Woman of the Year

Cory Aquino leads a fairy-tale revolution, then surprises the world with her strength

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Then, suddenly, the implausible began to happen. Thousands of volunteer poll watchers, singing hymns and burning candles, formed a human barricade against the armed goons and carried their ballot boxes through the streets to counting stations. Thirty of the government's vote tabulators walked out in protest against the fraud. The country's Catholic bishops publicly condemned the election, and the U.S. Senate echoed the protest.

Soon the implausible turned into the improbable. Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, the architect of Marcos' martial law, and Lieut. General Fidel Ramos, the deputy chief of the armed forces, broke away from the government, claiming that Aquino was the true winner. As the rebels barricaded themselves inside two military camps, first hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of common citizens poured into the streets to offer food, support and protection, if need be with their bodies, to the maverick soldiers and Aquino backers. As civilians, bearing only flags and flowers, took up positions to defend the military men, the world knew that it was watching more than just an electoral upheaval.

Finally, the improbable became the impossible. Marcos' tanks rolled toward the crowds, only to be stopped by nuns kneeling in their path, saying the rosary. Old women went up to gun-toting marines and disarmed them with motherly hugs. Little girls offered their flowers to hardened combat veterans. In the face of such quiet heroism, thousands of Marcos loyalists defected; many simply broke down in tears.

Less than 24 hours after Marcos had had himself inaugurated, he was being helped off a plane in Hawaii, sickly, exiled and bewildered. His former home, Malacanang Palace, was now a melancholy tableau of abandoned power, overrun by thousands of revelers. The new leader of the Philippines was the reserved housewife who had worn plain yellow dresses every day of her campaign. For her determination and courage in leading a democratic revolution that captured the world's imagination, Corazon Aquino is TIME's Woman of the Year for 1986.

Whatever else happens in her rule, Aquino has already given her country a bright, and inviolate, memory. More important, she has also resuscitated its sense of identity and pride. In the Philippines those luxuries are especially precious. Almost alone among the countries of Asia, it has never been steadied by an ancient culture; its sense of itself, and its potential, was further worn away by nearly four centuries of Spanish and American colonialism. The absence of a spirit of national unity has also made democracy elusive. Even Jose Rizal, a political reformer shot by the Spanish and a national hero, called the Filipinos "a people without a soul." Yet in February, for a few extraordinary moments, the people of the Philippines proved their bravery to the world, and to themselves.

Aquino's revolution with a human face was no less a triumph for women the world over. The person known as the "Mother of the Nation" managed to lead a revolt and rule a republic without ever relinquishing her buoyant calm or her gift for making politics and humanity companionable. In a nation dominated for decades by a militant brand of macho politics, she conquered with tranquillity and grace.

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