MANILA, Philippines?Flower petals fell from the sky, ships sounded mournful horns, and hundreds of thousands of people, soaked with rain and fighting exhaustion, bade Corazon C. Aquino farewell on her final journey home.
Around the country, church bells tolled and military canons boomed in a salute to their former Commander in Chief before Aquino was laid to rest at Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City Wednesday night.
Everywhere along the 22.8-kilometer route?from Manila Cathedral, where a Requiem Mass was held for Aquino, to the cemetery?chants of ?Cory! Cory! Cory!? rang out.
?I believe Cory is the most loved Filipino in the entire history of the Philippines,? said former Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Howard Dee. ?I was in Magsaysay?s and Ninoy?s funeral. This is the greatest outpouring of love the nation has ever witnessed.?
Dee, now involved in social development and charity work, was referring to the funerals of President Ramon Magsaysay in 1957 and of Aquino?s murdered husband, opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr., in 1983.
Philippine Daily Inquirer reporters deployed along the route had a common theme in their stories?how people endured the pounding of the rains brought by Tropical Storm ?Kiko? and waited for hours just to be able to catch a glimpse of the brown casket of their former President and say goodbye.
Thunderstorms also drenched the funeral of Ninoy Aquino in 1983 but, like Wednesday?s mourners, the crowds plodded on undeterred. Tragedy marred that funeral 26 years ago when a lightning struck Rizal Park and killed at least one person.
Wednesday?s procession took about nine hours. It left the cathedral at about 11:30 a.m. and reached the gates of the park at 7:30 p.m.
The atmosphere seemed joyful rather than sad as people cheered, clapped, sang and danced in the rain, as though to celebrate the life of their beloved icon of democracy.
The crowds along the route were 10-deep at places.
Overwhelmed by the public show of love for Aquino, who died on Saturday after a 16-month battle with colon cancer, her daughter and TV actress Kris waved at the crowds and kept saying, ?Thank you, thank you.?
Kris was in tears.
As the procession stopped in front of his father?s statue near the historic Manila Hotel, Sen. Benigno ?Noynoy? Aquino III, the only son, got off from the van carrying family members and joined the multitude.
Standing atop a truck and speaking in Filipino, Noynoy vowed to continue his parents? unfinished fight.
?I am sure that my Mom and my Dad are looking at us now from up there,? he said. ?Let us press on with their fight. With your help, we can do it.?
Crowds were so thick the procession was delayed for hours. Dozens of men and women in yellow shirts marched with the cortege.
At times police had to shoo away the crowds so that the procession could move on. Volunteers formed human chains around the ?Cory Truck? to prevent the crowd from blocking its path.
Roads, highways, center islands, footbridges and flyovers were packed. At times, greatly outnumbered policemen and volunteers could hardly contain the crowd pouring into the streets.
Barriers were of no use as portions of steel fences were forcibly parted by residents who wanted to cross over to South Luzon Expressway and watch the cortege pass.
In other areas, the crowd, many in yellow shirts and holding umbrellas and yellow flowers, stood fast even as the rain poured.
While waiting for the cortege, some whiled away the time by singing patriotic songs, including ?Bayan Ko,? Cory?s battle song during the 1986 People Power Revolution.
Earlier, at Anda Circle in Manila, people waved ?L? signs with their forefingers and thumbs to denote ?Laban? (Fight) and the Aquino family waved back with the same signs from their van.
?Goodbye and thank you for the gift of democracy? streamers read.
Ship horns from vessels docked at North Harbor mournfully wailed for five minutes?both in salute and in farewell.
Militant groups, which also joined the procession, called on workers to relive the ?People Power? spirit embodied by Ninoy and Cory Aquino in opposing Charter change and tyrannical rule.
But almost everywhere, sunny smiles and bright faces greeted the procession, at times turning the event into something more like a fiesta than a funeral march.
On Quirino Avenue, a whole family climbed the roof of their house for a better view, with the children cheering at the top of their voices.
?May you unite us in death as you did in life,? read a message scrawled in white carton.
Many in the crowd were in their house clothes and slippers. Entire families came.
Deviating from the ?Cory!? chants, one group jokingly called out: ?Gloria resign!? drawing laughs from the crowd and media.
On Roxas Boulevard, fire truck sirens wailed as the cortege passed. Some of the fire volunteers turned on their hoses and doused the crowd in glee.
Doves were released as the casket neared the corner of President Quirino and Taft Avenues. Soon a helicopter with the sign ?Paalam (Farewell), Tita Cory? whirled overhead, scattering confetti as the crowd chanted, ?Cory! Cory!?
Other militant groups displayed a large tarpaulin banner along Quirino Avenue which read: ?Ipaglaban ang EDSA. Tapusin si Gloria? (Fight for EDSA. Finish off Gloria).
Cyclists from the environmentalist Firefly Brigade and the Pinoy Mountain Bikers Organization, and mountain bikers from the University of the Philippines had yellow ribbons tied on their helmets and bicycles.
?Kris for president?
The four-lane Osmeña highway became a single lane as layers upon layers of people swarmed the streets.
By 2:30 p.m., police estimated the crowds along the procession route had swelled to 150,000.
Near Magallanes village in Makati City, a group of young men carried placards saying ?Kris for president.? Others improvised to make yellow banners out of curtains and hankies.
Obet Sumayao was among those who said goodbye.
But what set him apart from others was that he was on a wheelchair.
?This is my way of paying homage to Cory for giving us back our freedom,? Sumayao, 45, said in Filipino.
?This is a small sacrifice for her.?
Sumayao, who lost his legs in an industrial accident in 1983, said he was determined to reach Manila Memorial Park. He hung on to cyclists, who pulled him along.
The funeral cortege had to skip the Buendia flyover which swarmed with a thick crowd.
The endless waving of yellow flags stretched as far as the eye could see.
Even on crutches
The crowd that had gathered early inside Manila Memorial Park refused to budge from their positions despite the rains, fearing the guards might prevent them from going close to Aquino?s gravesite.
?My three sons and I only had biscuits and water the whole day. But ... our sacrifice is nothing compared to what Tita Cory and her family had to endure to save our nation,? said retired bank employee Felicitas Reyes, 67.
Margie Batul said she and her husband ?forced? their four children to go with them as they emphasized the importance of Aquino to history.
Hobbling on crutches, Veneranda Dumaplin, 62, braved the rains and a 2-kilometer walk from the cemetery?s main gate to get close to Aquino?s burial place. She had left her home in Las Piñas City around 6 a.m.
Among those who showed up at the memorial park before noon were Representatives Roilo Golez and Eduardo Zialcita of Parañaque, Jose ?Apeng? Yap of Tarlac and Joseph Emilio Abaya of Cavite. With reports from Fe Zamora, DJ Yap, Allison W. Lopez, Jocelyn R. Uy, Jeannette I. Andrade, Tarra Quismundo, Nikko Dizon, Michael Lim Ubac, Marlon Ramos, Edson Tandoc, Nina Catherine Calleja, Tina Santos and Jerome Aning