Hero's Burial for Marcos?

Twenty-five years after he died in exile in Hawaii, sentiment is growing in the Philippines to bury the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who looted his country of a suspected US$100 billion, in the country's Cemetery of Heroes.

That feeling culminated earlier this week in a resolution by 190 members of the Philippine House of Representatives asking President Benigno Aquino III to allow the burial in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, as the cemetery is known, in the historic Fort Bonifacio in Manila. More lawmakers in the 284-member chamber are expected to sign on as well.

It is a uniquely Filipino attitude that a man who is widely suspected of being behind the murder of the current president's father, stole US$100 billion and created a kleptocracy that has hobbled the country to this day should qualify for a hero's burial.

Marcos's body since it was returned to the Philippines in from Hawaii, where he died in 1989, has been on display in a mausoleum in Batac in the northern Philippines. His wife, Imelda, kept the cadaver in a refrigerated mausoleum on the island of Oahu until she was allowed to bring him back to his home province. His body has never been allowed south of his native Ilocos Norte province, with successive governments fearing that a road show bringing him south could start either an insurrection or riots by people who still are outraged by massive human rights abuses, assassinations of enemies and corruption that has continued to saddle the country in the wake of his ouster by the original People Power demonstrations of 1986.

However, in a country where hardly any high-level crook has ever been punished for anything, it seems difficult to justify keeping Marcos moldering away in his old home town. Hardly a month ago, Angelo Reyes, a former Philippine military chief who committed suicide after being accused of receiving huge payoffs was was buried in the very same heroes' cemetary. Reyes' death came amid a scandal that has implicated an amazing swath of the Philippines high command.

Then there is Imelda. Despite her arguable collusion in the demonstrable theft of billions of dollars, Marcos's wife is in Congress. His son, Ferdinand Jr., or Bongbong, is a member of the Philippine Senate and his daughter, Maria Imelda Josefa Romualdez Marcos, or Imee, is the governor of his old province. His old cronies have their wealth and power intact and the government has collected only a tiny fragment of the billions he stole.

Had the country been serious about punishing the former dictator, it would have instituted legal proceedings to extradite him from Hawaii when he was still alive. Instead, the government of Corazon Aquino cowered from settling matters with Marcos and a host of cronies when it had the momentum and the popularity to do so.

"Marcos is a waxy corpse and in this country no one ever gets to the bottom of any crime," said one jaded long-time observer of the Philippine scene. "I was an anti-Marcos activist at one time and I detest his legacy. But now? Put him to rest."

Nonetheless, the idea of giving Marcos a hero's burial is a bit too much for Edilberto C. de Jesus, formerly Secretary of Education and currently the President of the Asian Institute of Management. De Jesus, one of the Philippines' most distinguished figures, sought in an outraged op-ed article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer to set the record straight, writing that:

"I doubt the stars will ever align to offer an auspicious occasion for advocating the interment of Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. But the recent attempt to exhume and resuscitate the issue seems singularly inept."

Although the advocates of a hero's burial cite Marcos's World War II deeds, de Jesus wrote, his war record appears to have been entirely fabricated, and that if anything, the Ang Mga Maharlika, a guerrilla unit Marcos claimed he organized and led against Japanese forces between 1942 and 1944, actually was involved in nothing more heroic than guarding the regimental supply dump and performing warehousing details, activities "of limited military value."

De Jesus cited a US army report in 1950 that found that, if anything, Maharlika actually "had been committing ‘atrocities' against Filipino citizens rather than fighting the Japanese and had engaged in . . . ‘nefarious activity,' including selling contraband to the enemy."

"We justly take pride in the history of the guerrilla resistance against the Japanese occupation.

Honoring Marcos with a Libingan burial effectively validates the discredited Maharlika claims and devalues this history—on the basis of evidence already publicly denounced as fabricated," de Jesus wrote.

The idea may also be a bit too much for Benigno S. Aquino III, whose father, Benigno S. Aquino II, was murdered on the tarmac at Manila International Airport by Marcos allies on Aug. 21, 1983. It was that murder that eventually undid Marcos and that made the current president's mother, Corazon, a widow. She would ultimately become president in Marcos's place and the airport where he died would be named the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

So in the meantime, a shoeless Marcos, shrunken in his barong tagalog shirt and black slacks, lies at rest in his small, private mausoleum. As Asia Sentinel wrote in 2006, "Marcos's face and hands don't look very natural, which has prompted the rumor that the real corpse is under the crystal coffin, and what you see is a dummy. The family's line is that the corpse has to be waxed periodically for preservation."

Admission to the Marcos Mausoleum is free.