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Thousands of Filipinos mourn Aquino’s death

Mourners wept as they paid their respects at the wake of former President Corazon Aquino on Sunday, with some pledging to carry on her legacy by protecting the democracy she helped install 23 years ago.

world Updated: Aug 03, 2009 02:45 IST

Mourners wept as they paid their respects at the wake of former President Corazon Aquino on Sunday, 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 brought his 1-year-old grandson to Aquino's wake with a yellow band tied around the child's head. The color was 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, with 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. Some held protest mementoes such as yellow ribbons and an old poster of Marcos.

Aquino, 76, died early Saturday in a Manila hospital after a yearlong battle with colon cancer, reminding many Filipinos of her role in bringing democracy to the country _ and of the effort needed to keep it intact.

Months before she was diagnosed with cancer, Aquino joined street protests organized amid opposition fears that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may 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 term. Ismita Maliakel, a nun from Kerala, India, who lined up to attend the wake, said Aquino's death was "a blow to democracy" but added she will continue to be a democratic symbol.

"Like Gandhi, she will be remembered in the Philippines," Maliakel said.

Arroyo declared a 10-day national mourning period starting on Saturday, and her aides said she will cut short a US trip. The Aquino family has opted for a private instead of a state funeral to be held on Wednesday.

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 on Saturday. South African President Jacob Zuma called Aquino "a great leader who set a shining example of peaceful transition to democracy in her country."

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 went to 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. Weeks earlier, however, Marcos called Aquino a "usurper" and a "dictator."

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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