Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Aquino Laid to Rest, Hailed as Moral Leader

MANILA — Former President Corazon Aquino's body made its final journey through the Philippine capital Wednesday to be buried next to her assassinated husband in a culmination of grieving for the icon hailed as the example of moral leadership.

Over the last five days, hundreds of thousands of mourners have filed past her open casket. Family, friends and former aides crowded into the Manila Cathedral late Tuesday to eulogize the accidental opposition leader who led the 1986 "people power" uprising and drove away the 20-year repressive rule of Ferdinand Marcos.

Honor guards carry the casket of the late former Philippine President Corazon Aquino during her funeral march in Manila, Philippines on Wednesday.

Aquino, the 11th Philippine president, died Saturday at age 76 after a yearlong battle with colon cancer.

Her successors Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, the latter deposed in a second popular uprising in 2001 on corruption allegations, together with East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, attended Wednesday's requiem Mass.

Aquino inspired East Timor's struggle for independence from Indonesia a decade ago, Ramos-Horta said.

"I think the greatest tribute that Filipinos can pay to Corazon Aquino and so many others who gave their lives for democracy is ... there should be no more dictatorships again," he said.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was at odds with Aquino after she called Arroyo to resign because of vote-rigging allegations, paid a quick visit to the wake Wednesday morning upon her return from the U.S. and left before the church ceremonies and procession.

Hundreds of thousands chanted "Cory" lined Manila's rainy streets and walked behind the flatbed truck carrying Aquino's flag-draped coffin as the procession, lashed by winds, inched its way to her final resting place beside her husband, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., at Manila Memorial Park. Yellow confetti showered the roads.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo views the casket of the late former Philippines President Corazon Aquino at Manila Cathedral in the Philippines. (Photo: AFP)

"We never saw any wrongdoing on her part," said housekeeper Edith Sabas.

Fire trucks blasted their cannons, forming arcs of water above the procession in a salute to the former president. Yellow ribbons and balloons flapped from lamp posts, trees and vehicles—a tribute to Aquino's signature color, which became a symbol of her movement. Hundreds of bikers and cyclists in yellow shirts led the convoy.

At the simple white-painted tomb at the family mausoleum, interior designer Merly Querubin, wearing a baseball cap adorned with a yellow ribbon, said her country had two kinds of leaders. "One who we follow out of fear, and one who we follow out of respect. We have lost a leader so respected."

In a highly symbolic gesture, the late Marcos' two children paid their last respects Tuesday to the woman who toppled their father. It was unlikely, however, to reconcile the families' bitter rivalry.

Aquino's brother-in-law, former Sen. Agapito "Butz" Aquino, welcomed them at the wake saying the family had "no fight with the children" of Marcos.

Aquino rose to prominence after her husband was assassinated in 1983 as he returned from U.S. exile to oppose Marcos. Hesitant, she inherited his mantle and agreed to run against the strongman in 1986.

Marcos claimed an election victory over Aquino, but the polls were widely seen as fraudulent.

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