MANILA, Philippines – Huge crowds reminiscent of the 1986 “people power” demonstration took to Manila’s streets Monday to honor the passing of 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 Aquino, who died Saturday after a yearlong 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 overpasses, clutching yellow balloons, waving yellow ribbons and showering yellow confetti from high-rises on to Aquino’s casket. Yellow was her signature color and the symbol of the nonviolent mass movement that ushered in an era of democracy 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 Aquino led many pro-democracy marches. Motorists rolled down windows and put out their hands to flash 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 daughter Kris Aquino of Monday’s gathering. “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 skeptical about the intentions of its politicians, Monday’s gathering transcended class and wealth, underscoring the groundswell of public feeling that propelled the “people power” uprising of 1986.
Nuns, priests, students, wealthy residents and their uniformed maids all jostled for space on the crowded sidewalks and people repeatedly chanted her name. Company employees watched from the windows of towering office blocks. Women, some dressed in black, wept. A man on a bicycle released four doves.
“Thank You Corazon Aquino” and “You’re Not Alone” — another Aquino slogan — was emblazoned from huge banners. Even the Philippine Stock Exchange’s streetside neon screen eschewed the usual ticker of stock prices and flashed Aquino’s portrait and a message: “Goodbye Cory.”
The funeral convoy briefly stopped at a monument to Aquino’s husband, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. — whose 1983 assassination upon his return from U.S. exile to challenge Marcos would propel Corazon Aquino to the forefront of the anti-Marcos opposition movement.
The dictator, a stalwart U.S. ally, finally fell after claiming victory over 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.
Ever since, political mass movements in the Philippines are invariably likened or compared to that watershed in the history of the former American colony.
Businesswoman Bing Cuchatin, who wore a yellow blouse and hair ribbon, said the memory of Aquino will continue to be a potent weapon against any threats to democracy.
“There is only one Cory and she’s really a big, big loss,” Cuchatin said. “But there are so many now who stand for her ideals.”
However, after she took office in 1986 following Marcos’ ouster, Aquino struggled 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 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.
Since her death on Saturday, the casket had been open for public viewing at a school stadium. It was finally driven Monday to 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 Wednesday’s private funeral. She will be buried beside her husband.
In a rare conciliatory gesture, Aquino’s youngest daughter Kris said her mother had forgiven all her political enemies, including Marcos.
Nevertheless, Kris Aquino said her family refused current President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’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 she could pay her respects.
Months before she was diagnosed with cancer, Aquino joined street protests organized amid opposition fears that Arroyo could 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 has said she has no desire to extend her term.
Associated Press writer Hrvoje Hranjski and photographer Bullit Marquez contributed to this report.