They got lucky.
On Tuesday morning of August 4, Pricella O. Gealon and Elizabeth S. Tundag were able to book reservations and fly to Manila on the same day.
By 8:30 in the evening, the pair was already bound for the Philippine capital, somewhat pleased with themselves after getting good prices for their tickets.
But they weren’t exactly in the mood to relish their good luck.
The pair – volunteers of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) in Cebu during the 1986 snap elections – looked forward to paying their last respects to the late president Corazon C. Aquino.
“She was my idol,” Tundag told GMANews.TV during the wee hours of Wednesday in Manila. “She set out to do what she promised to do when she became president.”
An hour after take-off, Gealon and Tundag were already at the Ninoy Aquino airport, waiting for a taxi to bring them to the Manila Cathedral.
After a short stop at a nearby apostolate office – where they dropped off their overnight bags — they were able to join thousands who lined up to get a glimpse of the late president during the last day of her wake.
But the flight, the traffic, and the long wait during their departure and arrival took their toll.
At about one in the morning, after enduring cold winds and intermittent rainshowers, the two women decided to leave the queue.
No one could exactly blame them.
They were wet, exhausted, and were nowhere near the cathedral entrance.
At that time, the queue snaked around the block where the church stood, extending anywhere between three to five kilometers from the entrance, depending on various estimates.
The line even became longer at two in the morning, reaching the back of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) building, which was still at a distance from the cathedral.
By this time, both Gealon and Tundag were already seeking refuge at the Palacio del Gobernador, a nearby building.
While sitting at the building’s lobby steps, they tried various strategies to stay up the whole night, if only to keep vigil during the last day of Tita Cory’s wake.
Besides watching the continuous stream of people who stayed in line with a mix of envy and amusement, the two women also listened to stories exchanged between the building’s security guard and various other visitors.
There was a teacher who complained about the snooty family ahead of her in line. “I even spoke to them in English,” she said.
Or the middle-aged woman who was torn between heading back home on her own since she lost her companions (and, for some reason, her cellphone signal).
For their part, Gealon and Tundag swapped stories during the time they accompanied Cory Aquino in her presidential campaign in Cebu more than 20 years ago.
“When I saw her for the first time, I immediately got the impression that she was very close to God,” she said.
And even though they failed to get their last look at Cory, they will never forget the day they decided to go on a sudden, unplanned trip to Manila one gloomy day in August.
“We’ve already seen her in person,” they said. “It’s enough that we came over to attend her burial and pray for her.”
(Written for the blog section of GMANews.TV)