They Saw Manoling for the Last Time
by Leon O. Ty
April 24, 1948–THE general public was allowed to view the body of the late President Manuel Roxas beginning Friday afternoon, April 16. As soon as the notice to that effect became known an endless procession of silent, sad-faced people—Filipinos and foreigners, old and young, from all walks of life—made a bee line for the Palace to take one last look at their departed leader.
The wealthy drove to the Palace grounds in their expensive limousines, properly attired for the occasion. The men wore immaculate de hilo or sharkskin suits with black arm bands, black ties and black shoes to match. The women were in shiny, ebony dresses. The less opulent went to the Palace in taxis while the majority of the mourners took jeepneys and buses.
Most striking among those who paid Roxas their last homage were poor people of Manila who walked all the way from their homes in different sections of the city to the Palace, some in slippers and wooden clogs. Others were barefooted.
Without uttering a word, the people lined up, ascended to the second floor of the Palace, mounted the low platform where the body lay in a black casket, cast one fleeting look at the dead Chief Executive, then walked out of the wealth-filled room—still mute.
Not until the departing mourners reached the lovely Palace garden did they find their voices to talk to their companions.
Late last Saturday afternoon, the writer stood a few meters away from the illumined bier for almost one hour and watched intently the outward reactions of those who viewed the President’s remains.
President Bienvenido Gonzales of the University of the Philippines was one of those that saw Roxas’ body last Saturday. He simply could not conceal his sadness as he looked at the lifeless body of his friend who, a couple of days ago, had been with him at the state university graduation program.
The veins on Gonzales’s forehead bulged prominently as he tried to suppress the tears which reddened his eyes. As he and Mrs. Gonzales emerged from the room where the casket lay, he looked like one in a trance. Not a word was spoken between him and his wife.
Presently a solemn-faced woman, about 60, in a chocolate-colored dress (San Antonio), and wearing wooden clogs, mounted the platform and kissed the casket. The soldiers on guard at once led her out as she was blocking the passage of the other mourners. But this woman was not to be denied a moment’s prayer. As soon as she had descended the platform, she knelt reverently in front of the coffin—about a meter away—bowed her head and prayed for a couple of minutes. Then she made the sign of the cross, stood up, and quietly walked out, without minding in the least the many people staring at her.
“I wonder who she is?” asked a man standing beside the writer. “She must be an admirer of Manoling.”
A man, his wife, and two young boys followed. Since the younger child was not tall enough to see the President’s face, his father lifted him up by the waist and the tot was thus able to see—perhaps for the first time—the face of the dead leader.
Hundreds of university and secondary students as well as elementary school pupils flocked to the Palace to take a glimpse of the man who had earned the love of and inspired the youth of his country—as much as and perhaps more than any other Filipino leader.
Among the thousands of mourners were women who had just finished their marketing. They carried paper bags loaded with groceries as they passed alongside the casket.
A hunchback caught the writer’s attention. The man was middle-aged. He had a little difficulty in mounting the low platform, but he managed somehow to take a good look at the dead man. It was not easy for him to go down from the platform, either. Garbed in wrinkled, yellowish abaca short-sleeved shift and khaki trousers, his old, white shoes needed a good, thorough cleaning.
A lady known to the writer, was one of last Saturday’s mourners. After she had viewed the dark face of Roxas, I greeted her with a handshake. I noticed that her hands were unusually cold.
“Are you ill?” I asked.
She couldn’t talk for a few seconds. Later, she answered in a low, quivering voice:
“I can’t believe that he is dead. I can’t.”
After standing in front of the casket quietly for a few moments, she turned around and headed for the door.
A little boy, about seven years old, was perhaps not content with just a fleeting glimpse of the President’s face. Scarcely had he descended the platform when he turned back and took another look at the corpse.
A very old man with a cane made his last token of reverence for Roxas. He had a hard time climbing the stairs to the second floor of the Palace and he had also a difficult time mounting the platform. But with shaking legs, he managed to view the President’s body.
There was a newsboy who joined the throng of mourners. The lad was dressed in soiled, short khaki pants and striped T-shirt. In his left hand was a bundle of newspapers.
A stout, elderly woman walked past the casket biting her rouged lips. Her eyes were red with unshed tears. An old Spaniard followed her. His face was grave. He might have been a friend or an admirer of the departed leader.
Then there was a husky man with a .45 caliber automatic pistol sticking out of his belt. Briskly, he mounted the platform, tilted his head to take a look at the corpse, then walked away without revealing any trace of emotion on his rugged face. He looked like a tough character.
The writer was informed by a Palace employee that an American old-timer in the Philippines burst into weeping beside the casket last week.
“I’m weeping not for Roxas alone,” the American told Colonel Jose Tando, chief of the presidential guards, who led him out of the room, “but for the Philippines because she is bereft of a great leader.”
This American was a great friend of Roxas and had known Manoling since he was a mere stripling in Capiz.
Varied were the people’s comments after they had seen the lifeless body of the President.
Said a tall, young man in white suit and black, bow tie:
“A great man has passed away.”
A young lady whose voice was choked with emotion was heard to say in the Palace garden:
“I had no chance to see him in life. I should have seen him while he was still living. They say he was a wonderful speaker.”
“He reached the end of the road,” declared a lady to her male companion.
A man who must have been an oppositionist, judging from the way he talked, said:
“I wanted to see him defeated in the coming elections, but I didn’t want him to die before his term was over.”
“He was a very loving and patient husband,” stated an elderly lady, as she was entering the Palace garden. “I wonder if Mrs. Roxas can find another husband like him. That is, if she ever marries again.”
From an eloquent man carrying a briefcase, came this intriguing remark:
“Was Roxas really guilty of the charges made against him by his political enemies? I’ve heard and I believe that many of his friends and leaders became rich because they used his (Roxas) name in surplus and other transactions. But I have not heard of Roxas himself getting rich.”
“He was too good to fire even the men who besmirched his administration,” commented an elderly man who looked like a government employee.
A slim, morose-looking man in brown pants and a short-sleeved shirt said:
“Is it not queer that Roxas died in American territory—in Clark Field, a US military reservation? In the home of an American at that. Quezon, too, died on American soil. Our greatest leaders always die on American soil. Why?”
A Philippine Constabulary soldier queried as if in a soliloquy:
“Why did God take President Roxas away before his term was over?”
For more than a week the mourners passed silently one by one beside the lifeless body of Manuel Acuña Roxas. Nobody could tell what thoughts were in their minds or how profound might be the grief in their hearts. One thing could, however, be ascertained: They all felt bereft by the passing away of one of the most brilliant of their countrymen that ever lived. —L. O. Ty