Former Philippine President Remains Unburied after 19 years

A president that has turned dictator and ruled his country for a good 20 years remains unburied even after 19 years. As his family return to power and lobby for his burial in the country’s heroes’ cemetery, the people in many forms expressly oppose the idea.

Philippines, August 22, 2005 - Nineteen years after his death, Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, a former president of the Philippines remains unburied. Dying of heart ailment in Honolulu at 72, Marcos now chalks unburied time almost equal the 20-year period he had ruled the Philippine Republic, including the martial law years.

Marcos was the longest standing president of the Philippines who was overthrown through people’s movement. He was the only one re-elected for a second 4-year term, but just before his term expired, he declared martial law in 1972 which lasted until he was booted out of power in 1986.

But now and then, debates regarding his burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (national heroes’ cemetery) would re-opened. Just recently, the opposition party claims the present administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has offered to bury the former strongman in an effort “to reconcile.”

Arroyo had denied that such a plan was discussed when she recently met with former First Lady Imelda Marcos, wife of Ferdinand. But Arroyo’s camp says they will not oppose the transfer plan to the national heroes' cemetery. Marcos' remains are in a refrigerated crypt beside his ancestral home in Batac town in Ilocos Norte, north of the country. He was a former president and not all that he did was bad, Arroyo’s camp said.

To most Filipinos however, Marcos was responsible for the imprisonment, torture and murder of thousands of Filipinos fighting for their sacred right to liberty. People detained even without charges immediately after martial law was declared on September 21, 1972 now question why he should be given a hero’s burial.

Saying there can never be peace without truth and justice, the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), are vehemently opposed to the move to bury the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan.

A manifesto signed by their executive council declares - “We, the families of countless desaparecidos (disappeared ones) in the country cannot simply allow that Marcos who had caused the suffering and even possible deaths of our missing loved ones in the struggle for freedom, justice and democracy, would be hailed a hero. His burial at the Libingan, even without state honors, would be a great disservice to, worse still, shame on the Filipino people especially to those who valiantly struggled and lost their lives during the dark reign of the dictatorship.”

The group believes that if the burial at the Libingan pushes through, the only thing that will be remembered of him is that he is a hero, and that they cannot ever allow themselves to lose their dignity as a people in the face of the international community. Other groups, mostly of former political detainees and their families, have expressed also their opposition to the idea.

Marcos was a soldier in the World War II against the Japanese but some quarters don’t believe this makes him qualified to be buried in the country’s heroes’ cemetery. For having been president of the Land he may be qualified, but not deserving for having made people suffer the dark days of Martial Law, they said. Filipinos consider this place hallowed grounds.

Located at the heart of Metro Manila, the shrine through Proclamation No. 208 dated May 28, 1967 was established as a fitting tribute to the gallant men who brought honor to the country and who died for the sake of freedom and democracy. The area covers 1.42 hectares and is commemorated during Veteran’s Week in sunrise and sunset ceremonies.

The Libingan Ng Mga Bayani is under the administration and maintenance of the Grave Service Unit (GSU), a unit of the Philippine Army Support, Armed Forces of the Philippines. The mission of the GSU is to provide grave services to deceased military personnel who died in line of duty or were honorably discharged, Filipino veterans, former presidents, government dignitaries, statesmen and national artists.

The Philippine President now gets the flak for offering to have Marcos buried in the heroes’ cemetery supposedly towards reconciliation. The opposition party, however, looks at this as a ploy to get public debates to shift to another matter.

Arroyo is now facing impeachment for charges of having rigged the previous election. Her husband, congressman-son, and congressman brother-in-law are also facing charges of having received money from jueteng lords. Jueteng is a numbers game that is being blamed for much of the poverty of the Filipino masses.

“In other words, she's only concerned about her own survival. She's never concerned about the country, the nation, about the people. What she is really concerned about is herself, how she could survive this crisis,” Senator Panfilo Lacson, a staunch critic said.

The senator said Arroyo has succeeded in her apparent goal by putting before the public anew debates on the Marcos burial issue.

Recently, a third political force claiming to be neutral wants President Arroyo to make a “solomonic decision.” They wanted Marcos buried on September 11 at the heroes’ cemetery. The date is significant because it is Marcos’ birthday. This third political force is the Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan (KBL), the same party held by Marcos. The proposal is said to be supported by the Veterans Federation of the Philippines.

A bio done by David Greyfield for Amazon.com says in part –

“The assassination of [Marcos’] political foe Benigno Aquino Jr. was the deed that put in motion the ‘People Power movement’… espousing non violent peaceful protests. Marcos allowed an election after the killing with Benigno Aquinos' widow Corazon as his opponent. Marcos claimed victory in the obviously rigged election resulting in a popular uprising forcing him to leave the country. The results were reversed and Corazon Aquino became President….

“The strange odyssey of his body began upon his death. The government in the Philippines denied the return of the body so it was interred in a private air conditioned mausoleum at Byodo-In-Temple on the island of Oahu. The power company soon threatened to suspend power when payments fell in arrears by thousands of dollars but a benevolent admirer picked up the tab. Twelve years after his death, his remains were allowed back into the country during the administration of President Fidel Ramos, a distant Marcos relative.

An attempt to bury the remains at Libingan ng Mga Bayani, the national cemetery where the countries heroes are interred, was met with fierce opposition although a tomb had been prepared for him. Marcos' remains were kept at a mansion in Batac, Ilocos Norte Province, in an air conditioned room. They were later moved to the Marco's family mausoleum located in the village cemetery in Batac while former First Lady Imelda Marcos looks for a suitable burial place.”

Ferdinand Marcos' body now lies in a glass viewing case inside a refrigerated crypt. Unless he is allowed full military honors and buried in the heroes’ cemetery, his family refuses to bury him.