Philippines lays to rest Aquino

August 5, 2009 12:00 am

, MANILA, Aug 5 – At least 150,000 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.

Aquino, who died aged 76 after a long battle with cancer, was to be buried in a private ceremony after a long funeral procession skirting the Philippine capital’s gleaming business towers and teeming shantytowns.

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 draped in the national flag.

Eight police officers in full dress uniform served as pallbearers, carrying the casket to a flat-bed truck festooned with yellow and white flowers.

By mid-afternoon, a police spokesman told reporters 150,000 people lined the 18-kilometre (11-mile) route from the cathedral to the cemetery where she was to be laid to rest.

It took over four hours for the vehicle to travel just one third of the route.

Millions more people, 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.

Aquino was to be laid to rest alongside her husband Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, who was gunned down at Manila airport in 1983 as he returned home to challenge the dictator Marcos.

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, and prayed briefly over the casket.

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 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.

Vice President Noli de Castro was the lone senior government representative at the mass, which was broadcast live on television and on giant monitors outside the church.

Two children of Marcos paid their respects on Tuesday and the late dictator’s flamboyant wife Imelda said a reconciliation between the families could prove a "miracle for the Philippines".


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