MANILA, Philippines -- A few years back, Juanita Sy, a resident of Times Street in Quezon City, was surprised to hear soft knocks on her gate. She was even more startled to see former President Corazon Aquino standing in front of her house.
The purpose of Aquino?s visit ? Tita Cory even to her neighbors ? was to ask Sy?s permission to use her pool so that Aquino?s grandson Joshua could play in the cool clean water.
?I was so surprised that a former President was knocking on my door, but it didn?t seem so. She was very simple and kind to us,? said Sy, who lived next door to the former President.
Sy was peering out from her gate on Saturday to check on the strangers laying flowers and notes in front of No. 25 Times St. where Aquino?s house, a modest one-story home, has stood for decades.
As of noon Saturday, more than a dozen yellow flowers, with a couple of red and white roses, were placed at the Aquinos? green gate, protected by a tall tree.
Strangers in expensive-looking vehicles and even tricycles stopped to say prayers and light candles for the former President, despite not having known or met her personally.
Sy, who has lived on Times Street for 10 years, saw how the former the President mingled with her neighbors as an ordinary citizen, without fanfare or special treatment due her as an icon of democracy.
?She even became the sponsor at my child?s wedding along with (Quezon City) Mayor (Feliciano) Belmonte (Jr.), because we literally lived next door,? she recalled.
Aquino, despite her status as the leader of the country?s first people-power revolt, was a generous and pleasant neighbor to others who lived on Times Street and in West Triangle village.
On special occasions like Christmas, Aquino would be the first to send Sy gifts, like her paintings on mugs and fans, along with a hand-written card.
?Nauunahan pa nga niya ako sa pagreregalo [She would send me presents before I did],? Sy said while looking wistfully at the gate next door.
Even in times of grief, the former President was there with Sy to support her with the power of prayer.
?When my husband died in 2002, she went to the wake to visit me. She condoled with me and prayed for me. That is how kind and generous she was,? Sy added.
Another resident, Quezon City Councilor Bernadette Herrera-Dy, also recalled how Aquino would visit the wakes of other residents who had passed away to offer her condolences and pray with the family.
At the wake of an elderly and generous resident, Remedios Samala, Aquino even gave a eulogy for her co-parishioner with whom she had worked at the Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish.
?She was also there during happy times, like fiesta activities. She will attend the event but she will not make a big deal out of it. She hated special treatment,? Herrera-Dy said.
The councilor lived a couple of blocks away from the Aquinos but became close to the former President after Herrera-Dy asked Aquino for advice in 2001.
?I was just 25 when I asked her advice if I should run for public office. She even had her picture taken with me so that it would help me in my campaign. And whenever I would see her, she would say, ?Ikaw lang ang pinagbigyan ko ha. Hindi ako pinapahiya ng batang ito [You?re the only one I accommodated. You did not let me down],?? she said in an interview.
Herrera-Dy also recalled impromptu breakfasts and dinners at the Aquino home for the neighbors and other friends, as well as Aquino?s paintings as Christmas gifts.
Handwritten cards from Aquino were ended with the affectionate ?Ninang [godmother] Cory,? Herrera-Dy said as Aquino was a sponsor at her wedding.
?I would also write her back ?Ninang Cory? while my parents would address her ?Tita Cory,??? she added.
In return, the Herreras would give Aquino boxes of her favorite ensaymada (cheese- and butter-filled pastry), which the former President would accept with heartfelt gratitude.
?She would even call us up to personally [say] `Thank You,?? Herrera-Dy said.
Her father, Jun Herrera, fondly called Aquino ?the mother of perpetual help.?
?People here would go to her for help, and she would not refuse. She was a dear co-parishioner and neighbor of ours,? the elder Herrera said.
Herrera remembered how activists protesting on Times Street had overlooked the simple, one-story house and instead launched a picket at the grander, bigger house next door.
?But when they realized that the small, modest house was Tita Cory?s, they went away in shame. Hers is the most modest house here on Times Street. It doesn?t even have a pool,? he said.
Herrera added: ?Times Street became famous because of her and Ninoy, and whenever I have dealings with foreigners who see my business card and address, they say, ?Oh, you?re a neighbor of Cory.??
Times Street took on an air of solemnity Saturday as strangers and the former leader?s neighbors came in two?s or three?s to offer flowers and prayers at the Aquinos? gate, which distinguished itself from the rest with a marker to martyred former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.
Edith Collada, a businesswoman from Valenzuela City, came to the house Saturday morning to bring yellow flowers and a wish that Aquino was no longer in pain and now at peace.
?I don?t know her personally but I have steadfastly followed her career. She is an icon of democracy and no one can outdo what she has done for her country,? she said.
Other sympathizers left hand-written notes in front of the gate, in which they offered condolences to the former President?s children.
One note read: ?Your mother was not just an inspiration to the Filipino people, but also to us mothers and women. Thank you for the lessons learned.?
Another note from a certain Edgardo Aquino thanked the family for helping his ailing mother, and also extended his sympathies to the family.
Cars passing by the Aquinos? home would honk their horns in unison as if to tell the residents their sympathy, while some bystanders tied yellow ribbons to the vehicles? antennas and side mirrors.
For Herrera-Dy, Aquino?s presence will be always felt in West Triangle village, where she had carved a niche for herself as an everyday neighbor and parishioner ? who just happened to be a former President.
?Finally, she is at peace. And all the more she will be praying for us because she?s now closer to God. Even when she?s in heaven, she may still be praying for us,? she said.