High, lowly, disabled line up in sun, rainBy Philip C. Tubeza, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Some arrived onboard swanky SUVs, others came in rusty wheelchairs.
People from all walks of life, both the powerful and the lowly, trekked through the rain and the traffic to Malacañang’s Freedom Hall on Saturday to pay their final respects to the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo who died with two others in a plane crash in Masbate City last Saturday.
As of Saturday afternoon, the Presidential Security Group (PSG) estimated the people who came to the wake at more than 6,000. An hour before viewing was closed to the public at 5 p.m., there were still about 700 waiting at the Palace gates. The PSG later decided to extend the deadline until everyone got in.
From former President Fidel Ramos to traffic enforcers and FX drivers, people queued up through alternating bursts of rain and sunshine to pay homage before Robredo’s closed casket is flown back to Naga City on Sunday for the interment on Tuesday.
On Friday, the day Robredo’s remains were flown from Naga City and brought to Malacañang, more than 2,000 mourners turned up at the wake. The crowd was so big and the lines so long that public viewing was extended from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday, Malacañang staff said. Mr. Aquino stayed until midnight, they said.
“In last night’s (Friday night) public viewing, we saw people from all walks of life. Some of them came in soaking wet because of the rains. They didn’t mind the bad weather,” said Coloma.
“He gave us hope. He made us feel we were not different and encouraged us to contribute to society,” said wheelchair-bound Jose Mari Vicentina, of the Caloocan City Federation of People With Disabilties.
“I felt mixed emotions while passing his casket. I feel so sad,” he added.
Some mourners wore t-shirts printed with Robredo’s portrait. Others carried posters, bearing messages of goodwill for the 54-year-old Robredo whose untimely death has prompted a national outpouring of grief.
“Three years after the death of President Corazon Aquino, we’re again witnessing a phenomenal event where the death of a Cabinet member is leaving deep imprints on the hearts, and minds of many Filipinos,” said Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications and Operations Office.
Vicentina came with other people with disabilities to thank Robredo, whom they praised for implementing the law requiring local government units to establish offices to help persons with disabilities. He said Robredo’s widow, Leni, told him the late secretary was close to PWDs because he had a sibling who was visually impaired.
“He is such a huge loss. He made sure that our welfare was not disregarded when he was still in office,” Vicentina said.
Every now and then, flashy cars drove into the Palace compound out of which would emerge smartly suited diplomats.
Later, a bus disgorged down a ramp a group of mourners in wheelchairs. In a sight that caught the attention of many, blind people led one another by hand as they walked up the ramp to Kalayaan Hall.
Icon of good governance
Novaliches Bishop Tobias praised Robredo for the attention he gave to solving the problems of the urban poor.
“I feel it is my duty to pay my respects to a great icon of good governance. To me,it would have been a sin if I had not come. I would have had to go to Naga,” he said.
Tobias said he remembered Robredo for helping set up the group Ugnayan ng Barangay at Simbahan (Ubas) in Novaliches so that government and the Church could work together to address the concerns of the urban poor.
Volunteer Jimmy Soriano came with more than 100 other members of Kabalikat-Civicom, a civic group composed mostly of FX and taxi drivers.
“He’s a member of our chapter in Naga and was with us during the floods in Bicol and when Mayon erupted. We lost a good man,” said Soriano.
Edicio de la Torre, the ex-priest turned activist, said Robredo best exemplified the reformist streak of those who believed in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.
“He captured the spirit of Edsa. While some of us were working to topple the system, he was working inside to reform it,” said De la Torre, a technical adviser to the agriculture secretary.
Maximize system for reform
And while other people praise Robredo for his ethical or honest leadership, De la Torre said Robredo should also be remembered for actually having the smarts to have his reforms implemented.
“He was not only ethical, he was also clever. He was able to maximize the possibilities within the system to work for reform,” De la Torre said.
“We must look for others like him and not wait until they’re dead before they’re recognized. Like in the Bourne Legacy tagline, let’s show that `There was never just one’,” he added.
Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Adm. Alexander Pama showed up with the Navy men who took part in the massive operations to scour the waters off the Masbate coast in search of Robredo, whose body was recovered from the fuselage of the crashed plane early last Tuesday.
Also seen at the wake were Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, Commission on Human Rights Chair Loretta Ann Rosales, and executives of the ABS-CBN News Channel, including Tina Monzon-Palma, among others.
Ramos arrived early Saturday while President Aquino was preparing to administer the oath to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at the nearby Rizal Hall. Sereno later went to pay her respects to Robredo, whose advocacy of good governance she said she would emulate.
Robredo’s family arrived by bus around 12:18 p.m. Saturday. Mr. Aquino emerged at the hall around 1:15 p.m. but left shortly after.
Malacañang set up seven tents outside Kalayaan Hall to accommodate the overflow crowd that showed up for the 6 p.m. public Mass for Robredo.
Among those who arrived for the 6 p.m. Mass were House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson.
A crowd of more than 100 sat in monobloc chairs under the tents and watched the Mass through a giant monitor.
The crowd overflowed to the steps of Kalayaan Hall as the Mass proceeded.
Two more Masses were offered by the Liberal Party and the Cabinet later Saturday night.
The President reemerged at the Kalayaan Hall at 7.10 p.m. Saturday night to attend the necrological services offered by his Cabinet and the Liberal Party.
Before leaving, many visitors had their photos taken near the flagpole outside the Kalayaan Hall where a giant Philippine flag flew at half mast.
It is not often that Palace grounds are opened to the general public.
Between 6 and 7 a.m. Sunday, the PSG will render departure honors, including a 19-gun salute, for Robredo before his remains are brought to Villamor Air Base in Pasay City for transport back to his Naga City hometown. With Gil Cabacungan