MANILA, Philippines – Former Philippine President Corazon “Cory” Aquino was laid to rest Wednesday next to her assassinated husband after a funeral procession joined by hundreds of thousands of supporters who hailed her as an exemplar of moral leadership.
About 600 priests and nuns linked arms around the Aquino mausoleum at the Manila Memorial Park to keep back the crowd who followed the flatbed truck with her flag-draped coffin on its final, nine-hour journey through the rain-soaked streets of the capital.
The procession went from the Manila Cathedral on a 14-mile (22-kilometre) route jammed with Filipinos dressed in yellow – the signature colour of the 1986 prodemocracy uprising led by Aquino that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Many in the crowds flashed the “L” sign for “laban,” or fight, in Filipino – an anti-dictatorship slogan – and chanted “Cory.”
Aquino was buried Wednesday evening inside a simple white-painted tomb next to her husband, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., the opposition leader whose mantle she reluctantly took on after his 1983 assassination when he returned from exile in the U.S. to run against Marcos.
Despite a patchy record during her six years in office as the 11th president of the Philippines, she remained a beloved figure. She died on Saturday after a yearlong battle with colon cancer. Her passing prompted an immense outpouring of grief.
“Nobody can replace her,” said real estate agent Jessa Roche, 31, who recalled how as a child her parents had taken her to the “people power” demonstrations that transformed the Philippine politics after two decades of authoritarian rule.
“She taught us to pray and fight for our democracy. If a tyrant will return, there will be millions of Corys who will stand up. She left a good example and the next generation should continue that legacy,” she said.
Former presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, the latter deposed in a second popular uprising in 2001 on corruption allegations, attended Wednesday’s requiem Mass. They were joined by East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta.
“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,” said Ramos-Horta. Aquino inspired East Timor’s struggle for independence from Indonesia a decade ago, he said.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was at odds with Aquino after she called for Arroyo to resign because of vote-rigging allegations, paid a quick visit to the wake Wednesday morning upon her return from an official trip to the U.S. and left before the church ceremonies and procession.
The Aquino family rejected offers by Arroyo for a state funeral, but the armed forces gave full military honours.
At the burial, weeping family members, including Aquino’s grandchildren and sons-in-law, lined up to kiss the former president’s remains in the open casket.
Senior officers then carried the casket and placed it inside the tomb while honour guards fired a 21-gun salute before playing “Taps.”
Relatives, friends, supporters and military commanders placed yellow roses inside the tomb before it was sealed. The crowd sang the patriotic song “Bayan Ko (My Country),” which was popular during the anti-Marcos struggle.
Earlier, in a tearful message of thanks to the multitudes of mourners, Aquino’s youngest daughter Kris said, “You have given our family honour beyond anything we could ever have hoped to receive.”
“No matter how great the sacrifices of my parents, I can honestly say to all of you that for my family, the Filipinos are worth it.”
During her time in office, Aquino faced down seven coup attempts, mostly by officers who had pushed for Marcos’ ouster and felt they had not been given their share of power.
While she brought political change, Aquino struggled to meet high public expectations. Her land redistribution program fell short of ending economic domination by the landed elite, including her family. Her leadership, especially in social and economic reform, was often indecisive, leaving many of her closest allies disillusioned by the end of her term.
Aquino stepped down in 1992, refusing to seek another term and reminding people that her mission – the restoration of democracy – had been completed.-
Associated Press writers Oliver Teves, Hrvoje Hranjski, Teresa Cerojano and photographer Bullit Marquez contributed to this report.