Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino dead at 76

Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino, whose "People Power" movement pushed out longtime strongman Ferdinand Marcos less than three years after her husband’s assassination, has died at age 76, her family announced Saturday.

Aquino, the first woman to lead the Philippines, had been battling colon cancer since March 2008 and died of cardio-respiratory arrest at 3:18 a.m. Saturday (3:18 p.m. Friday ET), said Mai Mislang, a spokeswoman for her son, Philippine Sen. Benigno Aquino III. Funeral arrangments were being set up, Mislang said. And Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has announced a 10-day mourning period for the former president, said Ray Donato, the country’s consul-general in Atlanta. “She was the agent of change in Philippine democracy, and almost all the Filipinos I know revered her during her presidency,” Donato said. Aquino had been born into a wealthy family and was educated in the United States. She had not been involved in politics before her husband, opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., was gunned down at Manila’s airport in August 1983 as he returned from exile. The political novice took over the leadership of her husband’s movement after his death and challenged Marcos in a 1986 election, making a yellow dress her trademark and bolstered by the support of the country’s Roman Catholic churches.

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Marcos had been backed by the United States, the former colonial power in the Philippines, for two decades as a stalwart anti-communist. He and his wife Imelda were friends of then-President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy. But widespread allegations of electoral fraud and a mutiny by the country’s military led the Reagan administration to withdraw its support, and Marcos went into exile in Hawaii. Aquino took office in a country with a $28 billion debt, widespread poverty and a persistent Marxist insurgency. She put in place a U.S.-style constitution that limited presidents to a single six-year term and survived seven coup attempts — including one that was supressed with American help. She also oversaw the closure of the major U.S. military bases in the country before leaving office in 1992. The bases had been a bulwark of American power in the Pacific since the early 1900s and employed nearly 80,000 Filipinos, but Aquino’s opponents argued the country was too dependent on the United States. Aquino announced in 1990 that it was time to begin negotiating the “orderly withdrawal” of U.S. forces.