MANILA, Philippines?In a funeral devoid of ceremonial flourish, Eraño ?Ka Erdy? Manalo, executive minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), was laid to rest at noon Monday as hundreds of thousands bade him goodbye after leading the powerful Christian sect for nearly five decades.
Wails echoed inside the INC Tabernacle, located inside the INC Central Complex on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, while Manalo?s remains were wheeled into the spacious hall where a white tomb adorned with white flowers lay in the middle.
His widow, Cristina, and five children and other relatives were in black and stayed somber throughout the 30-minute interment ceremony for the late INC leader.
Some 2,000 INC ministers and members of Manalo?s flock that included media people cried loudly in the Tabernacle. Many wiped tears they could not stop from flowing.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo led a host of government officials, politicians, and military and police officers who paid their last respects to Manalo, whose influence on a flock that votes as a bloc had given the INC an influential role in Philippine elections.
In a white collarless suit, Ms Arroyo arrived at the INC Complex at around 10:20 a.m. and proceeded to the Sanctuarium where INC ministers, all dressed in barong tagalog, gathered and viewed the remains of their leader.
Accompanied by her sons, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel ?Mikey? Arroyo and Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado ?Dato? Arroyo, the President stayed with Manalo?s family for half an hour before leaving.
Manalo?s eldest son, Eduardo, who is set to be the new INC head, escorted Ms Arroyo to her convoy.
The President did not proceed to the Tabernacle where Cabinet officials, presidential aspirants, local politicians and deposed President Joseph Estrada stayed.
Estrada and Vice President Noli de Castro led the procession of politicians who lined up one by one to extend their condolences to Ka Erdy?s widow and her children.
In the long line were presidential hopefuls Senators Manny Villar and Loren Legarda, former first lady Imelda Marcos and children Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand ?Bongbong? Marcos Jr. and Irene Marcos-Araneta, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and his mother Loi, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa, congressmen, as well as military and police officials.
Manalo, 84, died of cardiopulmonary arrest on Aug. 31.
The interment ceremony began at around 11:30 a.m. when Manalo?s casket was brought by pallbearers to a waiting black hearse.
Two motorcycle escorts and another vehicle decorated with white flowers led the hearse from the Sanctuarium to the Tabernacle, some 300 meters away.
In accordance with INC beliefs, there were no prayers at the ceremony.
For INC members, once a true Christian dies, he is certain of salvation on Judgement Day.
In a predominantly Catholic country that believes that souls wait in purgatory, the INC does not believe in such, thus doing away with Masses and prayers for the dead.
Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, the military spokesperson, told the Inquirer by phone that Manalo?s family and INC officials had requested vigil guards and a firing party from the Armed Forces.
Nineteen cadets of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), who are INC members, volunteered to also stand as vigil guards for the late INC leader, according to Brawner.
The ceremony at the Tabernacle, which had Manalo?s casket draped in the green, white and red INC flag that was replaced by the Philippine flag, gave a semblance of honors bestowed on heads of states at their funerals.
Soft music filled the Tabernacle and a soft glow of yellow light shone on Manalo?s two-toned brown casket as it stood beside the empty white tomb.
Bouquets of white flowers decorated the pillars and stage of the Tabernacle, which the church usually uses for worship and other activities.
The 30-minute ceremony consisted of INC officials handing over the INC flag to his family.
Afterward, the Philippine flag was draped on Manalo?s coffin by INC officials who were assisted by two Army soldiers.
Outside, three volleys of fire with seven rounds each rang as a salute for Manalo.
As the highest-ranking government official at the interment, De Castro stood near Manalo?s head while the cadets folded the flag, each one of them placing it on their chests before passing it on to the next until it reached the cadet captain.
The cadet captain passed on the folded flag to De Castro, who then handed it over to Manalo?s widow.
At noon, Manalo?s casket was placed inside the tomb.
Ka Tenny, as Manalo?s wife is known to the flock, and Ka Eduardo, placed the Philippine flag and INC flag inside.
The Manalos? two other sons and three daughters, and the rest of their family and relatives each placed a white rose inside the tomb before it was sealed.
A granite marker was placed on the tomb?s right side where Manalo?s name and dates of birth and death were engraved.
Also written on the marker were the words: ?Tagapamahalang Pangkalahatan ng Iglesia ni Cristo mula 1963-2009 (Chief Minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo from 1963-2009).
After the procession of politicians greeted them, members of the Manalo family were mobbed by INC ministers, some of whom held their right arms up as if blessing the family, or seeking to be blessed.
A mausoleum that would reportedly be Manalo?s final resting place is still being constructed beside a monument of his father, Felix, inside the INC compound.
Felix Manalo founded the INC in 1914, which under the leadership of his son, grew to several million members to date, with chapters in many countries around the world.