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Boston friends recall the `presidential training' of Cory Aquino. They saw her courage and political acumen

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They seem like snapshots from a different era. In one, Corazon Aquino smiles shyly from a picnic table behind the spacious brick house that her family occupied during their three years in Boston. In another, her husband Benigno, the exiled Philippine opposition leader whose charm and charisma held his fellow academics spellbound, relaxes in a hammock near a New Hampshire lake.

But as family friend Florencio Hipona traces each photograph with his finger, one striking image snaps the story back into present focus: Taken just hours after Benigno was assassinated in Manila in 1983, it shows Cory Aquino mustering a tearful smile.

Sister Dora Sartino remembers consoling Mrs. Aquino that night. ``You could see she was a woman of strength and courage,'' says Ms. Sartino, principal of Mount Alvernia Academy, which one of the Aquinos' five children attended. ``Yes, she was confused, but brave. I remember her saying, `Ninoy's work will live on.' ''

Corazon Aquino had no idea she was speaking about her own future. Even close Filipino friends had no inkling then that the quiet, retiring housewife would spark a nonviolent revolution and soon lead their troubled land of 55 million people.

But over the weekend, when the popular President visited her self-described ``second home'' in Boston, friends looked back at her moments of courage, strength, and political acumen. And on one topic, they all agree: Cory Aquino was no ordinary housewife.

``She was silently groomed for the job,'' says Dr. Hipona, sitting at the dining-room table in the Aquinos' former home, which is now owned by the Benigno S. Aquino Memorial Foundation. Gazing out over the church spires at Boston College, Hipona ticks off the elements that sharpened Mrs. Aquino's political education: her family, husband, church, and bitter suffering at the hands of the Marcos regime.

``The popular image of the naive housewife who is only an accidental president is just wild,'' agrees Benjamin H. Brown, former director of the fellows program at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs, where Benigno Aquino studied for two years. ``People say of her -- even close neighbors -- `You know, I don't remember her ever saying anything when Ninoy was around.' But when her husband was in the room, everybody was silent.''

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