Laid to rest but not in peace, Marcos critics say of ex-dictator

Ronron Calunsod, Kyodo News

Posted at Dec 02 2016 08:52 PM

MANILA - The family and supporters of late Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos were elated and grateful that the remains of the country's former dictator were finally buried in the Heroes' Cemetery outside Manila 27 years after his death.

His widow, Imelda, 87, said a day after the Nov. 18 burial, "I know Ferdinand can now rest in peace, now that he is in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery for the Heroes)."

However, critics of Marcos say there is no peace for the late strongman, his family, the victims of his regime, and the Filipino people due to a lack of justice and accountability up to this day.

Marcos ruled from 1965 until he was ousted by the military-backed People Power Revolution in 1986 over allegations of plunder and violations of human rights.

During that era tens of thousands were detained and tortured for expressing dissent, while the economy suffered due to corruption and cronyism. The media was also either muzzled or shut down.

He died in 1989 at the age of 72 in Hawaii, where he and his family fled into exile. His body was flown back to the Philippines only in 1993. But his remains were interred in his home province of Ilocos Norte based on the family's agreement with the government then.

Marcos' burial at the Heroes' Cemetery, which the family says was his wish, was sanctioned by President Rodrigo Duterte, arguing existing laws and regulations allow it.

On Nov. 8, the Supreme Court, voting by majority, affirmed Duterte's view, saying: "The Court can only do so much in accordance with the clearly established rules and principle."

Former Sen. Sergio Osmena III, who was imprisoned during the martial law period, thinks Marcos does not rest in peace, even with his interment in what is considered a national shrine.

"Normally, when you rest in peace, you are at peace with the world. But how can (Marcos) be at peace with the world when we see ourselves here? We are still holding rallies," Osmena told Kyodo News during one of the protest actions against the burial.

Activist nun Mary John Mananzan said Marcos' own family "disrupted" and "got him out of that peace" when they transferred his remains amid strong opposition.

"This is not a closure. This is an opening of wounds. And I think that Marcos, wherever he is now, will be more disturbed because the entire Philippines has also been disturbed," Mananzan said.

Artist Mae Paner said it must be "the delusional Imelda" talking about "putting a president to rest" and "claiming he is a hero" because Marcos, according to Paner, has no "support and love of the people."

"I don't really care if Marcos is resting in peace or not. But I am not at peace. I think that is really more important -- how I feel, how we Filipinos in general feel, as a people, that Marcos is laid at the Libingan ng mga Bayani," Paner said.

"The problem is, the Filipino people cannot rest in peace because the billions stolen from them have not been returned. Many Filipinos suffered because of that ill-gotten wealth," echoed former lawmaker Neri Colmenares, who was a torture victim during the regime and is one of the petitioners before the court against the burial.

Marcos is accused of plundering about $10 billion, of which, only $4 billion has been recovered by the government.

At the various protest actions, calls have been made for the exhumation of Marcos' remains, and for vigilance against attempts to whitewash history.

"If they can bury a dictator with so many human rights abuses in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, then it seems anything is possible these days. Burying Marcos there, to a certain extent, might be detrimental to our democracy," said Sen. Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV. He is a nephew of the late Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., the main political nemesis of Marcos whose assassination in 1983 sparked the people uprising that culminated in the dictator's ouster three years later.

Former Education Secretary Armin Luistro said stories of martial law victims should all the more be heard.

"(With its decision on the Marcos burial), it is very difficult now to teach about accountability," Luistro said. "What the Supreme Court is really saying is, 'You give them a few years, a few decades, and then, you can rewrite history.' I think, that's really, really sad."

The cries of protesters also extend to Duterte, who justifies his position by saying Marcos was a former soldier and former president, either of which qualifies him to that burial. The president said it will also foster national healing and unity as it will assuage the feelings of Ilocanos and other pro-Marcos Filipinos.

"If that is how narrow his basis is, then he wins. But all we're talking about is the morality of the issue. Is this the morals we want to pass on to our youth? If so, then, let's just tell the whole world, 'Go ahead, steal. Anyway, that can be hidden, and after 10 or 20 years, that can be forgotten.' That is not right," Osmena said.

Although a formal appeal has been lodged at the Supreme Court, Colmenares concedes the legal battle has now become secondary to street demonstrations.

Bonifacio Ilagan, of the "Campaign Against the Return of Marcoses to Malacanang," said another protest action is set for Dec. 10, following three staged last month.

Imelda herself foresaw the continuing opposition when she said on Nov. 19, "I know, we will still face many things, like criticism and hardships."

But just as her family has successfully buried Marcos at the Heroes' Cemetery after a long wait, she is optimistic they will achieve complete triumph in the end.

However, former Sen. Wigberto Tanada, whose family members experienced oppression during martial law, says, "I hope the Supreme Court, or Duterte, or the Marcos family will come to a realization that for Marcos to be really resting in peace, there should be acknowledgement and recognition from them about what happened during martial law, and the accountability should be there, and they should agree to return the ill-gotten wealth."