Watching the TV coverage of the funeral of Cory Aquino the other day conjured images of her husband Ninoy’s “Final March with the People” on Aug. 31, 1983. That event was primarily seen on global electronic media considering the state of Philippine press under Ferdinand Marcos’ rule. But never underestimate the power of Radyo Baba.
The pace of the funeral procession, the size of the crowd that lined the streets, the yellow theme, the tears—one is amazed at how the wife was able to approximate the level of a nation’s appreciation for the heroic acts of her husband. Cory was buried beside and not above or below Ninoy’s grave at the Manila Memorial Park, which was apt.
Both funerals had one common “star” or focus: Kristina Bernadette or Kris. She was 12 years old when her father was buried. She’s 38 years old now. She was the one who cried buckets among the Aquino children, perhaps because she was the only actress in the family and probably because she felt the pain of losing Cory more than the others.
But Kris lightened up as the funeral procession moved from the Manila Cathedral to the Manila Memorial Park. GMA’s Jessica Soho rode a van with the Aquino family, getting reactions and feeding these to Mike Enriquez and Mel Tiangco. “Let Noynoy answer your question, total mina-match namin siya sa iyo,” Kris told Jessica one time.
The Aquino family declined Malacañang’s offer for a state funeral, but Cory was given military funeral honors nevertheless, befitting a former head of state. Considering the TV coverage, civilians were given a glimpse of this peculiar ritual. This honor has not been given to anybody as popular as Cory in a while, so military personnel looked jittery.
The coffin, draped in Philippine flag, was carried not by pallbearers gasping for breath but by uniformed and stoic men. I thought the coffin would later be transported by a horse-drawn caisson. Instead, an automobile did the pulling of the rig. The other routines were interesting: a 3-volley salute, Final Salute, folding of the flag, etc.
Seeing East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta at the Cory funeral only proved the global influence of the 1986 Edsa People Power uprising. Ramos-Horta reportedly broke protocol because the event was not a state funeral. But the East Timor head of state, himself a democracy icon in his young country, could not be deterred by rules.
Ramos-Horta is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, sharing the honor in 1996 with countryman Bishop Ximenes Belo for their “sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of a small people.” Ramos-Horta, Belo and Xanana Gusmao were among the leaders of the struggle against Indonesian occupation of East Timor, which gained freedom in 2002.
One of the comments that struck me was not about the funeral but about what will happen after it. That was obviously targeted at the country’s politicians, many of them professing admiration for Cory’s values and principles. “Will they ever change course after this?” a colleague asked. Ninoy’s death did not; I doubt if Cory’s death would.
We Filipinos are supposedly notorious for our short memory. We become pious while attending mass and immediately return to our sinful ways once we leave the church’s doors. The outpouring of grief for Cory’s passing looked genuine. But would that translate to a more meaningful election in 2010? Frankly, I am pessimistic.
(I wrote this for my August 7, 2009 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)