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Corazon Aquino's first, ever so hesitant entry into the larger-than-life melodrama of recent Philippine history came when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. One of the first people to be arrested without charge was Ninoy Aquino, Marcos' closest rival. The tough but charismatic Aquino had in quick succession become the youngest mayor in Philippine history (at 22), the youngest governor (at 29) and the youngest Senator (at 34). He seemed likely to become the youngest President too, as soon as Marcos' second and final term ended in 1973. Before that could happen, Marcos threw him in jail.
As Ninoy languished in prison, his diffident and devout wife became his eyes, ears and voice in the outside world, acting as his liaison with what remained of the Philippine opposition. For seven years and seven months, spending hours alone with her husband in his cell, the upper-class matron received tutorials in opposition strategies from a master of the political arts. In between, she had to smuggle messages to and from him, sometimes on scraps of paper, sometimes in her head.
During the early weeks of martial law, recalls Cory, she could not watch television lest she see Marcos or her husband's official jailer, Defense Minister Enrile (the man who signed the arrest warrant was none other than General Ramos). In her conjugal visits, she had to share her husband with hidden cameras and bugs. Once, when Ninoy's guards simply removed him from sight for more than six weeks, Cory was forced to wander from prison to prison in search of him.
In 1980, however, Ninoy was released from confinement, and his wife from politics, when Marcos granted the ailing prisoner permission to travel to the U.S. for triple-bypass heart surgery. With a trumped-up death sentence over his head at home, Ninoy settled down after his operation in a red brick house in the affluent Boston suburb of Newton. There he returned to scheming for the overthrow of Marcos, while Cory resumed her favored routine of browsing through department stores, raising bonsai trees and relaxing over Falcon Crest and Dallas. Her American neighbors remember the President of the Philippines especially for her Peking duck.
The years in Boston were the most uneventful of Cory's adult life; she has also called them the happiest. In 1983, however, she had to look on stoically as her husband defied repeated warnings from Manila and decided to return to the Philippines to challenge Marcos, death sentence or no. Hardly had Ninoy's plane landed in Manila when he was met by a group of soldiers and hustled out of the plane. Seconds later, shots rang out, and Ninoy Aquino lay dead on the tarmac.
Ten days after the killing, up to 2 million people streamed into the streets in an unprecedented outpouring of sorrow and shock, transforming Aquino's funeral into the largest procession in the country's history. In the weeks and months that followed, street vendors and socialites, businessmen and radicals all awoke from years of resignation to cry out their rage. Yet the official opposition to Marcos remained fatally factious, divided into more than a dozen self-seeking groups, each of them tainted either by extremist positions, associations with the government or long years of failure.