“If they call for us to troop to Malacañang, I’d go.” The old lady we’d been standing next to outside Manila Memorial Park for the past seven hours was adamant.
And, really, after hours of standing in the rain and being jostled about by the crowd, the thousands on the street were restless and ripe for a revolution, Philippine style.
The handful of policemen securing the area had grown tense by then. They’d spent the entire day trying to keep the crowd from blocking the street where former RP President Corazon Aquino’s funeral procession would pass. The crowd would compress as a white police car rolled by; and then would promptly spill onto the street as soon as it passed.
There was a party atmosphere, what with yellow balloons, streamers, and banners in abundance. Spontaneous chants of “Cory! Cory!” accompanied hands flashing the L-sign of an opposition party* whose star has long since faded. People had taken to cheering at every vehicle that passed by, whether government SUV or food delivery truck. Once or twice, the crowd even cheered at a pair of doves that happened to fly overhead.
Not everyone was there to mourn the death of the country’s first President after Martial Law. Itinerant vendors and pickpockets were also in attendance, and they added to the air of barely-controlled chaos.
It was a wonder, really, that the estimated 300,000 people that packed Manila’s streets that day did not riot midway into the procession. Cory Aquino had long been critical of the current administration, and its apparent snub of her funeral—government media hardly covered the event, and the current president spent all of seven minutes at her wake—had angered many. One boo, one anti-government slogan, one stone thrown into the crowd, and Manila could have been in flames before night fell.
That this didn’t happen is more a testament to what Mrs. Aquino stood for than to the secure position of the powers that be. It would have been unseemly, crass even, to do anything more that day than to bury her. She was called the symbol of Philippine democracy, and some say her death marked the death of that democracy. Erupting into the anarchy of the parliament of the streets would have made this true.
When the truck bearing her coffin finally rolled up to the gates of the cemetery, the crowd of thousands burst into a deafening chant. I wondered what kind of person could command such adoration from a crowd similar to the ones that successfully ousted two sitting Philippine Presidents.
As some of the throng threw confetti and yellow flowers onto her coffin, we knew that we would wake up the next day facing the same issues of corruption and government inefficiency.
But that didn’t matter. For that brief moment the nation was one in remembering the most important lesson of the 1986 Revolution: Magkaisa (Unite).
A cheesy piece published in the September 2009 issue of China Business Philippines.
*Lakas ng Bayan (Laban), later Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban).