She served as president for six years.

When Mary Rose Ezpeleta thinks back to that moment, she recalls being surprised, said the family friend who now lives in North Andover. Until then, Corazon Aquino had always fallen in the shadow of her husband, "but she grew into the reign of government," she said.

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