Thu, Dec 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Thousands mourn death of Poe

TIGHT SECURITY Riot police were deployed amid fears of a conspiracy to use the massive funeral march to incite people against the Philippine government

AFP , MANILA

Surrounded by relatives and friends Susan Roces, center, the widow of the late Philippine movie icon Fernando Poe places flowers on the tomb of her husband yesterday. The widow turned down opposition offers of replacing her husband whom they believed was cheated in the May elections after Poe lost to President Gloria Arroyo by one million votes.

PHOTO: AFP

Hundreds of thousands of people yesterday attended the funeral of the Philippines' most famous movie star, defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe, held under tight security amid fears of unrest.

Thousands of mourners accompanied a coffin carrying the 65-year-old, worshipped as the champion of the underdog, as it was pulled through the streets of the capital Manila on a carriage drawn by two white horses.

Hundreds of riot police were deployed at the nearby presidential palace because of concern that anger about Poe's defeat in the May 10 presidential elections could erupt into violence, with the opposition claiming he had been robbed of victory.

But procession was largely peaceful, with most fans of the star chanting his initials FPJ and waving presidential campaign posters used by the actor, who died on Dec. 14 after suffering a stroke.

Some signs read "the fight goes on," alluding to the actor's court appeal of President Gloria Arroyo's win, and leftist groups who had previously been distant to Poe were in attendance with a banner saying: "Overthrow Gloria."

Another banner used another of the tough-guy actor's nicknames, saying: "Da King. What will happen to the country now?"

The presidential palace, close to the route of the procession, was barricaded with huge shipping containers as Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales warned that some parties could use the funeral to stir up trouble.

There was a "credible intelligence report that there is an evolving conspiracy on the part of some groups to use the funeral march and burial to incite the people to turn against their government," Gonzales said in a televised message.

He said the government respected the wish of the public to attend the funeral, but "we shall not allow riots or seditious acts to rule the streets."

But the funeral and burial at a public cemetery passed off without any serious incident, national police chief Director General Edgardo Aglipay said.

At the funeral mass, Poe's widow, former movie heartthrob Susan Roces, was joined by corruption-accused ex-president Joseph Estrada, who had encouraged his actor friend to stand in the presidential vote.

Estrada, who was allowed out of detention to attend the funeral mass, used a pre-dawn eulogy to repeat claims that Poe had been cheated of victory.

He bitterly recalled his own ouster in a popular uprising in 2001 that installed his then-vice-president Arroyo in his place and came after a massive corruption scandal.

"I was robbed of my post as president. Ronnie [Poe's nickname] was robbed of his victory as president," an emotional Estrada said.

It was widely believed that if he had won, Poe would have pardoned Estrada, who faces life in jail or even the death penalty if convicted on charges of plundering the country of US$80 million.

In a country in love with celebrity, Poe was the biggest movie star around, a self-made millionaire who was loved by the man-in-the-street for his depiction of heroes who overcame huge odds to protect the oppressed.

But he ran an indifferent election campaign focused on the slogan "Breakfast, lunch and dinner," a reference to the poverty in the Philippines where half of the population lives on under US$2 a day.

He started with a huge opinion poll lead but arrived at election day trailing Arroyo.

Poe never conceded defeat and had filed a protest about the election result with the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule.

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