ABU DHABI // More than 300 mourners filled St Joseph's Cathedral in the capital last night to pay their last respects to Corazon Aquino, the former president of the Philippines, who died on Saturday and is to be buried today in Manila. "This special mass is being offered by the whole Filipino community in Abu Dhabi, just like the masses in Sharjah and Dubai," said Noel Servigon, the consul general and charge d'affaires at the Philippine Embassy.
Special masses were held at St Michael's church in Sharjah on Sunday, and at St Mary's in Dubai on Monday. "I hope that the younger generation of Filipino would know what Cory Aquino has done to institute democracy in 1986," Mr Servigon said. Known as "Cory", Aquino was president of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992 after leading a "people power" revolution that toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Also attending the service were Adelio Cruz, the consul, other embassy officials and staff, and Filipino expatriates with their families in the capital. Of the 320,000 Filipinos in the Emirates, about 120,000 live in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Well-wishers at the service said they thought of Aquino as the mother of the nation and a woman of prayer. "She was a great loss to us," said Ernesto Refugio, 54, a civil engineer in Abu Dhabi. "We consider her as our mother and an icon of democracy."
"President Aquino drew strength from prayer," said Tess Lintag, 46, an executive secretary in Abu Dhabi. "She will be fondly remembered as the president who united everyone in prayer." Marybeth Calumpiano, 38, her husband Julio, 37 and their two sons, John Mark and Jericho, were also at the service. "She's like my mother," Mrs Calumpiano said, wiping away a tear. "I'm sorry for being emotional. I can't describe my feeling right now."
Rudy Nano, 46, an assistant marketing manager in Dubai who lives in Abu Dhabi, said: "This is my chance to ensure that what she had done for us in restoring democracy will not be in vain. She deserves our thanks and respect." Bal Junio, 40, a finance and administration manager in Abu Dhabi, said: "She deserves this tribute because she restored democracy. "She is a role model; she was simple yet intelligent. Her advocacy was to help unite our country."
Father Troy de los Santos, the Filipino priest at St Joseph's, said she had been a deeply religious woman. "She's a uniting force for all of us and I believe that she is challenging us once more to be united and stand up for our rights." Fr de los Santos admired Aquino's strength and bravery through several coup attempts during her term of office. "She had the courage to put the word of God in practice in her life," he said.
"How can we, in our own little way, perpetuate her legacy? We should not be passive and not become mere fence-sitters. We should remember the legacy that she had left us." He added that the former president had put the nation's interests before her own. "She was born into one of the country's wealthiest families but she left all these to serve her country." Aquino, the country's first woman president, was diagnosed with colon cancer in March last year.
She will be buried at the Manila Memorial Park beside her husband, Benigno Aquino, who was assassinated in 1983. The current president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had offered a state funeral but the Aquino family decided on a private ceremony. email@example.com