Thousands mourn ex-Philippine president Aquino

Last Updated: Sunday, August 2, 2009 - 10:42

Manila: Thousands of mourners paid their final respects to former Philippine president Corazon Aquino on Sunday, lining up to file past her coffin in silent tribute to the "People Power" democracy leader.

Aquino, who died at the age of 76 on Saturday after a long battle with colon cancer, led millions of Filipinos in protests against dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a popular revolt in 1986, before taking over as president.

World figures led by US President Barack Obama paid tribute to Aquino as "an inspiration", while President Gloria Arroyo declared 10 days of mourning for the woman she described as a "national treasure".

Aquino was to be buried on Wednesday after a family-led ceremony, in accordance with her wishes not to be given a state funeral, the presidential palace said. Schools across the country were to close for the day.

She will be laid to rest beside her husband, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, who was assassinated in 1983 after he flew back to the Philippines from exile in Boston to seek an audience with Marcos.

On Sunday, thousands queued up to see the former president lying in state at a Catholic school in Manila, many of them wearing yellow clothing or yellow ribbons, the symbol of the "People Power" movement that swept her to power.

Her body arrived in a solemn ceremony on Saturday in a coffin draped in the national colours, accompanied by a military honour guard. Weeping family members and close friends showered her coffin with yellow confetti.

The line of mourners on Sunday stretched down the street outside the school, with dignitaries and ordinary Filipinos alike wishing to pay their respects.

One woman had to be carried away after becoming overcome with hysteria.

Tributes came in from around the world for the woman who served as president from 1986 to 1992, during which time she restored the country`s democratic institutions and survived several military coup attempts.

Obama said in a statement he was "deeply saddened" by Aquino`s death, adding that "her courage, determination, and moral leadership are an inspiration to us all and exemplify the best in the Filipino nation."

Pope Benedict XVI remembered Aquino as a "woman of deep and unwavering faith", while former first lady Imelda Marcos said her family joined the nation in mourning and praying for the ex-president.

Manila newspapers marked Aquino`s passing with emotional headlines such as "Farewell Tita (Aunt) Cory" and "What a great gift we`ve lost".

In Manila`s Makati financial district, huge posters of Aquino went up while neighbours left flowers at the family home. Requiem masses were held in Catholic churches nationwide.

Aquino, who described herself as "a simple housewife" was catapulted to prominence when her husband, who was seen as the main figure opposing the Marcos regime, was shot dead.

She reluctantly agreed to become the opposition figurehead and ran against Marcos, who jailed thousands during his 20-year rule, in "snap" elections in 1986.

Massive cheating by Marcos allies during the elections ignited the revolt that eventually sent the dictator fleeing into exile and installed Aquino as president.

The soft-spoken Aquino rewrote the country`s Constitution, freed all political dissidents jailed by Marcos, and initiated peace talks with insurgent groups.

But problems in her coalition later emerged, and she survived a series of bloody coup attempts by the same forces that went against Marcos.

"I realised that I could have made things easier for myself if I had done the popular things rather than the painful but better ones in the long run," Aquino once said while reflecting on her presidency.

Until March last year, when she withdrew from public life after being diagnosed with colon cancer, she had been active in street protests denouncing government corruption.

She had repeatedly demanded that Arroyo, a former protégé whose nine-year presidency has been marred by scandals, step down.

Bureau Report



First Published: Sunday, August 2, 2009 - 10:42

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