A Hero’s Burial for Long-Dead President Marcos? It’s Being Considered

BATAC, Philippines — More than two decades after former President Ferdinand E. Marcos died in disgrace in Hawaii, the Philippine government says it is formally considering his family’s longstanding demand for a burial with honors in a cemetery reserved for presidents and other prominent figures.

His widow, Imelda, has refused to bury him elsewhere, and his body is now preserved in a back-lit transparent box in a hushed mausoleum open to the public here in his hometown in the northern Philippines.

The divisive request for a hero’s burial was renewed last month by Mr. Marcos’s son, Ferdinand Jr., and instead of dismissing it as his predecessors had, President Benigno S. Aquino III passed it on to his vice president, Jejomar Binay, who says he plans to hold public consultations on the issue.

Like many Filipinos, Mr. Aquino believes Mr. Marcos had his father, a political rival, assassinated in 1983, and he said he was too close to the issue.

“I’ve talked to the vice president, and I asked him if he could be the one to decide on the case,” he said recently. “As they say, whatever decision I make, they would readily conclude that I am biased.”

Mr. Marcos fled the country in 1986 in the face of a “people power” uprising that installed Mr. Aquino’s mother, Corazon, as president. He died in 1989 at the age of 72, still claiming to be the rightful president, still trying to return. In 1993, the government allowed his widow to bring his body home but refused her demand for a hero’s burial.

The body, looking remarkably young, lies on a white satin sheet, medals pinned smartly to the chest, toes pointing upward in their black shoes.

But the passing years seem to be taking a toll. Tiny black streaks of what seems to be mold creep up the edges of the satin sheet, and a sound system meant to pipe in soft music is broken.

A small adjoining museum appears neglected, with its roof leaking, portraits fading or defaced and framed medals hanging askew in broken frames.

No one seems to have swept or dusted the museum, let alone refurbished it, despite the periodic visits of his widow and family members to pray. They kneel in the dim light even as tourists circulate around them, according to an attendant, Cesar Ocampo.

At one point some years ago, Mr. Ocampo said, electricity to the mausoleum was almost cut off because of unpaid bills.

“I think it’s not the body anymore, just wax,” said Vicente Acoba Jr., a lighthouse keeper who has visited several times over the years, expressing a widespread suspicion. “It’s a very long time now. I don’t think they can preserve it that long.”

Last month, as the nation was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “people power” uprising that drove his father from power, the younger Mr. Marcos declared that his father was at least as worthy as many others who are buried in the cemetery, known in Tagalog as Libingan ng mga Bayani.

“We’ve always said that it’s his right as a former president, as a former soldier, as a be-medaled soldier, that he be buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani,” said Mr. Marcos, who is now a senator.

An immediate backlash revealed the level of anger that persists among many Filipinos over his father’s 20 years of repressive rule. Last week, more than 7,000 victims of human rights violations during his tenure began receiving payments drawn from the family’s vast but mostly hidden wealth.

“He’s not a hero to me,” said one of the victims, Sylvia de la Paz, a doctor whose husband was shot and killed after speaking out against abuses. “How can you give honor to people who killed thousands, incarcerated thousands, tortured thousands? If they bury him there, the families of the others will try to get their dead out.”

A visit to this town 280 miles north of Manila in Ilocos Norte Province is a reminder of the power of family ties in a country still controlled by oligarchies and animated by personal loyalties.

The younger Mr. Aquino and the younger Mr. Marcos both bear their fathers’ names and inherit many of their political supporters. Before he became a senator, in an election last May, Mr. Marcos served as governor of Ilocos Norte. His sister Imee was elected to succeed him. His mother was elected to represent the province in Congress.

One visitor to the mausoleum on a recent day, Adriano Beltran Quevedo, 83, said he was here because of what he called a close family connection to Mr. Marcos. “His mother was a third cousin of my grandfather,” he said.

Among others here that day was Reynaldo Laureaga, 49, who said he had driven more than four hours in a posse from the Motorcycle Federation of the Philippines to view the body.

“For me, he was a nice man,” said Mr. Laureaga. “He served the republic as a soldier and a president. He was a hero. He needs to be laid to rest.”

Inside the black-painted crypt with its black marble floor, Cesar Agustin, 37, his wife and 7-year-old son tiptoed close to stare through the glass at the body.

Whispering as he stood beside the bier, he said: “A lot of people say he was a dictator. But for me, it’s O.K. if he was a dictator if he did a lot for the country.”

In what Mr. Ocampo, the attendant, said was a common opinion among Marcos supporters here, Mr. Agustin said he opposed the burial precisely because he admired the former president.

“He should stay here where people can see him,” he said. “If they bury him, he will decompose and be gone.” - From The New York Times by Seth Mydans

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