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Macabre joke

/ 01:59 AM September 27, 2014

Inter the embalmed body of former president Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Sen. Francis Escudero suggested on, of all days, the 42nd anniversary of the imposition of martial law.

Sure. The 3,257 extrajudicial killings under the New Society exceeded even Chile’s 2,115 summary executions. But forget all that, Senator Chiz argued. There’s no debate that Marcos was a head of state and a soldier; these two facts justify burial at the Libingan. It’d “end all open wounds in our history, so the nation can move forward faster,” Chiz said, unblinking.

President Noynoy Aquino did not blink either. He nixed a hero’s burial for Marcos who died in exile after fleeing People Power crowds. The dictator’s embalmed corpse has lain aboveground for 25 years now, a la Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh.

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At Boston College early this week, Mr. Aquino addressed a standing-room audience at Robsham Theater to recall how he and his family found refuge from the dictatorship in their home at 175 Commonwealth Avenue in Newton. “Boston gave my family a sense of normalcy in what can only be described as very abnormal times back home… Every aspect of life was controlled there by the dictator…” he said.

Since 2010, Boston College has offered a scholarship for Asian-American students, Prof. Min Song said. But students pressed for a grant to recognize a leader’s achievements. A Boston College scholarship for black students is named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. And its Hispanic scholarship honors Archbishop Oscar Romero, who may be beatified by the Catholic Church this year.

Boston College decided to formally name the scholarship for Asian-American students in honor of Benigno and Corazon Aquino. “[It] tells us something about the struggle for justice,” Song said. “One might never see the fulfillment of one’s aspirations for justice, but one nevertheless survives and finds courage to attain it. And if one fails, someone else will pick up that struggle…. That the struggle for justice never ends.”

In his Inquirer column titled “That queasy feeling,” the late former justice Isagani Cruz wrote: “The Libingan ng mga Bayani is not another memorial park. It is a place where none but heroes lie.”

Nations inter their heroes in hallowed ground. These include Singapore’s Kranji War Memorial, Indonesia’s Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, and France’s Les Invalides. The family of disgraced US President Richard Nixon never badgered for a grave in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Joseph Estrada, then the mint-new president, agreed, with characteristic little thought, to a Libingan interment for Marcos. It triggered a firestorm that left Erap in a daze more searing than the till-dawn carousing with favor-seekers in Malacañang.

In the Libingan today are the remains of 32,268 victims of the Bataan Death March as well as of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Presidents Carlos Garcia and Diosdado Macapagal are buried there. So are National Artists and other dignitaries including Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee, and editor Teodoro Locsin Sr.

Marcos set aside a Libingan plot for himself in the 142-hectare cemetery, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Grave Service Unit website shows. But People Power chased him, family and cronies into luxurious Hawaiian exile.

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A resolution signed by 203 congressmen led by Chiz’s late father, Salvador Escudero, urged Mr. Aquino to allow Marcos’ burial in the Libingan. But some of the 9,541 rights abuse victims have received the first, and then the second, $1,000 reparation checks awarded by the US District Court of Hawaii, which found Marcos “liable for systematic torture, summary executions and disappearances.”

The Escudero proposal reignited the issue of which former senator Rene Saguisag had declared: His family would exhume the remains of his father-in-law, a military officer, if Marcos were interred in the Libingan.

Our family remembers a Cebuano fighter pilot in a Libingan grave: Lt. Salvador Manlunas, on whom President Manuel Quezon bestowed the McMiking Award. He was among the pilots welded into a fighter squadron by Capt. Jesus Villamor, after whom the air base that abuts the Ninoy Aquino International Airport is named.

In a letter to Estrada, Manlunas’ sister, Victoria Manlunas-Mansueto, wrote: “My younger brother and others fought, in obsolete P-26 planes, against modern Japanese Zeroes. He was one of the first casualties.

“Bading never had a Swiss bank account. Nor did he own vast lands. All he has today is a quiet tree-lined street in Villamor Airbase that bears his name. He has a simple Libingan grave, along with other veterans.

“Now, you’d bury next to Bading, as a hero, someone who the Guinness Book of Records credits for massive theft, human rights violations, [and] bogus war medals.”

That refers to Marcos’ phony medals exposed by the New York Times. “At no time did the Army recognize that any unit designating itself as Maharlika ever existed as a guerrilla force from 1942 to 1945,” the US Army concluded. “The immensity of Mr. Marcos’ claim that Maharlika served the entire Luzon was absurd.” It dismissed Marcos’ bid for compensation.

“The likelihood here is that the Marcos corpse may remain unburied,” foresees the Sun Star’s Bong Wenceslao. That’d serve the machinery propping up the politics of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for 2016.

“Whoever is president then would authorize, as Imee [Marcos] hopes, a horse-drawn caisson and graveyard volleys. Using a cadaver as a political chip would be a macabre joke.”

President Corazon Aquino never demanded a grave at the Libingan. She’s buried next to her husband, Benigno Aquino Jr., in a private cemetery. “Values that endure after the sun burns out” don’t require congressional imprimaturs. The Resurrection occurred in a borrowed tomb.

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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TAGS: Ferdinand Marcos, Juan L. Mercado, Libingan ng mga Bayani, opinion, Viewpoint
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