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The Long View
Notes on the Aquino funeral

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:07:00 08/13/2009

Filed Under: Cory Aquino

Cory Aquino?s funeral, still vivid in our minds, was marked with many of our republic?s rituals, many of them borrowed from American practice. Yet we know hers was not a state funeral. What, exactly, is a state funeral? And how did Cory?s differ from that of her predecessors?

Nineteen years before John F. Kennedy?s funeral Mass at St. Matthew?s Cathedral, a Filipino president lay in state there. It?s a curious bit of trivia that two of our presidents who?ve had wakes in a cathedral both died on the same day of the year.

Sixty five years separated the deaths of Manuel L. Quezon and Cory Aquino, both of whom died on Aug. 1, but there was a huge difference in the funerals of the two presidents. In 1944 Quezon was laid temporarily to rest with a state funeral; in 2009 Aquino was buried without a state funeral.

In 1946 our republic held its first state funeral, again for Quezon whose remains had finally been brought home from America. The rituals began with bringing the coffin to Malacaang Palace, a symbolic return for a president to the place that was formerly that president?s official home.

The remains would be carried up the Palace?s main stairs, which lead to the private quarters as well as to the state rooms. The coffin would be carried through the Reception Hall with its three famous Czechoslovak chandeliers, and placed on a catafalque, or raised platform.

In 1946, the wake in Malacaang was criticized because it was closed to the public; only officials could attend. So when President Manuel Roxas died in 1948, his lying in state in Malacaang, was held differently. For the first time, the general public was allowed to go to the Palace to pay their respects to a departed president. But it was in 1957, with the death of Ramon Magsaysay, that the public really showed up in huge numbers in Malacaang.

As an honor guard with black armbands of mourning kept vigil, citizens filed past all day and all night, while the president?s official portrait, was draped with black crepe. Then, a memorial service or Mass would be held, with the new president and everyone wearing mourning armbands.

After the lying-in-state in the Palace, the president?s remains would be escorted by high officials from the Palace, to Congress, where the remains would lie-in-state again and a necrological service would be held.

If the Malacaang portion is a final tribute to a president by bringing that president symbolically back home for a farewell visit, then the lying-in-state and necrological rites in Congress symbolizes the nation?s final farewell to its former head of state and highest elected official.

From Congress, the president?s remains are brought to a church for the funeral Mass or service. Media reports concerning Cory overlooked the fact, pointed out by the late President Carlos P. Garcia?s family, that his remains also lay in state in the Manila Cathedral, which made him the first president to have a funeral Mass there, and which means media were wrong in reporting that Cory was the first president to have a funeral Mass at the cathedral.

And then, the final procession. In Quezon?s case, our republic tried the British practice of having 100 soldiers pulling the caisson. This was never repeated, a reminder that even the rituals we associate with state funerals change from time to time. For example, during Roxas? 1948 state funeral, foreign troops also marched in the cortege, including a detachment of Royal Navy sailors in tropical short pants.

For Roxas it would be as it has been for most of his successors (Quirino in 1956; Magsaysay in 1957; Osmea in 1961; Aguinaldo in 1964; Garcia in 1971; Macapagal in 1997): Preceded by detachments from all the major services and military bands, the casket, draped with the flag and on a caisson pulled by a military vehicle, would be followed by a riderless horse with stirrups reversed, followed by a long line of official cars. Along the path of the cortege, citizens paid their final respects. The cortege would then end up, of course, at the cemetery, where the problem has always been to maintain the appropriate solemnity in the face of a large crowd. With the appropriate military honors at this point made even more difficult by tradition dictating that presidents be buried at high noon.

So it was perhaps in the military honors given Cory Aquino that we saw an unbroken tradition maintained with the honors given all of her predecessors except President Ferdinand Marcos.

But it was in two fundamental respects?the Aquinos declining to have our government pay for the funeral, which is what essentially differentiates a state from a private funeral; and declining the civilian portions of a state funeral, including the lying-in-state in Malacaang and the necrological service in Congress?that Cory?s funeral departed from tradition. And of course, in Cory?s funeral being the biggest sendoff for a president since Magsaysay in 1957, and for a citizen since Ninoy in 1983.

By law, the only automatic honor at the death of a president is the 10-day period when the flag flies at half-staff. Military regulations also specify the honors given a president from the time of his death to the time of his interment: the gun salutes in all camps, the honor guards keeping vigil, the arrival and departure honors given at each location to which the remains are brought; the flag-draped coffin borne on a caisson, with military bands, 21-gun salutes, ?taps? at the actual interment.

All other honors, though traditional, are at the discretion of the incumbent president, who offers them with the accompanying guarantee of the State bearing the costs of the funeral?which is why many felt it was inappropriate to accept the civilian honors offered by President Arroyo for Cory Aquino.

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