State funeral set for Ople

- Marichu A. Villanueva -
Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople will be given full state funeral honors on Saturday in his hometown of Hagonoy, Bulacan, President Arroyo said yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo originally planned to accord a state burial for Ople at the Libingan ng mga Bayani at Fort Bonifacio in Makati City but the plan was changed in accordance with the wishes of the late statesman that his remains be buried with his parents in Hagonoy.

Ople will be the second foreign affairs secretary to be accorded a state funeral after the late statesman Carlos P. Romulo in 1985.

The President issued an official proclamation calling for a national mourning and flying all flags in government buildings at half-mast in memory of Ople.

"The nation mourns the death of a great Filipino," Mrs. Arroyo said. "The nation and our millions of Filipino workers, including those overseas, also recall with deep gratitude and admiration the decades that Ka Blas devoted to serving the interests of the working man and woman, as well as his pioneering efforts in the promotion of overseas employment."

Deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said Mrs. Arroyo had ordered Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo to make arrangements with the Ople family for the state funeral.

"And she (Mrs. Arroyo) has instructed that full state honors be accorded to the late Secretary (Ople)," Saludo said.

Yesterday, Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo issued Proclamation No. 514 declaring a "national state of mourning" for Ople.

It also calls for the flying of the flag at half-mast in all government offices for six days prior to the state funeral of Ople on Saturday.

Ople’s flag-draped casket will be open to the public at the Christ the King Church in Green Meadows in Pasig City. His remains will be transferred Wednesday to the Senate for necrological services.

Ople was once Senate president and member of the opposition Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) when he was recruited by the President to join her Cabinet in July last year.

His remains will be taken to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for an overnight vigil while separate necrological rites will be held at the National Press Club (NPC).

Ople’s remains will then be taken Friday to his hometown of Hagonoy for the last day of the wake before the state funeral.

Saludo, however, failed to explain the length of the national mourning for Ople but Bulakeños led by Gov. Josie de la Cruz took the initiative of raising the country’s colors to half-mast in all government offices and public buildings in the province.

Ople, 76, fell ill on a flight from Tokyo to Bangkok en route to Bahrain and his plane was diverted to Taiwan, where he died after undergoing emergency treatment.

The DFA said the funeral will be held Saturday noon with several regional dignitaries in attendance, including foreign ministers Nur Hassan Wirayuda of Indonesia and Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai of Thailand.

The DFA said it had received numerous condolence messages from all over the world.

Sathirathai said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had lost a "good thinker and good writer."

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said "(Ople’s) death not only means you have lost a respected politician, but that we have lost an old friend."

Ambassador to the US Alberto del Rosario said "the entire Filipino nation is in deep mourning with the passing of one of the greatest Filipinos who had assayed a vital role in Philippine contemporary history."

The US Embassy in Manila issued a statement expressing its sympathies over Ople’s death.

"We are deeply saddened by the news of the death of Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople. We extend our deepest condolences to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her government and to the Filipino people in the immeasurable loss to the nation of a great patriot and statesman," the statement read.
‘A Great Loss’
Ople’s former colleagues at the Senate led by opposition Senators Edgardo Angara and Tessie Aquino-Oreta expressed their sympathies, describing Ople as a great statesman.

Oreta said Ople was a "great statesman with rarity in the realm of Philippine politics, journalism and public administration."

Angara said Ople was an esteemed colleague in the opposition aside from being a dear friend.

"Ka Blas exemplified the ideal public servant, intellectual yet pragmatic, far-seeing and yet aware of immediate concerns. He was extremely knowledgeable of world affairs but remained at home with domestic issues," he said.

The NPC led by Tony Antonio issued a statement saying Ople’s death is a great loss not only to the country and the government but also to the journalism profession.

Antonio described Ople as "the columnist of columnists, writing columns with elegant prose in various publications."

Ople wrote fluently in English and Filipino. He was a columnist of Manila Bulletin, Panorama magazine and Philippine Graphic.

The Publishers Association of the Philippines led by Juan Dayang said Ople has always been a consistent supporter and inspiration of community journalism and vanguard of press freedom.

Former education secretary and presidential aspirant Raul Roco said, "Ka Blas was a man of wisdom and culture and a great writer — who has served his country well for more than 40 years in both the executive and legislative branches of government."

Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) spokesman Heherson Alvarez said Ople will be a big loss to the administration party, to which he was recently sworn in. Alvarez described Ople as "a leader for all seasons."

Manila Mayor Lito Atienza also joined the nation in mourning Ople’s passing.

Atienza bade goodbye to Ople and said the late statesman will serve as "an inspiration to all."

Atienza also ordered the country’s colors in all city government offices to be flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning.

Presidential aspirant and actor Fernando Poe Jr. and his wife actress Susan Roces also joined the nation in sympathy for the death of Ople.

"Di man kami nagkaroon ng pagkakataon maging malapit, hinangaan kong tunay si Secretary Ople bilang lingkod bayan," Poe said in a statement.

"He was a respected voice for journalism, labor rights and diplomacy in the world. His family’s loss is as much our own. May his fine example of public service continue to inspire generations of Filipinos," Poe said.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos said Ople represented the best in the Philippine tradition of public service.

"He served my father (the late President Ferdinand Marcos) and every administration. He will be missed," she said.

Even with the demise of Ople, Saludo said Mrs. Arroyo’s state visit to Bahrain which was chiefly organized by the late DFA secretary went through as planned.

"We are not aware of any setbacks that have resulted (due) to (the) untimely demise of Secretary Ople and we remember him in our prayers and we express our condolences to his family," Saludo said.

Ople’s daughter and chief of staff at the DFA, Ma. Susan Ople, said in a radio interview yesterday that her father was earlier advised by doctors to take a break and if possible, forgo his trip to Tokyo and Bahrain.

The younger Ople noted that her father was exhausted from the trip and the cold weather in Japan did not help his condition any.

Ople’s death came just a month before Manila is scheduled to host the ministerial session of the Forum for East Asia and Latin America Cooperation.

At least 32 foreign ministers are expected to attend the forum which Ople described as the "major diplomatic event that will bring honor to the Philippines." - With Marvin Sy, Jose Rodel Clapano, James Mananghaya, AFP











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