The Explainer: State funerals

Those were scenes from John F. Kennedy’s state funeral in 1963, which was attended by President Diosdado Macapagal.

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? That’s our task for tonight. I’m Manolo Quezon, the Explainer.




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 the only 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 Quezon and Cory Aquino, both of whom died on August 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.

The 1944 funeral, with its elaborate funeral cortege making its way from St. Matthew’s Cathedral to Arlington National Cemetery;

And the President of the Philippines, in this case, Sergio Osmena, following behind his predecessor’s coffin;

Representatives of foreign governments paying their respects by being in attendance;

The final religious rites accompanying the internment; and-

The final gun salute rendered by an honor guard, all set the precedent for our independent republic’s handling of the final farewell for its presidents.

As I mentioned, these were based on American precedent. So how do the Americans handle a state funeral? Here’s a rare film of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s state funeral in 1945.

What you’re seeing on your screen are the essential elements: after lying in state in the White House, the remains of a former president are then brought to the national capitol to lie in state under the capitol rotunda; and then, from there, comes the military elements of a state funeral: the coffin, draped with the flag, borne on an artillery caisson and drawn by white horses; curiously, in Roosevelt’s case, his coffin was not followed by a riderless horse, stirrups reversed, to represent the fallen commander-in-chief; but it was followed, in turn, by the national and presidential flags and then a car bearing his widow, Eleanor Roosevelt..

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 Malacanan Place, a symbolic return for a president to the place formerly that president’s official home.

The remains would be carried up the Palace’s main stairs, which lead to the private quarters but also, to the state rooms.

The coffin would be carried through the Reception Hall with its three famous Czechoslovak chandeliers,

And placed, as you see here in Quezon’s case, on a catafalque, or raised platform. In 1946, the wake in Malacanang was criticized because it was closed to the public; only officials could attend.

So that, when President Roxas died in 1948, his lying in state in Malacanang, which you see here, 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 Magsaysay, that the public really showed up in huge numbers in Malacanang, as you can see here.

As an honor guard with black armbands of mourning kept vigil, cititzens filed past all day and all night;

They stood in line for hours to get a chance to glimpse Magsaysay’s flag-draped casket;

While the President’s official portrait, as you can see here, was draped with black crepe.

In contrast to previous state funerals, in Malacanang, the people stayed around for Magsaysay, whereas in the past they would file past and then leave; it was of course, a reflection of Magsaysay’s hold on the masses –you saw something similar at Cory’s wake, where the important, and upper and middle classes would file past and leave but the poor quietly stayed and kept vigil.

Then, a memorial service or Mass would be held, with the President –here you can see Carlos P. Garcia- would be held; everyone wearing mourning armbands and in those days, women wore black veils;

Here’s another final mass in Malacanang, this time for President Quirino, in 1956.

After the lying-in-state in the Palace, the President’s remains –here you’re seeing Quezon’s 1946 funeral- would be escorted by high officials from the Palace, to the Congress, where the remains would lie-in-state again, and a necrological service would be held.

If the Malacanang portion is a final tribute to a President by bringing that president symbolically, back home again 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; here you see President Quirino, flanked by Senate President Avelino and Speaker Eugenio Perez, are shown during the necrological rites for President Roxas.

Then, from Congress, the president’s remains are brought to a church for the funeral mass or service; in this case, you’re looking at Quezon’s 1946 funeral mass in the UST chapel.

And then, the final procession.  We’ll examine that in detail, when we return.




That was a scene from the state funeral for Winston Churchill. During Cory’s funeral, you might remember how people were confused, at one point, when firetrucks started spraying water towards the sky, as Cory’s cortege passed; it was a salute, every bit as simple yet meaningful as the cranes dipping in salute to Sir Winston Churchill.

Our state funerals are very different from those of the British, though in Quezon’s case in 1946 our Republic tried the British practice of having 100 soldiers pulling the caisson; this was never repeated.

This serves as a reminder even the rituals we associate with state funerals change from time to time; for example, during President Roxas’ 1948 state funeral shown here, foreign troops also marched in the cortege; including a detachment of Royal Navy sailors in tropical short pants.

And for Roxas it would be as it has been for most of his successors.

Here’s a rare film of the actual Roxas state funeral of 1948…

Preceded by detachments from all the major services and military bands, the casket, draped with the flag, on a caisson pulled by a military vehicle, would then be followed by a riderless horse with stirrups reversed. Followed by a long line of official cars.

And along the path of the cortege, citizens paying their final respects; this photo is of President Aguinaldo standing by the side of the road, to pay his respects to Roxas, together with other veterans of the revolution.

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, at this point, military honors made even more difficult by tradition dictating Presidents are buried at high noon.

Let’s watch another portion of the rare film of Roxas’ 1948 state funeral.

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 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 in declining the civilian portions of a state funeral –the lying-in-state in Malacanan 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.

Later tonight, we’ll talk to someone whose family has been responsible for all our state funerals since 1946, to get a grasp of what that difficult and tradition-laden job involves.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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