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August 4, 2009

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Floating along a sea of yellow, Filipinos honor 'Auntie Cory'

CROWDS of mourners chanted the name of former President Corazon Aquino as her body was escorted through the Philippine capital's rain-soaked streets yesterday.

The five-hour funeral procession, slowed by mobs of followers, traced some of the same streets where hundreds of thousands of protesters - inspired by the woman in a yellow dress - faced down army tanks 23 years ago and ousted a president.

Yesterday, tens of thousands left their offices, schools and homes and converged on streets and overpasses, clutching clumps of yellow balloons, waving yellow ribbons and showering confetti on Aquino's flag-draped casket, carried on a flatbed truck bedecked with flowers. Yellow was the symbol of the nonviolent mass "people power" uprising that forced Ferdinand Marcos from power in 1986.

As rays of sunshine broke through the clouds, a man on a bicycle released four doves. Manila's notorious traffic came to a standstill as drivers rolled down windows and put out their hands flashing Aquino's trademark "L" sign for "laban," or "fight" in Filipino, her slogan in the campaign that toppled Marcos' 20-year rule.

Aquino died early Saturday at a Manila hospital after a year-long battle with colon cancer. She was 76.

After driving across the congested capital for nearly five hours, Aquino's funeral convoy reached the 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 tomorrow's funeral.

Aquino rose to prominence after the 1983 assassination of her husband upon his return from US exile to challenge Marcos.

She later led the largest funeral procession Manila had ever seen, with crowd estimates as high as 2 million, and emerged as a leader of a broad-based opposition movement.

Marcos claimed victory over Aquino in a snap 1986 election, but the polls were widely seen as fraudulent. A group of military officers rebelled against him, triggering three days of "people power" protests by hundreds of thousands that finally toppled Marcos.

In office, 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.


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