NAGA CITY—Eulogizing Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo on the final day of national mourning before his interment here on Tuesday, President Aquino said that the secretary had joined the pantheon of national heroes looking after his countrymen.
“Jesse is already in the ranks of heroes watching over us from heaven, and he is giving us the strength to continue with their good deeds. So let us stop weeping; instead, let us give thanks,” the President said in a speech delivered in Filipino that elicited repeated applause from the crowd at Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, where the concelebrated requiem Mass was held.
“For the brief time that he was here in this world, we were the ones blessed to be in the company of Jesse Manalastas Robredo,” said Mr. Aquino, who wore a black arm band as a sign of mourning.
“Goodbye, Jesse. In behalf of the nation, thank you very much,” the President concluded.
The funeral rites came 10 days after Robredo, 54, and the two pilots of a Piper Seneca died in a plane crash at sea in Masbate.
In his eulogy, Mr. Aquino summed up the gravity of Robredo’s death. “His family lost a husband and father; the nation lost a trustworthy and efficient leader; I lost a brother in the official family of the Cabinet who was an ally in our crusades, and a party mate. I lost a good friend,” he said.
Robredo had served for 19 years as mayor of this city before joining the Aquino administration in 2010.
Fr. Kulandairaj Ambrose, Jamaican-based of the Missionaries of the Poor, who officiated the funeral Mass, declared Robredo a champion of the “tsinelas people,” referring to the poor, the abandoned, homeless, and neglected whom many considered a “burden” on society.
Ambrose, a Jamaican missionary, was personally asked by Robredo’s widow, lawyer Maria Leonor “Leni,” to officiate the requiem Mass.
The priest said that Robredo had proven that the “Filipino is worth dying for,” borrowing the famous line of the President’s father, slain Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.
“I am humble and honored to do this to a friend, a great man and a friend of the poor,” said the priest, who vowed to establish a free clinic for the poor “in his honor.”
Describing Robredo as a family man, a “man of the poor,” and a “God-fearing man,” Ambrose lamented that his wards would surely miss Robredo. “He was their father; they are his children,” said Ambrose.
“He was there even when we did not need him. You may call it a tsinelas friendship.”
Crowd like ‘Ina’ feast
The throng of mourners was so huge that more than a hectare grounds of the basilica and Magsaysay and Peñafrancia Avenues filled with people, which only happens during the annual September processions of the image of the Virgin Mary, to whom Robredo was a devoted.
Two Marian processions are held every third Friday and Saturday of September in Naga City—the Traslacion on Friday and the fluvial procession the following day.
But on the interment of Robredo, all three recognizable landmarks of this city were filled with men and women in yellow, who also wore tsinelas or rubber slippers as tribute to the simplicity of Robredo.
Thousands of Camarines Sur residents converged in Naga, mindless of the searing heat.
The size of the crowd on the streets was comparable to the crowd that would gather every “traslacion” or fluvial procession.
Some of the men donned the trimmings of the “voyadores,” or men who carry the Virgin Mary during the processions. They wear yellow headbands. Voyadores also wear headbands of different colors from red to blue during the Peñafrancia fiesta.
But unlike the voyadores who walk barefoot, most of the men wore slippers.
It was different, too, from the traslacion and the fluvial procession since many women came. Women are not allowed to join the main procession every September and can only trail the men.
Lea Marcelo, a teacher from Pili, Camarines Sur, who lined up with thousands of people as the bier of the late secretary was moving out of the compound of the basilica, was among those who described the funeral as “phenomenal one fit for a hero.”
“This is a manifestation of the greatest love for our secretary,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer as the cortege moved in slow cadence and the gun salute boomed.
“We can’t help but shed tears, yet only God knows the reason for the loss of a hero,” Marcelo said.
As Robredo’s bier mounted on an open truck decked with white and yellow flowers passed by, people waved to show they were saying goodbye to a well-loved son of Naga City. They shouted, “Pogi, pogi, pogi.”
Legion of Honor
Before the eulogy, the President conferred posthumously the Philippine Legion of Honor, with the rank of Chief Commander, on Robredo.
It was the President’s penultimate act before he handed Robredo’s widow the flag which, for many mourners here, has come to symbolize the country’s undying gratitude to a fallen son of Bicol who had devoted his life to God and country.
The President talked about a future when he and members of his Cabinet would meet and discuss what they went through during their incumbency.
“Jesse will not be with us during those conversations. We won’t be teasing Jesse about how he would size up his daughter’s suitors, and in the coming years, he won’t be around to play with his grandchildren,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said many in the Cabinet had hoped that Robredo would still show up and say, “Forgive me, you were all inconvenienced by my delayed arrival.”
He made public what could probably be Robredo’s private personality—the “what you see is what you get” attitude; his quiet but hardworking work ethic; simple living; and proximity to the masses.
Mr. Aquino also joked about Robredo’s singing “limitations,” although two of his favorite songs were “My Way” and “Impossible Dream.”
“Jesse is a trailblazer in the ‘straight path,’” the President said.
“He proved that someone could succeed in politics without becoming a traditional politician,” and that early in his political career, “he longed for deep and widespread change,” Mr. Aquino said.
By virtue of a presidential edict, Robredo was accorded full military honors befitting a head of state when he was finally laid to rest here.
The funeral and interment arrangements prepared by the Palace Committee on Funeral Arrangements and Burial were followed religiously.
After the President’s eulogy, the honor guard carried Robredo’s flag-draped casket and put it on a bier.
Secretaries Leila de Lima, Rogelio Singson, Rene Almendras, Edwin Lacierda and Teresita Deles; Metropolitan Manila Development Chairman Francis Tolentino and Lualhati Antonino, the chair of the Mindanao Development Authority, served as pallbearers.
The police and military detail rendered for the last time departure honors, including a 19-gun salute, before the funeral cortege proceeded to Funeraria Imperial Crematory and Columbary, some 700 meters away from the basilica.
All Cabinet members
The President, Robredo’s immediate family—Leni, Aika, Patricia and Jillian—close relatives and friends, and all members of the Cabinet followed the bier on foot.
The cortege reached the crematory at 1:03 p.m., when the military detail rendered the final honors for Robredo and a three-volley gun salute accompanied by a sounding of Taps.
For the last time, the crowd applauded Robredo before the casket bearers removed and folded the flag. It was handed to the President, who then presented it to Robredo’s wife at 1:24 p.m.
National Days of Mourning
This ended the state funeral, which began on August 21, when the President signed Proclamation No. 460 proclaiming National Days of Mourning until interment.
Later Tuesday, Robredo’s ashes would be interred in a plot in the Eternal Gardens beside the funeral home in a ceremony exclusive to the family and close friends of Robredo.
In a span of just seven years, Robredo was the second national figure from this region to be mourned by Bicolanos.
Robredo was a close ally of the late Sen. Raul Roco—also one of the region’s most beloved sons—who died in August 2005, after a long bout with prostate cancer.
Robredo walked alongside Roco’s hearse during the funeral procession attended by some 50,000 people