Almost, but not quite, a state funeral for Cory

By Lala Rimando,

Posted at Aug 06 2009 12:25 AM | Updated as of Aug 06 2009 08:52 AM

MANILA - The Aquino family may have opted not to have a state funeral for President Aquino, but the full military honors given the former commander-in-chief on Wednesday made it feel and look like a state-sponsored one.

But it wasn't.

A state funeral has military and civilian parts to it, explained ABS-CBN News' resident historian Manuel Quezon III. While full and the highest military honors were rendered to the late President Aquino during her wake and interment, it lacked the participation of the country's highest civilian officials and other entitlements from the state.

What was missed?

Essentially, the government of current President Arroyo followed all the protocols when a former president of the Philippines passes away.

Even while in an official US visit when the death of former President Aquino was announced last Saturday, President Arroyo, being the incumbent, issued the traditional presidential proclamation: A period of national mourning. For 10 days, she said, Philippine flags in all government agencies would be flown at half-staff.

Likewise, a book of condolences was routed to the different embassies so ambassadors and other foreign dignitaries and citizens could write their official message of condolences on it.

What the Aquino family missed was the use of the Heroes' Hall in Malacañang Palace as the venue where the remains of former President Aquino may lie in state.

Also, President Arroyo, together with the Senate president, speaker of the House, and other high-level officials of the government, were not able to participate in the necrological services, which are traditionally organized by state officials during state funerals.

The two lady presidents were at odds over their different political views. The Aquino family was also incensed by the impression that the Arroyo government was pulling out the 2 security details for the late president during her last few days. This prompted them to decide against a state funeral.

On Wednesday dawn, after she arrived from her official trip, President Arroyo paid her respects to President Aquino whose remains then lie at the Manila Cathedral.

The Heroes' Hall, which was supposed to host the wake of the late president, just served as the venue for a mass that President Arroyo and her cabinet officials later joined.

Highest military honors

The military, a tradition-laden institution, has rendered the highest military honors to President Aquino.

A bittersweet display of honors to the late president seemed ironic since her 1986 to 1992 term was battered by 9 coup de ta's staged by different factions of the military. But almost 2 decades since those uprisings, the rituals and ceremonies seemed to have put a lid to those wounds.

The military's major units--the army, air force, and navy--and the police made their presence felt. There was an honor guard, a military vigil, and flags in military camps were in half-staff. There were also arrival and departure ceremonies throughout the entire course of the private funeral.

Several 21 gun salutes were rendered when President Aquino’s remains arrived in La Salle gymnasium on Saturday, when it left Manila Cathedral for the funeral procession, and at the Manila Memorial Park where she was finally laid to rest.

The 21-gun salute is the highest military honor rendered to an individual.

At the Manila Memorial, a trumpet fanfare called the ruffles (short drumrolls) and flourishes (a bugle call), traditionally conducted in state funerals to announce the arrival of a head of state, was also performed by a military band.

It was followed by the playing of the national anthem as her remains were laid down by pallbearers into the artillery caisson. The march towards the entrance of the mausoleum was conducted in a very solemn manner.

Not quite

Perhaps the most indelible image of a presidential state funeral that was lacking in President Aquino's was the procession of 6 horses pulling the artillery caisson that bears the flag-draped casket. Three of the 6 horses were supposed to be mounted, a tradition dating to when one artillery horse in every pair carried provisions instead of a rider.

Behind the caisson should have been is another riderless horse caparisoned with an empty saddle and its rider's boots reversed in the stirrups. In the military, it was a symbol that the deceased is a warrior who will ride no more.

The simple reason? "We don't have a cavalry (for war horses), Quezon said.

Instead, the caisson was pulled by a mechanized contraption to bring the casket closer to the mausoleum.

Wait 26 years

Quezon noted why it was not easy to spot the difference: "For many Filipinos, this is the first time we saw a president laid to rest, regardless of the extent of honors."

The most recent former president who has passed away was former President Diosdado Macapagal. He was given a state funeral when he died in 1997. His daughter, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was then a senator.

President Macapagal served his term as the 9th president of the Philippines from 1961 to 1965. Based on official statistics, only about 5% of the country's 92 million current population were born during those years.

Quezon added another possible explanation: "Great Filipinos seem to be dying one generation apart. It's been 26 years since [the death of former senator] Ninoy (Benigno Aquino Jr.). It's a similar gap between Ninoy and [former president Ramon] Magsaysay."

Ninoy was the slain husband of President Aquino who died in 1983, while President Magsaysay passed away in 1957—also 26 years apart.

Their funerals attracted massive supporters. An estimated 2 million supporters joined the funeral procession of each.

The funeral of President Aquino, however, gathered hundreds of thousands of supporters amid intermittent rains, and despite live TV coverage and a throng of online bloggers constantly posting updates.

The Aquino couple and former President Magsaysay were not buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, a cemetary reserved for the country's heroes.

On Wednesday, President Aquino was laid to rest at a private beside her husband and personal hero. - with reports from ABS-CBN News