MARCOS AFTER HIS DEATH: HIS EMBALMED BODY AND IMELDA’S EFFORT TO GIVE HIM A HERO’S BURIAL

MARCOS'S DEATH

Marcos died in exile Hawaii in 1989, three years after he left the Philippines. When Marcos left the Philippines in 1986, there were only three kidney dialysis machine in the whole country. Two of them were his, and they were kept for his private use at Malacañang Palace. The third was at a private hospital. It was intended for the entire country.

After Marcos’s death, reporting from Hawaii, Jane Gross wrote in the New York Times, Ferdinand E. Marcos died in exile here today at St. Francis Medical Center after a long battle with heart, lung and kidney ailments. He was 72 years old. A hospital spokesman, Eugene Tiwanak, said Mr. Marcos died of cardiac arrest shortly after midnight. The former Philippine President had been hospitalized for nearly 10 months, often comatose. His wife, Imelda, was at his bedside. Mr. Marcos died without facing trial on United States criminal charges that he plundered the Philippine Treasury of more than $100 million in his two decades in power. In a statement issued in Manila, President Corazon C. Aquino, Mr. Marcos's successor, offered condolences to the Marcos family. [Source: Jane Gross, New York Times, September 29, 1989 <+>]

“Mrs. Aquino announced that she would not allow Mr. Marcos's body to be brought to the Philippines for burial, saying she was acting for ''the safety of those who would take the death of Mr. Marcos in widely and passionately conflicting ways.'' President Aquino said Mr. Marcos's death ''closed a chapter in the history of our nation, a chapter uniquely his own.'' In deference to the Marcos family, Mrs. Aquino said she would leave it ''to others, and ultimately to history,'' to assess Mr. Marcos's rule, which ''touched the life of every Filipino who was his contemporary.'' President Bush, commended Mr. Marcos for his exit from power in 1986 amid a popular uprising and pressure from the United States Government after a disputed presidential election. By leaving the Philippines at ''a critical juncture in his nation's history,'' the White House statement said, Mr. Marcos ''permitted the peaceful transition to popular, democratic rule.'' He is survived by his wife, of Honolulu; a brother, Dr. Pacifico Marcos, and a sister, Fortuna Barba, both of Manila; two daughters, Maria Imelda Manotoc, who has been living in Morocco, and Irene Araneta, who lives in Menlo Park, a suburb of San Francisco; an adopted daughter, Aimee Marcos, of Honolulu; a son, Ferdinand, Jr., and five grandchildren. <+>

Marcos’s Legacy

At the time of his death, Eric Pace wrote in the New York Times, “While Mr. Marcos remained of keen interest to investigators and prosecutors, as his years of exile went by, he became less of a political factor in the Philippines. The mass support Mr. Marcos had once enjoyed mostly faded away, and his remaining supporters had come to be seen as a minority in his homeland. Indeed, even though his political legacy continued to trouble the nation, Mr. Marcos came to be widely seen in the Philippines as largely irrelevant.” [Source: Eric Pace, New York Times, September 29, 1989]

After his death Marcos’s body was put in a refrigerated crypt in Hawaii. Four years later, it was allowed back into the Philippines. Today, Marcos’s corpse lies under a glass case in the Marcos Mausoleum in his home town of Batac in northern Luzon. Marcos still has not been buried partly because it has been decided not to give him a hero's burial that other president's have received. Until 1998, there was national holiday celebrating Marcos's ouster. Marcos cronies remain in powerful and influential positions, in some cases with his money. Imelda's stuff was a big tourist draw at Malacananag Palace. The stuff was removed in 1997.

Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post, “Imee Marcos works from an antique wood-paneled office in the family's colonial mansion in Batac. It was once the provincial office of her grandfather when he was a congressman; later it was her father's congressional office before he became president. A small Marcos museum and the family-run mausoleum where he has lain are just next door. "It's spooky," she admitted. Across Ilocos Norte, schools and streets bear the Marcos name. So do the state university and the premier private hospital, both in honor of the late president's father, Mariano Marcos, a congressman and governor. Ilocanos prefer to remember the paved roads, pride and government jobs he brought to their province, where his children retain his mantle. The president's son, Ferdinand Jr., returned to the Philippines to become congressman in 1992. Six years later, he was elected governor of Ilocos Norte. [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, February 25, 2006]

Marcos Under Glass in His Hometown of Batac

Marcos’s body lies in a mausoleum beside the Marcos family home, kept company by loud and continuous choral music and occasional groups of visitors. "I see him as often as I can," Imelda told the Washington Post. "He is right there next door."

Reporting from his hometown of Batac, Bruce Wallace wrote in Los Angeles Times, “The late president's body rests in the purgatory of a private mausoleum in Ilocos Norte, the rural northern province that was -- and remains -- the Marcos family's political power base. He lies under soft lighting, wearing some of his soldier's medals. A few mementoes are hidden away inside his glass casket: his favorite black plastic made-in-America comb, cotton pajamas with a motif of red hearts (an anniversary gift from his perhaps more-famous wife, Imelda, herself an international byword for conspicuous consumption), and a tin in which he once kept coins to parse out to his children. [Source: Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2005 <^>]

“The corpse is seen daily by a trickle of loyalists, schoolchildren and the curious, who come to peer at the local boy who became an accomplished lawyer and war hero before going to Manila and making it big in politics. "Yes sir, that's him," says Master Sgt. Catalino Bactot, who served in Marcos' private security detail for 17 years and now makes sure no one gets fingerprints on the glass covering his old boss. Bactot is asked about rumors that the figure on display is just a reproduction. He shakes his head vigorously. "It is coated with seven layers of wax," he explains. Real or not, the corpse with its combed-back hair and pancake complexion has lain here since 1993, when then-President Fidel V. Ramos stifled his qualms and, bending to indefatigable lobbying from Imelda, allowed her to bring her husband home from Hawaii. <^>

Batac, a “region of farmers, fishermen and soldiers is solid Marcos turf. There's even a Marcos cult that can point to biblical passages they say prove the ex-president was a messenger from God. A onetime presidential residence is open to the public, everything of value sold off by the Aquino government, its bookshelves empty but for a few political books written by Marcos ("Today's Revolution: Democracy"). An Imelda-funded museum will open here in September. The walls are already papered with floor-to-ceiling photographs of Marcos shaking hands with long-forgotten dignitaries.” <^>

In 2011, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “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.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 9, 2011]

Marcos Still Stirring Up Controversy Even After His Death

Ferdinand Marcos enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the Philippines as some pushed for giving him a hero's grave while others were shocked that anyone could even suggest such a thing. Bruce Wallace wrote in Los Angeles Times, “He doesn't look like he could cause much trouble anymore, flat on his back in an airtight glass box, toes up, eyes waxed shut. Dead. But years after dying in exile and infamy, deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos -- or at least his reputation -- is being resurrected in the Philippines. And it's causing a commotion. Filipinos are no longer sure how to remember the man they drove from power, turning him into an international byword for dictatorship and corruption. These days, watching their tired cast of politicians fiddle while poverty deepens and Asia's economy takes off without them, many exasperated Filipinos look at the Marcos era as happier times, the good old days before their hard-won democracy turned into what they now call "democrazy." [Source: Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2005 <^>]

“Was Marcos really a tyrant? they ask. Or just another Asian strongman imposing order on a country desperate for stability? A crook who stole from his own people and stuffed billions into Swiss bank accounts? Or a politician no different from the rest, in a country where everyone knows corruption is the oxygen of politics? They can't even agree on how to bury him. The ex-president has never had a funeral. Though he died in 1989, a standoff over where his final resting place should be divides Filipinos, exposing the cleft between those who feel a rosy nostalgia for the Marcos era, and those with unhealed wounds from his rule. <^>

“A nationwide poll in July 2005 rated Marcos the best of the last five Philippine presidents. He ranked not only far ahead of the sitting president Arroyo, but even topped Corazon Aquino, who led the revolution that toppled his dictatorship.” But these feelings are not shared by everyone. "No, no, too much killing, too much stealing, too many people disappeared," says Catholic Archbishop Oscar Cruz, who thinks Marcos doesn't belong in the Cemetery of Heroes. "That is not a hero." <^>

"Every time there is a political crisis in this country, people say maybe we should go back to dictatorship -- they are looking for quick fixes," says Monica Feria, 51, who was jailed twice under Marcos and now edits a lifestyle magazine in Manila. "People have forgotten what it was like to have no free press, to have people killed in detention. Torture was standard operating procedure. "It bothers me when people say nothing has changed."

Marcos Family Members and Cronies Carry the Marcos Torch

In 2005, Bruce Wallace wrote in Los Angeles Times, “Many old Marcos associates are back in positions of influence in politics and business. Among the prominent Arroyo critics accusing her of corruption and electoral fraud are Marcos' son, Ferdinand "Bong Bong" Marcos Jr., 47, the second-term governor of Ilocos Norte, and daughter, Imee Marcos, 49, an articulate congresswoman who has become a champion of the arts and is enough of a celebrity to appear on the cover of Philippine magazines. [Source: Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2005 <^>]

In 2011, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, A visit to Batac “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. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 9, 2011]

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.”

In 2010, Imelda won a congressional seat being vacated by her son, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., who won a seat in the national Senate. Her daughter Imee ran for provincial governor against an incumbent who is Imelda's nephew. She won. When asked the meaning of so many Marcoses running for public office, Imelda told the Washington Post, "We can reinstate the vision of Ferdinand. This country can be great again." [Source: Blaine Harden, Washington Post, April 22, 2010]

In the 1990s a New York Times journalist said that he almost believed Ferdinand "Bong Bong" Marcos when he said there was no truth to the rumors that his family stashed away billions of dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts. "I'm not rich," he said. He insisted he was a "middle class guy, with middle-class values and a middle class income.” A few days later the journalist met up with Marcos again, this time at the ritzy Amanpulo resort on Pamalican island, where Marcos and his wife stayed in one $500-a-night cottage and his infant son and a nanny slept in another $500-an-night cottage.

Some Marcos family politician haven’t faired so well. In 2010, Blaine Harden wrote in the Washington Post, “Dressed in black, her toenails painted red with silver highlights, Imelda invited reporters to accompany her to see another corpse. She rode in a bulletproof sport-utility vehicle. The occasion was a wake for a Marcos family political coordinator who had been fatally shot . There have been four such political killings this year in Ilocos Norte province, a region that for decades has been a Marcos family stronghold. The slain man was Andres M. Peralta, 41. His family and friends were gathered around a glass-covered coffin in the living room of his home when Imelda arrived, with a dozen reporters. She comforted the widow, hugged the children, listened solemnly to songs of mourning and held an impromptu news conference -- in the living room, with the coffin as the backdrop. "Look at those children," she said tearfully, pointing to youngsters near the coffin. "This man was diligently sending these children to school." [Ibid]

In the mid and late 2000s, Wallace wrote: “the Marcos family and their allies found themselves part of an anti-Arroyo coalition that included the same church leaders and civil rights groups that helped bring down the elder Marcos. "Yes, the Marcoses are on the side of the progressives," says Satur Ocampo, a leading Arroyo critic, acknowledging the irony. "We find ourselves in a tactical alliance with the remnants of the junta ousted by popular power. But we are accommodating them, not forgetting what Marcos did. "Look, Imee is quite an adept politician," he continues. "We are not attributing the sins of the father to her. But people expect them to realize the degree of suffering under her father. And Imelda and the children have not owned up to any responsibility." <^>

Marcos as a Campaign Prop

Reporting from Batac, Blaine Harden wrote in the Washington Post, “The waxy-looking corpse of Ferdinand Marcos, dead for more than two decades and chilling in a refrigerated glass coffin here in his home town, has joined the Philippine political circus, 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. [Source: Blaine Harden, Washington Post, April 22, 2010]

"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’s Effort to Give Marcos a Hero’s Burial

Bruce Wallace wrote in Los Angeles Times, “Imelda “carries the torch for her dead husband. She wants the Marcos name cleared, rendered as innocent and appealing as the black-and-white framed photograph of a heroic, square-jawed young Ferdinand that sits on her living room table. Not unexpectedly, Imelda has one more wish. She will not allow Marcos to be buried in Ilocos Norte, no matter how hard her three children plead with her to give their father a Christian funeral and be done with it. She is holding out for what she sees as her husband's rightful entombment in Manila's Libingan Ng Mga Bayani, the Cemetery of Heroes, where presidents are traditionally buried and where Marcos picked himself a plot when he was president -- the best spot in the cemetery, just a few steps from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. [Source: Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2005]

“The hole has already been dug. All that is needed for a state burial is the permission of the sitting president. "Marcos deserves it," Imelda says with customary defiance. She cites his record: the roads and hospitals built; the diplomatic overtures to the Soviet Union and communist China, which she claims "knocked down the Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain at the height of the Cold War"; the deals struck with foreign governments to allow thousands of Filipinos to work abroad and send home the foreign currency that is now a pillar of the economy. Above all, she says, there was "Marcos' greatest achievement:" choosing exile over further bloodshed, and refusing to allow loyal elements of the armed forces to use their guns against the civilians massing against him in the streets. <^>

“But what might otherwise be dismissed as a political widow's relentless attempt to polish history has found some surprising traction with the public” according to some polls that reveal a fondness of Marcos and nostalgia for his years at the helm. "Was Marcos the greatest president? No doubt about it," she says. "He was a mother to the nation; he could not destroy his country and his children. He sacrificed himself. "Eventually," she is sure, "they will see it that way."

The idea of burying Marcos at Libingan was suggested once before. In 1998, then-President-elect Joseph Estrada, an old family friend, gave the go-ahead, arguing it would provide closure on the Marcos years. He was pummeled for it. Wounds were too raw. The outcry forced Estrada to withdraw the offer, and he has since blamed the country's floundering economy and dismal politics on the "bad karma" that comes with leaving Marcos unburied.” <^>

A Hero’s Burial for Marcos? It’s Being Considered

In 2011, more than two decades after Marcos’s death, the Philippine government says it was formally considering his family’s demand for a burial with honors in a cemetery reserved for presidents and other prominent figures. Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “The divisive request for a hero’s burial was renewed 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. “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.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 9, 2011]

In February 2011, 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.”

Blaine Harden wrote in the Washington Post, “Corazon Aquino was the first to say no to a state burial for him. Aquino maintained that Ferdinand Marcos had ordered the killing. Since then, a state funeral has been a political non-starter. When reporters asked her son Benigno Acquino III whether he would allow Marcos to be buried in Manila, he was emphatic: "What has he done to warrant a burial [at the cemetery for heroes]? We have so many problems from his time until now, why should we honor him?"[Source: Blaine Harden, Washington Post, April 22, 2010]

No Hero’s Burial for Philippines’ Marcos

In June 2011, President Benigno Aquino III ruled out a hero’s burial for Marcos at the national heroes' cemetery. "Not during my watch," he said. Aquino told The Associated Press in an interview that he was finalizing a decision on his vice president's proposal to bury the strongman with military honors in his northern Philippine hometown, but that burial in the capital was out of the question. [Source: Associated Press, June 17, 2011 /*\]

Associated Press reported: “ Aquino has refused to decide alone where he should be buried, saying he would naturally be biased, so he asked Vice President Jejomar Binay to study the issue. "I wanted to be fair to all parties concerned, to those who think Marcos is a great individual, to those who think Marcos is the worst evil (that) visited our country," he said. Aquino confirmed earlier news reports that Binay recommended that Marcos be buried with military honors in Ilocos Norte. Aquino said it would be "very difficult" to allow Marcos to be buried with military honors, "but again, we have to be a leader of the entire nation." /*\

“Aquino noted the large number of human rights victims, including some of his own close friends, who suffered under Marcos. He said a friend who was tortured during Marcos' reign only recently acknowledged to him that she was raped by several people in detention. The victims have never even received an official acknowledgment of their suffering or an apology from the government, Aquino said. He said he plans to commission a group to interview the victims so their ordeals could be stored in historical records "with the end in view of making sure that these don't happen again." /*\

“A survey by the independent Social Weather Stations in March showed that Filipinos are almost evenly divided over whether Marcos should be buried at the heroes' cemetery. A majority of members of the House of Representatives have backed a resolution urging Aquino to allow it, extolling the late President as a patriot who built the country's modern foundations with his infrastructure projects. The Makati Business Club, a group of top business executives, blasted the resolution, saying it was "a gross distortion of the late dictator's true legacy of autocracy, ruined democratic institutions, violent political repression, unprecedented wholesale corruption, shameless nepotism, crony capitalism." While he wanted to put an end to the long-hanging issue, Aquino said he was concerned Marcos's burial might open old wounds. "It really is difficult that instead of moving us closer to having a closure, it really might just revive all of the pain, the anguish and, shall we say, the thirst for justice," Aquino said. /*\

“Marcos’ family has not commented on whether Binay’s view is acceptable to them. The recent burial of a former military chief accused of corruption at the heroes’ cemetery, which is reserved for soldiers, presidents, statesmen and national artists, revived questions on whether Marcos should be similarly honored. Gen. Angelo Reyes committed suicide at his mother’s grave on Feb. 8 after being accused of receiving huge military payoffs. He had denied the allegation. [Source: Associated Press, June 6, 2011]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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