Weeping mourners have been payingtheir respects at the wake of former President Corazon Aquino, with some pledging to carry on her legacy by protecting the democracy she helped install 23 years ago.
Filipinos have been sensitive to any slide back toward
autocratic rule since Aquino and Roman Catholic leader Cardinal
Jaime Sin led the 1986 "people power" revolt that ousted longtime
dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Jose Olazo took his 1-year-old grandson to the democracy icon's
wake on Sunday. The child wore a yellow band around his head - the
color a symbol of the nonviolent mass uprising that forced Marcos
from power and into exile in the United States.
Olazo, a 53-year-old laborer and democracy activist, cried
before the flag-draped casket of Aquino, who was in a yellow dress
and had a rosary in her hands. He quietly vowed to continue
safeguarding the democracy she helped implant after decades of
brutal dictatorship. "He's the next-generation protester," Olazo
said, pointing to his grandson James.
Olazo was among thousands of people who lined up for hours to
pay their last respects to Aquino at a suburban Manila university
stadium, where her coffin was displayed on a platform teeming with
yellow roses and orchids. Some mourners wept, others clutched
protest mementoes such as yellow ribbons.
Her body will be moved Monday to Manila Cathedral to lie in
state until Wednesday's funeral.
Aquino, 76, died early Saturday at a Manila hospital after a
yearlong battle with colon cancer.
Months before she was diagnosed with cancer, Aquino joined
street protests organized amid opposition fears that President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could amend the country's 1987 Constitution
to lift term limits or impose martial law to stay in power when her
term ends next year. Arroyo said she has no desire to extend her
Ismita Maliakel, a nun from Kerala, India, who attended the
wake, said Aquino's death was "a blow to democracy" but added
that the former president would continue to be a democratic symbol.
"Like Gandhi, she will be remembered in the Philippines,"
Arroyo declared a 10-day national mourning period starting
Saturday, and her aides said she would cut short a U.S. trip.
Pope Benedict XVI expressed his condolences to Aquino's family
and the Philippine government, recalling her "courageous
commitment to the freedom of the Filipino people, her firm
rejection of violence and intolerance," according to Manila
Archbishop Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales.
President Barack Obama was deeply saddened by Aquino's death,
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Saturday.
Marcos' widow, Imelda, and former leader Joseph Estrada also
expressed sadness at Aquino's passing. Aquino helped depose Estrada over alleged corruption in the second nonviolent "People Power" revolt in 2001, but the two reconciled in recent years. He attended Aquino's wake with his family.
"Let us now unite in prayers for Cory, the Filipino people and
for our country," the 80-year-old Marcos told reporters in a
church in Manila's Tondo slum district.
Marcos publicly sought prayers for Aquino when she was ill,
despite referring to her as a "usurper" and a "dictator" just
Aquino's youngest daughter Kris thanked the Marcos family in a
rare reconciliatory gesture.
"I never thought that the time would come but I say 'thank you'
to the Marcoses for really praying for mom. I felt the sincerity,"
she told ABS-CBN network in an interview.
She also said her mother had forgiven all her political enemies.
Nevertheless, Kris Aquino said her family refused the Arroyo
administration's offer of a state funeral because the government
had attempted to recall two soldiers assigned to guard her mother
when she was still alive. Former Philippine presidents
traditionally have the right to retain at least two guards.
Aquino's only son, Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, said the
family would not be too enthusiastic to see Arroyo at the funeral
but that she could pay her respects.
Aquino rose to prominence after the assassination in 1983 of her
husband, opposition leader Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.
A housewife who was reluctantly thrust into power, Aquino
struggled in office to meet high public expectations. Her land
redistribution program fell short of ending economic domination by
the landed elite. Her leadership, especially in social and economic
reform, was often indecisive, leaving many of her closest allies
disillusioned by the end of her term.
Still, the bespectacled, smiling woman in her trademark yellow
dress remained beloved in the Philippines, where she was
affectionately referred to as "Tita (Auntie) Cory."
"Our lives have not improved that much," said Olazo, the
laborer. "But if Tita Cory did not restore democracy, I will not
even be free to talk this much today."
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