The great hoax on the Marcos burial
THE NARRATIVE has always been that the body in the glass coffin in Batac, Ilocos Norte, lying there since 1993, is yet to be buried because the state refuses burial. As a result, the body lies embalmed until God knows when. There is an irreverent twist to it, sacrilegious even, that appeals to most cultural norms barring the desecration of the dead. In short, the message is: The state is cruel to disallow proper burial.
I have had two opportunities to visit the crypt of Ferdinand Marcos. The tourist gazer is usually led to an inner chamber inside the mausoleum just beside the family’s “ancestral house.” I enclose that in quotation marks because the house is anything but old; it is a new building designed to have fake, exposed “paletadas” so as to conjure antiquity; this is also part of the narrative. This first visit had an Imeldific air to it—the sound of choral cantatas filled the chamber.
The second visit some years later was unexpectedly and surprisingly revealing. A close Marcos family friend escorted us to the crypt. There in the stillness of the chamber (no choral cantata this time), looking down on the finely chiseled body of the deposed president—you could clearly see the veins on his hands, or so I thought—the family friend whispered: This body is just a wax replica, the real corpse had already been buried underneath. End of the narrative.
It has become customary for most of those who have personally seen the Marcos crypt to say that “the body lies preserved in a refrigerated glass crypt” or “his body is on display in a glass case” because it is yet to be “interred in a manner befitting a former president.”
It is time we disabused ourselves of that colossal lie. Marcos has already been buried and that is the truth. There is no more need of a burial. This issue comes on the heels of the last presidential debate held the previous month in Cebu. A novel feature of that debate was the “taas kamay” portion. The four candidates were asked if they were in favor of a Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Jejomar Binay and Rodrigo Duterte raised their hands.
Transactional politicians are never far from a quid pro quo arrangement. Duterte makes no secret of his admiration for Ferdinand Marcos. Having come myself from that intimation of the Marcos family friend, Binay and Duterte raising their hands was a comical sight. They looked like poor ignoramuses.
The Libingan ng mga Bayani is the national pantheon provided by Republic Act No. 289 for departed former presidents and commanders in chief, secretaries of national defense, AFP chiefs of staff and general flag officers, active and retired military personnel of the AFP, veterans of the Philippine revolution of 1896, World War I, World War II and recognized guerrillas, government dignitaries, statesmen and national artists. The entitlement can also be extended to former first ladies.
Section 1 of that law avers the creation of the national pantheon: “to perpetuate the memory of all Presidents of the Philippines, national heroes and patriots for the inspiration and emulation of this generation and of generations still unborn.” A despot deposed by a popular uprising does not qualify. Even in the absence of popular disapprobation or a chorus of consternation in this day and age of historical dementia, that fact of history alone disqualifies him from being an inspiration worthy of emulation.
Marcos’ martial law statistics are chilling even when compared to the record of dictatorships elsewhere in the world. Its tally of 3,257 extrajudicial killings exceeds the 2,115 extrajudicial killings in Chile under Gen. Augusto Pinochet, or the 266 extrajudicial killings during the regime of the Brazilian junta. Some 2,520 or 77 percent of those killed were tortured, mutilated and dumped on a roadside for public display. A huge number, 70,000, were incarcerated, and those tortured numbered 35,000.
Alfred McCoy says that under Marcos, “Military murder was the apex of a pyramid of terror. Instead of an invisible machine like the Argentine military that crushed all resistance, the Marcos regime intimidated by random display of its torture victims, becoming thereby a theater state of terror. Seeing these mutilated remains, passers-by could read in a glance a complete transcript of what had transpired in Marcos’ safe houses, spreading a sense of fear.”
The 9,539 human rights victims who filed a class suit against Marcos already won $2 billion in damages in a Honolulu court, later affirmed in 2011 by a ruling of a US circuit court in Hawaii. It is not about uniting a nation. It is, and continues to be, accountability for the errors committed in the pursuit of public trust.
At the Libingan’s entrance, one finds the poignant words, “I do not know the dignity of his birth, but I do know the glory of his death,” a quote from Douglas MacArthur taken from a speech delivered during his 1961 sentimental journey to the Philippines. A Libingan burial for the deposed dictator is an insult to the thousands of martial law victims who are the ones who deserve a Libingan burial.
We must also take note that of all the dead Philippine presidents, only Carlos P. Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal and Elpidio Quirino are buried at the Libingan. The graves of Sergio Osmeña, Manuel A. Roxas and Ramon Magsaysay are till this day at the Cementerio del Norte, and Jose P. Laurel’s in Tanauan, Batangas.
While the grim reminder of the Marcos terror must remain, and while we know all these protocols about who gets to be buried at the Libingan, the script must be changed for the sake of truth: Marcos has already been buried in Batac. Let him rest in peace.
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