East Timor head attends Aquino funeral
MANILA, Philippines—The only head of state who came for the funeral of former President Corazon Aquino Wednesday said he was “very impressed and touched” by the outpouring of public affection for her.
East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta broke protocol when he came to Manila to bid farewell to his friend of many years. Diplomats said the gesture was a no-no for heads of state given the fact that it was not a state funeral.
Ramos-Horta braved a downpour and arrived on Wednesday morning in time for the funeral Mass at Manila Cathedral.
However, he had to proceed to Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City ahead of the mourners because he could not sit for long hours due to the wound he sustained from an attempt on his life in East Timor in 2008.
Ramos-Horta said one lesson he learned from the Aquino presidency was being compassionate and humble.
“I’m always impressed by leaders who showed compassion and humility. To me, there is no greater quality in a leader than being compassionate and being humble because only through compassion and humility that one can bridge the divide, build bridges of dialogue between communities and between warring sections,” he said.
He said compassion and humility were the best traits of a leader. “Because being compassionate means being humble, and humility means being compassionate.
“No amount of intellect or academic record can replace compassion and humility that was Cory Aquino,” Ramos-Horta said at Manila Memorial Park.
Inspired by Aquino
“I could not fail to come here to the Philippines because I was always inspired by her courage in the ’80s in shouldering the legacy of Ninoy Aquino and when she left the presidency with humility, with compassion, with dignity,” Ramos-Horta said in an interview over ANC.
Ramos-Horta said he considered Aquino “one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.”
“Cory Aquino, through her compassion and humility, inspired me. That’s the lesson I learned from her, the lesson I learned from Mahatma Gandhi, from Nelson Mandela. So I put Cory Aquino on the same status as probably one of the greatest people of this century,” he said on the cable channel.
At Manila Memorial Park, he said he first met Cory and Ninoy when the latter gave a lecture at Columbia University in New York City shortly before Ninoy’s fateful trip back home in 1983.
Ramos-Horta said he was then a member of an activist group seeking audience with the United Nations.
On ANC, he said he last met an ailing Cory Aquino during his state visit to the Philippines last year.
He said he was “humbled” when Aquino, who was then undergoing chemotherapy treatment for her colon cancer, called him at his hotel and said she was coming over to visit him.
Ramos-Horta said he insisted that he be the one to visit the ailing Aquino. She declined.
“I wanted to visit her because I did not feel it was appropriate that she should come to my hotel because I’m a smaller person and I knew her as a greater leader,” he said.
“I wanted to go and pay tribute to her in her home but she was so humble, so modest. She insisted that she was the one to come to my hotel. I looked at her, she was so frail when she walked. She was lucid, attentive and even expressed concern about my own health which showed what a very loving, caring personality she was. She cared more about others than herself. When she declined for me to go to her place and insisted that she come to my place, I felt very humbled by that,” he said.
At that meeting, he and Aquino reminisced about the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution and the legacy of her husband.
On the ANC, he said he believed the ideals that Aquino and her husband had stood for would be etched in the hearts of Filipinos and the world.
He called on Filipinos to renew efforts to resolve their differences, particularly the problems in Mindanao and elsewhere.
“Life is so precious. One life lost, one life wasted creates deeper anger among the communities,” he said.
Ramos-Horta said that like Aquino in the early years of her presidency, he, too, struggled between life and death in 2008 when he was assaulted by his enemies but he went on to live knowing that God wanted him to bring lasting peace to his country.
Today, rebel soldiers in East Timor have one by one surrendered peacefully while the gangs that used to fight each other have suddenly become silent, he said.
“For the last two years now, we have experienced the most peaceful period in our history. So, I hope that this experience of the Philippines, the passing away of Cory Aquino, the many years of her struggles, will lead the Philippines to make a greater effort to unite as one Filipino family,” he said.
Ramos-Horta said that one great thing about Filipinos, which was lacking in other Asian countries, was their being “a more tolerant society.”
“Despite problems of poverty, the Philippines is a more embracing, more inclusive society in Asia. Filipinos are always optimistic. Like Brazilians, Filipinos enjoy life and have a pleasure for life,” he added.
"I couldn't fail to come here today to the Philippines. I was always, always inspired by her courage in the 1980s, in shouldering the legacy of [her husband] Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. And then she led the presidency with humility, compassion, with dignity," Horta said in an interview aired on ANC.
He briefly visited Aquino's remains at the Manila Cathedral on Wednesday morning, then left the church early for the Manila Memorial Park, where Aquino's body is set to be buried.
Horta was the only head of state to attend Aquino's funeral. He arrived in the Philippines on Wednesday morning and is set to leave the country the next day.
Asked what he thought of Mrs. Aquino, Horta likened the former president to Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement, and Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist and the first President of South Africa to be elected in a fully democratic election.
"For me, there is no greater quality in a leader than being compassionate and being humble. Because only through compassion and humility, one can bridge the divide, resolve differences, build bridges of dialogue between communites, between warring factions. So I put Cory Aquino in the same status as some of the greatest people of the 20th Century," he said.
Horta was also impressed by the sheer number of people who braved the heat and pouring rain to attend Aquino's wake and the funeral procession that followed. According to police estimates, as of 3:30 p.m., there were around 256,000 people attending the funeral procession.
He also said that Aquino's death should serve as a reminder for all Filipinos to abandon violence and unite in peace.
"I believe that a Filipino will remember the outpouring of love for Cory Aquino today and remember her legacy, her sacrifice, [and the] sacrifice of her husband. Maybe, through this, Filipinos must make renewed efforts to resolving the conflict in Mindanao and elsewehere," he said.
Horta said he could not stay long at the Church or join in the almost 6-hour funeral procession because of wounds he sustained in an assassination attempt against him in February 2008.
'She was a greater leader'
Horta said the last time he met with Mrs. Aquino was in August 2008, when he paid a state visit to the Philippines. Knowing that Aquino was already diagnosed with colon cancer at the time, Horta said he wanted to visit Aquino at her home instead of having her come to visit his hotel.
"I wanted to visit her at her home. I feel that it was appropriate that she should come to my hotel because I am a smaller person and I view her as a matriarch, as a greater leader. But she's so humble and modest, she insisted that she come to my hotel. The last time we talked, we reminisced about the Philippine revolution, about Ninoy Aquino's legacy," he said.
During their meeting, he said Aquino looked frail, but was able to walk. She was also "lucid and attentive" and showed concern for Horta's health.
"This showed her very loving, caring personality. She cared more about others than herself. And it shows when she declined my offer to come to her place. She insisted on coming to see me. I was humbled by that," he said.
Horta and Aquino shared similar experiences in their political careers.
While Aquino campaigned against the dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos and fought to restore democracy in the country, Horta actively fought for East Timor's independence from Indonesian occupation both as an exiled spokesman of the East Timorese resistance and as Prime Minister.
Both leaders also had to ease conflicts between warring factions during their terms as heads of government. Aquino's presidency witnessed 7 bloody coup attempts by restive military forces, while Horta survived an assassination attempt by East Timorese rebels a year after he became president in May 2007.
"God seemed to have wanted to test me, wanting to impose on me a heavy cross as a price to bring peace to my country. The moment I was shot and I was near death, all violence stopped in my country until today. All the rebels, one by one, surrendered peacefully. The gangs that were fighting each other stopped," Horta said.
"People can learn from extreme examples... I hope that these experience of the Philippines [of the] passing away of Cory Aquino - the many years of her struggles against so many attempts of coups, showing her courage and her dignity - that will leave Filipinos to make a greater effort...to unite," he added. -- by Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak