MANILA - Even in her death, former President Corazon Aquino is making a statement. She had lived a simple life and had dispensed of the trappings of power. She wanted exactly the same during her funeral.
Her only son, Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., said in a press conference Saturday morning that it was Mrs. Aquino's wish to forego a state funeral. In a follow up interview later during the day, Senator Aquino told ABS-CBN News Channel that his mom was concerned about the expenses that the government has to spend for a state funeral, given the economic downturn that the country is facing.
Mrs. Aquino succumbed to colon cancer dawn of Saturday.
The state funeral is supposed to return for the last time a former leader to Malacanang where he or she used to live. But Mrs. Aquino had refused to live in Malacanang during her term as head of state from 1986 to 1992.
During those years, she dispensed with as many ceremonies as possible that her predecessor--the late Ferdinand Marcos--and his family basked in. When a new president took over after her term, she made a very strong point of driving home in her own car.
A state funeral is a public funeral ceremony held to honor heads of state or other people of national significance. The deceased's family agree to these public honors so more citizens who want to pay their respects for the last time can join in.
No religious ceremonies are conducted with more pomp than those intended to commemorate the departed. The biggest send off the Philippines has seen was in 1983, during the funeral of Aquino's late husband, Benigno or "Ninoy." The funeral of Ninoy, however, was no state funeral. There were no rituals nor pomp. His body was carried was in a truck as a sea of people accompanied him in a long march to his grave in Manila Memorial.
In a state funeral, the body of the leader is usually brought to a funeral in a caisson pulled by 6 horses. The procession is usually followed by soldiers with muffled drum corps, a riderless horse with stirrups reversed, and someone beearing the presidential flag with black crepe on it, according to historian Manolo Quezon told ABS-CBN News Channel.
"These official symbols are supposed to remind people that the institution (of presidency) remains while the leaders come and go. So the idea that each president will be sent off with a particular level of ceremony is to remind everyone that the office was briefly held by that person," Quezon said.
A state funeral in a country steeped in tradition like the Philippines has been held for deceased presidents since 1947, Quezon added. The current government usually takes over the funeral arrangements, taking into consideration wishes of the former president's family.
Symbolisms and contrasts
"For all intentions and purposes, she had been a private citizen after stepping down, and, to a degree, we would like to spend as much time as possible as a family with her," Senator Aquino said during a brief press conference, explaining their decision.
Already, the choices and decisions of Mrs. Aquino and her familiy in how the public can pay their last respects to the former president is teeming with symbolism and contrasts.
Unlike other presidents who were interred at Sto. Domingo church, Mrs. Aquino's will be at the La Salle gym in San Juan City. Senator Aquino said they chose the Catholic private school's gym since it has enough room to accommodate a big crowd. Nonetheless, it was also in the same gym where counting of election returns took place during the 1986 snap elections when she was catapulted to power. La Salle was a place that welcomed her, with the La Sallite Brothers having been at the forefront of supporting her over the past few years.
Dispensing with the ceremonies and pomp of a state funeral is the first in the history of the Philippines. The family of former President Ferdinand Marcos, whom Mrs. Aquino won against in the 1986 snap elections, is still waiting to be allowed a state funeral to honor Marcos. His body is still in a refrigerated crypt in Laoag north of Manila.
The contrast continues even after her death.
"In a sense, it's a final statement," Quezon noted. "In her case, its a public statement: I never wanted the presidency. I was only there as long as i needed to be. I am not attached to the trappings of power."
The other famous and revered state leader who also declined all the ceremonies with state funerals is Charles de Gaulle, France's first president. Gaulle opted for a simple family burial since he was emphatic in not expecting honors that come with the office, which he left after his period of service (1959-1969).
When Mrs. Aquino's passing was announced at dawn on Saturday, the whole world paused. Condolences to the family of Mrs. Aquino poured from all over the world--both through official statements sent through embassies, made on TV, or posted online. A staggering number of people have been paying their tributes to Mrs. Aquino online, inundating social networking and blog sites. For a good number of those posting online, it is their first time to witness the passing of a president.
Major English and non-English media companies all over the world gave a prominent coverage of Mrs. Aquino and her international image as a democracy icon. They highlighted how Mrs. Aquino was able to restore democracy in the Philippines through a bloodless street revolution that soon became the template to boot out corrupt governments in Europe and Latin America.
Even those that Mrs. Aquino had been at odds with set aside differences. Imelda, the widow of former President Marcos, issued a statement asking Filipinos to "unite and pray for Cory."
Even President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom Mrs. Aquino in recent years had a falling out with over the former's alleged corrupt activities, called Mrs. Aquino a "national treasure." President Arroyo declared a 10-day national mourning for the country's first woman president.- By Lala Rimando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak
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Erratum: In an earlier draft of this article, some names were supposed to refer to Mrs. Aquino, who just passed away. It said "Mrs. Arroyo," instead. Our apologies.-Editors