Corazon Aquino: Uniting a Divided Nation

MANILA. More than 250,000 people took to the rain-soaked streets of Manila on Wednesday to bid farewell to former president Corazon Aquino, whose “People Power” democracy movement ended decades of dictatorship.

Amid chants of “Cory, Cory!”, the funeral convoy carrying Aquino’s body wheeled into the Manila Memorial Park after an eight-hour long funeral procession skirting the Philippine capital’s gleaming business towers and teeming shantytowns.

Aquino, who died aged 76 after a long battle with cancer, received full military honors in a private ceremony in Parañaque. Family members wept as representatives from the country’s Army, Navy and Air Force lifted Aquino’s casket off the flatbed trailer and placed it on a caisson festooned with yellow and white flowers.

Aquino is to be buried next to her husband, Benigno, whose assassination in 1983 catapulted her to the national stage.

With a national holiday called as part of 10 days of official mourning, thousands of people surrounded her coffin as it left Manila Cathedral following a mass just before noon. Eight police officers in full dress uniform served as pallbearers, carrying the casket to a flat-bed truck festooned with yellow and white flowers.

Police had estimated the crowd in central Manila alone to have reached 150,000 by mid-afternoon, but as the procession continued on its 18-kilometer (11-mile) route, thousands more braved the rain to join in.

At Manila Memorial Park and the stretch of highway leading to it, up to 50,000 more people were estimated to be in attendance, officials and reporters at the scene said.

Aquino was to be buried late afternoon but the throng of mourners reduced the cortege to a crawl and delayed interment.

Millions more, including from the 8.7-million-strong overseas Filipino community, monitored the slow progress of the cortege on television and Internet streaming sites.

“She made me proud again to be a Filipino,” said Father Catalino Arevalo, recalling Aquino’s bloodless triumph against the 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, three years after her husband’s assassination.

East Timor President and Nobel Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta, who flew to Manila to attend the funeral, described Aquino as “one of the greatest people of the 20th century,” likening her to India’s independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.

Men and women standing at least 10-deep on both sides of the road openly wept as the truck crawled through the swelling crowd, while military helicopters circled overhead, showering them with yellow confetti.

People in buildings lining Manila’s streets opened their windows, hung yellow banners and dropped confetti onto the sea of mourners below.

A crowd of nuns, their blue habits wet from the rain, released white doves and yellow balloons — yellow was Aquino’s signature colour.

Ships docked along Manila Bay sounded mournful horns.

President Gloria Arroyo, whom Aquino had turned against over accusations of corruption in the Arroyo administration, made a brief pre-dawn visit to the cathedral to pay her last respects.

She shook hands with the former leader’s son, Senator Benigno Aquino III, and prayed briefly over the casket.

Mrs. Arroyo cut short a visit to the United States following the former leader’s death on Saturday and was met by the Aquino family.

But she was pointedly excluded from the invitation-only mass that was also attended by two past presidents, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, and foreign diplomats.

The family had rejected Mrs. Arroyo’s offer to hold a state funeral, reflecting the icy relationship between the only two Filipino women to have led the fractious and impoverished Southeast Asian nation of 90 million people. — With Agence France-Presse

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