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It was unlike anything the Philippines has seen in many, many years: tens of thousands of Filipinos lining up in the streets to catch a glimpse of the casket of Corazon Aquino, the former president who helped restore democracy from a dictatorship, who died on Saturday from colon cancer at the age of 76.
The reverence and respect many Filipinos have for Cory, as she is more popularly and fondly known here, was evident everywhere. People were dressed in anything yellow. They flashed the L sign — for "Laban," or fight, Cory's battle cry against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos that led to his ouster in 1986 — as the truck that bore her casket inched past the multitude of grieving Filipinos. They sang "Bayan Ko (My Country)," the anthem of the movement against Marcos, tears flowing from the eyes of many.
On Monday, Cory's remains were brought from a Catholic school in a Manila suburb to the Manila Cathedral, a few dozen kilometers away. As the procession moved, Filipinos got out of their homes, schools and offices to pay their respects.
On radio stations, the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree” has been playing endlessly as well. According to Aquino lore, the song was the favorite of Benigno Aquino Jr., Cory's husband, who Marcos threw in prison.
The arch enemy of the dictator, Benigno had requested that Filipinos tied yellow ribbons anywhere they could on the day he decided to return home from exile in the United States. On that day, Aug. 21, 1983, he was shot dead even before he could get off his plane. That plunged the country into turmoil, marking the beginning of the end of the two-decade-old rule of Marcos as Cory, the homemaker and reluctant leader, was thrust into the public stage, leading the charge against the dictatorship.
Benigno's funeral march had turned into an outpouring not just of grief but outrage against Marcos. The sheer number of people who joined the procession was key in galvanizing the opposition to the dictator.
In the past few days, Filipinos once against are out in the streets, mourning the demise of a leader whose name is now synonymous with integrity in public service, who nursed Philippine democracy back to health, who — despite her failures as president (and there were many) — showed that Filipinos can rise to the challenge of protecting freedom.