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Filipinos mourn "people power" icon

Corazon Aquino, ex-president of the Philippines, is dead at 76.

Under pressure from some in the military to which she owed a great deal for protecting her from the coup attempts, Aquino launched a “total war policy” against the left and the communist insurgency — unleashing, for example, armed paramilitary elements, many of them members of fanatical religious cults, against communists and suspected communist sympathizers. This resulted in massive human-rights violations that continue to this day.

Many Filipinos also expected her to repudiate billions of dollars in debts that the dictatorship had incurred. But, under tremendous pressure from international creditors, she did not, and Filipinos are still paying for these debts.

When she spoke before a joint session of the U.S. Congress in 1987, she practically begged America to throw the Philippines a lifeline. “You have spent many lives and much treasure to bring freedom to many lands that were reluctant to receive it," Aquino told her American audience. "And here you have a people who won it by themselves and need only the help to preserve it." That same day, legislators approved a $200 million emergency loan to Manila.

But despite all that, Aquino managed to keep her nose clean, keeping her promise that she would be the opposite of Marcos. During her term, not one corruption allegation was leveled against her.

“She was the epitome of integrity and graciousness,” said Christian Monsod, who was appointed by Aquino as chairman of the elections commission. “She never interfered, she never called me while I was at the commission,” he added with an apparent dig at current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose regime has been hounded with the allegation that she cheated in the 2004 election by calling up an election official as part of the plot to steal the vote. Arroyo has always denied the charge.

Aquino, who was Catholic-educated, was also deeply pious. She liked the company of nuns and would often talk about suffering as a gift from God, as a way of testing her faith. She developed a close relationship with the late Cardinal Jaime Sin, who was often described as her most important ally in the fight against Marcos.

According to members of her family, Aquino died in the early morning Saturday while praying and clutching her rosary, her children surrounding her at the hospital where she had been confined the past several weeks as her cancer worsened.

“She was a mentor to me,” said Rodolfo Lozada Jr., a whistle-blower in one of the corruption scandals confronting Arroyo and whom Aquino publicly supported when he came out against the current president. “She told me to never lose faith,” Lozada said, gesturing at the casket that bore the woman who had provided hope to Filipinos during their darkest hour, wearing her signature yellow dress, a rosary in her hand.

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