The Long View
Nothing greater than the people themselves
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:41:00 08/03/2009
When news came of Cory Aquino’s passing, the date on which she died reminded me of what the other president who also died on the first day of August told his wife, to prepare her for the inevitable. “When I die,” Manuel L. Quezon told his wife, “remember that I will belong to the country.” And so it was that his widow in her lifetime acceded to the pomp of a state funeral twice, in Arlington in 1944 and Manila in 1946; and to the selection of his ultimate resting place, though he was finally laid to rest there only in 1979, after a third state funeral.
By these means the rituals of a president’s passing became established precedents followed upon the death of nearly all our subsequent presidents: the proclamation of national mourning, the formation of a committee, the flags lowered to half staff, the lying-in-state in institutions associated with the former president, such as Congress, culminating in the final, somber return to the presidential palace to be placed upon a catafalque for the vigil in the Ceremonial Hall; and the final procession, with muffled drums, massed bands, soldiers marching in slow, measured cadences, the flag-draped coffin on a gun carriage, the pall bearers, the riderless horse with stirrups reversed, the procession and solemn interment at high noon, volleys fired in a final salute, the mournful playing of taps.
But for Cory Aquino, there will be no state funeral, which has caused either puzzlement or even opposition in some quarters. Aren’t the honors of state bestowed not just as a mark of final respect for a person, a former head of state, but in recognition of the intrinsic importance of the office itself? Doesn’t she belong to the country as much as her bereaved family?
One has to distinguish between the official courtesies, acts of commemoration and recognition that are the Republic’s to bestow, and those that may be offered but which may be accepted, declined, or modified in accordance with the sensibilities and wishes of a former president’s family.
For in truth, there is a fundamentally practical aspect to a state funeral, and that is, that it is the state that takes on the burden of defraying the costs involved. The first question a former president’s family must make, is whether they believe it is appropriate to accept the state’s offer to bear those costs.
Even if the decision is yes, the actual details, while undertaken in reference to the past, would always be in accordance with the wishes of the former president’s family. The obsequies can be as elaborate, or as simple, as either provided for by the late president personally or as expressed by his or her spouse and children. The lying-in-state in the Palace, the riderless horse, all these are expected, but never required; their appropriateness in every individual case involves as much what the nation itself expects by way of final commemoration as it does dusty old precedents.
There are things, however, that are done in accordance with the dignity of the position once held by a former president, and which do not require either the consent of, or consultation with, the family of the departed. The proclamation of a period of mourning, for example, is one. Its duration is fixed by law, and carries with it the national flag being lowered to half staff for the duration – for it is in this manner that a nation marks the passing of lives and of epochs in our history.
So, too, does that noble tradition of the Armed Forces – to mark the passing of a former commander in chief, with volleys to mark sunrise and sunset, with the every-half-hour firing of a solitary artillery piece in between – punctiliously mark the ascension and passing of its commanders; thus is esprit de corps sustained; and in this manner all reminded that all ranks belong to an institution subordinate to civilian leadership.
The cannons boomed out in salute in the camps in which Ninoy had once been imprisoned; it was, to my mind, an act of atonement for the imprisonment of her husband; for by commemorating her, our soldiers paid tribute to all that she stood for – Ninoy, his core values, his insisting on a higher power than that of the same guns that had once silenced our laws and tried to silence him.
Her husband was buried in a manner that required courage of every Filipino who participated in the wake and the funeral. She will be buried in sentimental but joyful commemoration of the redemption that sacrifice achieved. In 1983, Filipinos took it upon themselves, in the face of official hostility and indifference, to lower the flags to mourn Ninoy; in 2009 the flags came down by virtue of a law passed by a Congress Cory had restored.
The state, then, was not thwarted; an honor guard, rendering arrival and departure honors, and holding vigil, are testimony to the nation’s official regard. But as Cory Aquino lived, so she remains in death: having accepted only the barest minimum in terms of the honors of state, because she only held the position to accomplish the transition back to democracy, and doing so with a scrupulous regard not to burden the public purse with fuss over her person.
For Cory, the presidency had always been a means to an end, not a means in itself; so it is truly fitting she will be laid to rest with nothing more than what she’d started out with, as a widow: a nation by her side, united in grief, and in a manner that ultimately manifests the power of the people and not of whoever happens to comprise today’s officialdom.
So she will be laid to rest, with nothing beyond what her husband received from family and public: their small tokens of sympathy and commemoration; their time, and prayers – all of which are not the state’s, but only the public’s, to bestow. We must never forget where Cory had been so many times before – alone, despised, shunned and actively thwarted by officialdom and its lackeys, then and now. It was only the public that, then and now, kept faith with Cory as she had kept faith with Ninoy.