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Thousands of Filipinos mourn Aquino at wake

Mourners wept as they paid their respects at the wake of ex-President Corazon Aquino on Sunday, with some pledging to carry on her legacy by protecting the democracy she helped install 23 years ago.
Image: Filipinos offer candles as pay tribute to  former Philippines president Corazon Aquino
Filipinos pay tribute to former president Corazon Aquino on Saturday.  Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

Tears and protests
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 mementos such as yellow ribbons and an old poster of Marcos.

Her body will be moved Monday to Manila Cathedral to lie in state until Wednesday's funeral.

Aquino, 76, died early Saturday in a Manila hospital after a yearlong battle with colon cancer.

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 Saturday, and her aides said she will cut short a U.S. trip.

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 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's youngest daughter Kris thanked the Marcos family in a rare reconciliatory gesture.

"I never thought that the time would come but I say 'thank you' to the Marcoses for really praying for mom. I felt the sincerity," she told ABS-CBN network in an interview.

She also said her mother had forgiven all her political enemies.

Nevertheless, Kris Aquino said her family refused the Arroyo administration's offer of a state funeral because the government had attempted to recall two soldiers assigned to guard her mother when she was still alive. Former Philippine presidents traditionally have the right to retain at least two guards.

Aquino's only son, Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, said the family would not be too enthusiastic to see Arroyo at the funeral but that she could pay her respects.

Reluctantly thrust into power
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."