Late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos makes cameo in busy campaign season

By Blaine Harden
Thursday, April 22, 2010

BATAC, PHILIPPINES -- The waxy-looking corpse of Ferdinand Marcos, dead almost 21 years and chilling in a refrigerated glass coffin here in his home town, has joined the Philippine political circus.

In the chaotic run-up to national elections May 10, about 85,000 candidates are clamoring after 17,000 positions, from town council member to president. Political violence has claimed at least 80 lives, including 57 in one incident. And families that have long called the shots in the Philippines are angling for advantage.

That's why the body of the former president is putting in a publicity-grabbing campaign cameo, with the careful contrivance of his widow, Imelda. The former first lady -- who became infamous for her many fancy shoes and whose first name became a synonym for greed -- is 80 and is once again running for political office, along with her son, her daughter and a sizable gaggle of lesser Marcos kin.

"My friends were kidding me sometimes, saying, 'Mrs. Marcos, you have many beautiful projects, but the best yet is your husband,' " she said in an interview this week. "He is dead, but he looks like he is sleeping."

Elections in the Philippines are personality-driven, a kind of national soap opera in which distinctions between infamy and celebrity tend to blur over time. So there is a cold but compelling political logic behind the kiss Imelda gave to the chilled glass of her husband's coffin recently in front of news photographers.

It creates buzz and gets the Marcos name out there among the country's 50 million registered voters, many of whom are too young to remember the years of martial law, corruption and repression that came with the celebrity couple.

Imelda has a post-election agenda for the chilled remains of Ferdinand, who fled the country in 1986 aboard a U.S. plane after a "people power" revolt. She wants him buried in a state cemetery for heroes in Manila, the capital.

He died in 1989 in exile in Hawaii, where he was first put in a refrigerated crypt. Four years later, his corpse was allowed back into the Philippines. The body now lies in a mausoleum beside the Marcos family home, serenaded by loud and continuous choral music.

"I see him as often as I can," Imelda said. "He is right there next door."

Corazon Aquino, who replaced Ferdinand Marcos as president and died last year, was the first to say no to a state burial for him. She rose to power after her husband, opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., was assassinated by military personnel at the Manila airport in 1983; Aquino maintained that Ferdinand Marcos had ordered the killing. Since then, a state funeral has been a political non-starter.

Until the campaign season of 2010.

A billionaire presidential candidate running second in the polls says he is open to the idea.


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