Cardinal Jaime Sin Dies at 76 in Philippines

Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Sin (search), an outspoken advocate of democracy who played a key role in the "people power" revolts that ousted two Philippine presidents, died Tuesday. He was 76.

Sin had been ill with kidney problems and diabetes for years and was unable to attend the Vatican conclave that chose a new pope in April, although colleagues said he desperately wanted to go.

Known for his dedication, engaging personality and sense of humor — he often referred to his residence as "the house of Sin" — the cardinal was one of Asia's most prominent religious leaders.

Sin served as the moral compass in the overwhelmingly Catholic Philippines, where he took vocal, sometimes controversial stances on everything from birth control to poverty, politics and the U.S.-led war in Iraq. He once apologized for church neglect of the poor.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (search), who continued to seek his counsel even after he retired in November 2003, called him "a blessed man who never failed to unite Filipinos during the most crucial battles against tyranny and evil."

"Cardinal Sin leaves a legacy of freedom and justice forged in deep personal courage," Arroyo said in a statement.

The U.S. Embassy, in a statement, said: "We recognize his many contributions to the political, spiritual and moral life of the Philippines, and we extend our condolences to his family and to the Catholic faithful."

Aides had to help a weak-looking Sin to the altar toward the end of his tenure as Manila archbishop. But he remained a staunch defender of democracy after he stepped down as head of the archdiocese that he served for nearly three decades.

"As I enter a new chapter in my twilight years, I can say with gratitude that I have given my very best to God and country," he said after the late Pope John Paul II (search) accepted his resignation . "I beg pardon from those I might have led astray or hurt. Please remember me kindly."

Father Jun Sescon, Sin's spokesman, told DZBB radio that the cardinal was taken to Cardinal Santos Medical Center with a high fever on Sunday evening and suffered multiple organ failure. He died at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday.

"Our call to all the faithful is to include in their prayers the soul of Cardinal Sin," Sescon said.

The 14th of 16 children of a Chinese merchant and a Filipino woman, Sin balanced joviality with deep spirituality and seemed to have a sixth sense, said Archbishop Oscar Cruz, former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (search).

"He would say, 'A bishop just died, would you please call to find out who he is?' " Cruz recalled.

Sin burst onto the international stage when he called on Filipinos to surround the police and military headquarters in metropolitan Manila in 1986 to protect then-military Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who broke away from dictator Ferdinand Marcos (search).

That led to the "people power" revolution that ousted Marcos over alleged corruption and human rights violations. The largely peaceful revolt became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide. Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.

But the country's problems continued, partly because of the endemic corruption that blossomed under Marcos.

"We got rid of Ali Baba, but the 40 thieves remained," Sin once quipped.

Sin also helped lead large street protests that led to the ouster of President Joseph Estrada (search) over alleged corruption and misrule in January 2001. The church wasn't fond of Estrada, a notorious womanizer who sired children by several women and was known for late-night drinking and gambling sessions.

Impoverished followers of Estrada, denouncing Sin and politicians who forced their leader from power, stormed the presidential palace in May 2001 in riots that killed six people.

Sin issued an unprecedented apology to the poor shortly thereafter, acknowledging that the church had neglected them and made them easy prey for selfish, powerful people. He offered reconciliation to the poor and assured them that the church is not "anti-Estrada, but pro-morality."

Although revered by many Filipinos, Sin came under criticism over his active advocacies. He had a thorny relationship with President Fidel Ramos, a Protestant whose 1992-98 administration promoted the use of artificial birth control. Sin advocated only natural methods.

Church leaders were consulting with Sin's family on funeral arrangements. His body was to be buried in the crypt beneath Manila Cathedral.