Former first lady Imelda Marcos kisses the glass coffin of her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, who remains unburied since his death in 1989, during her birthday celebrations in July 2014. (Erik De Castro/ Reuters)

 

For more than two decades, the corpse of Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines’ former strongman and kleptocrat, has lain in a stone mausoleum in his northern home town, displayed to the public in a glass coffin that resembles a large aquarium. His widow, Imelda Marcos, and other family members vowed to keep him there until the government acceded to their demands for a burial in Manila’s National Heroes’ Cemetery with full military honors.

Marcos’s successor, Corazon Aquino, leader of the “People Power” revolt that overthrew him in 1986, flatly rejected those demands. The next president, Fidel Ramos, allowed the repatriation of Marcos’s body in 1993. (It was flown from a refrigerated crypt in Hawaii, where he died in exile in 1989, to the mausoleum in the northern Philippine town of Batac.) But Ramos refused to allow a burial in the Heroes’ Cemetery. Neither did three more presidents, including Benigno Aquino III, who left office in June. He is the son of Corazon Aquino and the late Benigno Aquino Jr., an opposition leader assassinated by Marcos henchmen in 1983.

Now the country’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte, wants to meet the family’s demands, keeping a campaign promise he made earlier this year while stumping in Marcos’s home province of Ilocos Norte. As soon as next month, the waxy remains could go from what might be called dictator under glass to dictator underground, ending the macabre spectacle in Batac.

But Duterte’s decision to allow the burial on the rationale that Marcos was a “soldier” during World War II and a former president, though not necessarily a “hero,” has sparked protests and an appeal to the Philippine Supreme Court from human rights victims of Marcos’s 20-year rule.


People gather in heavy rain to protest President Rodrigo Duterte's plans to move Ferdinand Marcos's remains. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images)

The move by Duterte, a former Marcos foe who reached out to the family during his presidential run, reflects the country's often shifting political alliances, and the reaction against it underscores the trauma that racked Philippine society during the Marcos era and that has continued to divide Filipinos since his ouster.

About 1,500 demonstrators gathered Sunday in Manila under heavy rain to protest the planned burial after Duterte said publicly that he would keep his campaign promise. “I will allow Marcos to be buried at the [National Heroes’ Cemetery],” Duterte said. “He was a soldier. He was there to fight for his country.”

The protesters carried signs denouncing Marcos as a dictator and held up a large banner declaring, “Marcos not a hero.” Other protests were held in the cities of Davao, Cebu and Baguio.

On Monday, victims of the Marcos regime formally asked the Supreme Court to bar the burial in the Heroes’ Cemetery of a man they called a “tyrant” and “plunderer par excellence," the Associated Press reported. Such an honor would not only flout constitutional principles, they said, but would violate rules on who can be interred in the military-run cemetery.

Leaders of the world’s longest-running communist insurgency weighed in, assailing Duterte’s “bullheadedness” and saying the burial would erase Marcos’s record of despotism and corruption and “complete the Marcoses’ political restoration.”


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during his first State of the Nation Address on July 25. (Erik De Castr/Reuters)

Nearly 30,000 Filipinos have signed a petition urging Duterte to reconsider allowing Marcos’s burial in the cemetery, which the document said would be “an affront to the thousands of lives tortured and murdered during his reign.” The petition said that under martial law, which Marcos imposed from 1972 to 1981 in order to remain in power beyond his two-term presidential limit, “70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured, and 3,240 were killed.”

In addition, the petition noted, most of Marcos’s World War II medals turned out to be fake. In fact, according to U.S. documents unearthed decades after the war, Marcos actually worked on behalf of Philippine politicians who collaborated with Japanese forces occupying the Philippines, and his father was hanged as a collaborator during the war by Philippine guerrillas.

None of that history is mentioned in Batac, where a “Marcos museum” extolling the former president stands near the elaborate mausoleum, which features black marble floors, a sound system, a ceiling painted like the sky and an “eternal flame” meant to recall the grave site of John F. Kennedy.

Originally intended to be tourist attractions in the garlic- and tobacco-farming area, the mausoleum and museum have fallen somewhat short of triggering an influx of visitors. Most of the foreigners who visit the province are gamblers and golfers from Taiwan — drawn by a major casino and a golf course where Marcos used to play.