Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Thousands take to streets to honour former President Corazon Aquino

A huge crowd reminiscent of the 1986 "people power" demonstration took to Manila's streets to honour former President Corazon Aquino, who captured the hearts of Filipinos by ousting a brutal dictator and keeping democracy alive in the Philippines.

The flag-draped coffin of Ms Aquino, who died on Saturday after a year-long battle with colon cancer, was paraded atop a flatbed truck along the streets where the hundreds of thousands of protesters she inspired had faced down army tanks 23 years ago and toppled Ferdinand Marcos.

Tens of thousands of mourners left their offices, schools and homes and converged on streets and flyovers, clutching yellow balloons, waving yellow ribbons and showering yellow confetti from high-rises on to Ms Aquino's casket.

Yellow was her signature colour and the symbol of the non-violent mass movement that ushered in an era of democracy in the Philippines after 20 years of authoritarian rule.

Manila's notorious traffic came to a standstill as the cortege inched on its five-hour procession through the city, including Ayala Avenue, where Ms Aquino led many pro-democracy marches. Motorists rolled down windows and put out their hands to flash Ms Aquino's trademark "L" sign for "laban", or "fight" in Filipino, the key slogan of the anti-Marcos campaign.

"I really just appreciate the love," said her daughter Kris Aquino. "Everybody's saying thank you to us for sharing my mom."

At a time when some fear for the future of Philippine democracy, or at least are sceptical about the intentions of its politicians, yesterday's gathering transcended class and wealth, underscoring the groundswell of public feeling that propelled the uprising of 1986.

Nuns, priests, students, wealthy residents and their uniformed maids jostled for space on the crowded pavements and people repeatedly chanted Ms Aquino's name. Employees watched from the windows of towering office blocks and women, some dressed in black, wept. A man on a bicycle released four doves.

Even the Philippine stock exchange's neon screen eschewed the usual ticker of stock prices and flashed Ms Aquino's portrait and a message: "Goodbye Cory."

The funeral convoy briefly stopped at a monument to Ms Aquino's husband, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino - whose 1983 assassination upon his return from US exile to challenge Marcos propelled his wife to the forefront of the anti-Marcos opposition movement.

The dictator, a stalwart US ally, finally fell after claiming victory over Ms Aquino in a 1986 election widely seen as fraudulent.

A group of military officers rebelled against him, triggering the three days of protests by hundreds of thousands that finally toppled Marcos.

But after she took office in 1986, Ms Aquino struggled to meet high public expectations. Her land redistribution programme fell short of ending economic domination by the landed elite and 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 remained beloved in the Philippines, where she was affectionately referred to as "Tita (Auntie) Cory".

She stepped down in 1992 after serving for six years.

Her coffin finally arrived at Manila Cathedral, where her children, former Cabinet members and fellow pro-democracy activists gathered for a Mass.

Her body will lie in state for public viewing until tomorrow's private funeral. She will be buried beside her husband.

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