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Filipinos want Ferdinand Marcos's body buried in heroes' cemetery

The National Sholto Byrnes

February carried a special significance for Filipinos this year. It was the 25th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986, during which peaceful protests in Manila's Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue brought an end to the 21-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos.

Only hours after Marcos was reinvested as president following another rigged vote, the ailing dictator and his notoriously extravagant wife, Imelda, fled the Malacanang Palace for exile in Hawaii. Crowds stormed the residence and made off with personal belongings of the couple, who were accused of looting $10 billion from a country they left bankrupt and divided.

How fitting that the president overseeing the silver jubilee celebrations - which included pop concerts, book launches and the dedication of a museum at Camp Aguinaldo, where the tiny band of armed forces whose rebellion against Marcos was crucial to the uprising's success made their stand - should be Benigno Aquino III. For "Noynoy", as he is popularly known, is the true heir to that revolutionary uprising. It was the assassination of his father, opposition leader Ninoy Aquino, in 1983 that set in motion the events that led to Marcos's ousting, while his mother, Corazon, was the self-declared "plain housewife" who became the revolution's figurehead and the keeper of its flame. Her death in 2009 was marked by 10 days of mourning across the Philippines.

Just days before the anniversary, however, there was a call for remembrance of a very different kind. On February 16, Marcos's son Ferdinand Jr, or "Bongbong", told reporters that his father ought to be honoured with a burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani, the country's official heroes' cemetery. His father's embalmed body should be moved from the refrigerated crypt in Batac, Ilocos Norte, where it has been on display in a glass case since 1993, after the Marcoses were allowed to return, and be interred in the manner befitting a former president and decorated soldier. "It is his right," said Marcos Jr. "The lessons that needed to be learned have been learned. It is time to close this chapter."

Far from being drowned by a chorus of consternation, in March Marcos Jr's call was followed by a resolution in Congress backing the move. "Ferdinand Marcos gave invaluable service to his country as soldier, writer, statesman, president and commander-in-chief," it read. He "remained a Filipino patriot to the end of his life and in death deserves to be honoured as such". So far 219 representatives - more than 80 per cent of the chamber - have signed. Human-rights groups and church representatives have expressed outrage; it was only this year that victims and families affected by the torture, summary executions and disappearances for which a Honolulu Federal Court found the Marcos estate liable in 1995 began to receive payments. (The class action awarded 9,539 plaintiffs a total of $2 billion in damages.)

President Aquino has "inhibited" himself from the decision and asked Jejomar Binay, his vice president, to make a recommendation instead. That may be understandable, given that he still believes Ferdinand Marcos was responsible for his father's shooting. But many view it as a convenient excuse all-too-typical of a vacillating president whose pledges of reform have yet to yield much in the way of substance. Both sides insist the issue is clear-cut: either that Marcos more than fulfils the conditions for burial in the hallowed cemetery, or that even to contemplate bestowing the honour is an insult to those who fought for the restoration of democracy. As the conclusion will upset significant numbers, far better to let the vice president take the fall.

Handed the poisoned chalice, Binay has attempted to share the responsibility by asking political parties, NGOs and the public to let him know their thoughts, prompting thousands of texts and e-mails. The vice president promised an announcement in the first week of June, saying: "We will act based on the result of public opinion." If so, the hero's burial could well go through - two recent opinion polls showed a majority in favour. Meanwhile, Marcos Jr is in the country's Senate, his mother Imelda a congresswoman - and as unrepentant as ever - while his sister Imee was elected governor of the family home province of Ilocos Norte last year. A mere quarter of a century after he was deposed, a man who regularly used to make lists of the world's worst dictators is well on his way to rehabilitation. Have Filipinos forgiven? Have they forgotten? Or could it be that the EDSA Revolution didn't really change anything at all? Next page


Twenty-five years after being deposed, the reputation of the late Ferdinand Marcos is on its way to rehabilitation. Can the Philippines forget its past so easily?

Filipinos want Ferdinand Marcos's body buried in heroes' cemetery

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