Born Maria Corazón Sumulong Cojuangco in Manila, in 1955 she married Benigno Aquino Jr., who had just been elected mayor of Concepcion in Tarlac province at the age of 22. He rose to be governor and senator, then under the Marcos regime was arrested, sentenced to death, and exiled. She accompanied him into exile in 1980. After his death she entered politics as head of the Laban coalition, and stood against Ferdinand Marcos in the presidential election of February 1986. Both Marcos and Aquino claimed to have won, and held rival inaugurations on February 25, but Marcos then fled in the face of huge popular demonstrations and the refusal of the military to intervene against them.
Despite her enormous personal popularity and that of the new democratic constitution approved in a 1987 referendum, she continued to face repeated military coup attempts and communist insurrection. She was succeeded as president on June 30, 1992 by General Fidel Ramos, Marcos's armed forces chief, whose defection to the Aquino party had proved crucial to the Popular Revolution.