‘You cannot make a hero out of a villain’

‘You cannot make a hero out of a villain’

For twenty-one years that he was in power, the late president Ferdinand E. Marcos had it his way regardless of what people said. He ruled with an iron hand and exercised his authority like the Greek gods did. He was Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades all rolled into one. As Zeus, Marcos was omnipotent. His word was the law of the land. He demanded loyalty and subservience under the severest conditions. His second self, Poseidon, the “God of the Sea,” was also called the “Earth-Shaker” due to his role in causing earthquakes. As Poseidon, Marcos shook his enemies with the intensity of an earth-shattering earthquake. And if that didn’t suffice to force them to submit to his authority, his third self, Hades, the “God of the Dead” and the “King of the Underworld,” salvaged and sent them to the Underworld.

But with all the power he had at his command, Marcos lacked something that everyone who aspired to be a God wished for: he was not immortal. Marcos was a mortal being. And the best that he could have hoped for was to be immortalized in history as a hero. Yes, a hero! And buried at the Heroes’ Cemetery or Libingan Ng Mga Bayani (LNMB). Why not? After all, he had all those medals he claimed to have received for all his derring-do during World War II.
But while Marcos’s life was replete with controversy from birth to death… and long after his death, his journey into the Underworld had taken a long and circuitous route.

Burial in Ilocos

He died on September 28, 1989 at age 72 while he was in exile in Hawaii. For the next 27 years, his wife Imelda Marcos refused to bury him. Instead his remains were first put in a crypt in Honolulu, Hawaii. The family was hoping that the powers-that-be in Manila would eventually allow them to bury their patriarch in the Philippines.

Then the day Imelda had been waiting for had arrived four years after Marcos’ death. On September 3, 1993, Marcos’s remains were flown to the Philippines aboard a chartered plane from Guam. This was made possible when then President Fidel V. Ramos — a cousin of Marcos and the hero of the People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship — allowed it to happen. However, there were three conditions, to wit: (1) Marcos’ remains will not stop over in Manila but flown directly to Ilocos Norte; (2) During Marcos’ burial in Ilocos Norte, Ramos said that Marcos would be given the honors befitting a major of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which the Marcoses had effectively agreed that Marcos would be denied “state honors” and no 21-gun salute for him; and (3) Marcos’ burial would be quick.

While the Marcos family agreed to these three conditions, only the first condition was met. The Marcos family reneged on the second and third conditions: no honors befitting a major were given and there was no quick burial. By the time Ramos realized that Marcos’ body wasn’t buried, there wasn’t much he could have done to force the family to bury him.

Years later, Ramos talked about the third condition. “My third condition was that he be buried in the meantime in Ilocos Norte, [pending] on the decision of the family as to the place [for his final burial]. But that was not fulfilled because he was not buried,” he said. Instead, the family put his remains in a glass encasement placed atop a platform inside an air-conditioned mausoleum with a piped-in music playing endlessly.

For the next two decades, the Marcos mausoleum became the most visited “tourist” attraction in Ilocos Norte. Yes, tourists would go see his preserved body to satisfy their curiosity as to whether it was real or – as had been rumored – just a wax mannequin. .

Solomonic solution

In 2011, the question of Marcos’ burial at the LNMB became a national issue, which had divided the nation. When the Marcos family asked then President Benigno Aquino III to allow Marcos to be buried at the LNMB, Aquino passed the buck to Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay to determine whether Marcos should or shouldn’t be buried at the LNMB.

In my article, “Great job Jojo” (June 3, 2011), I wrote: “Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay’s recommendation to bury the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos with ‘full military honors’ in his home province of Ilocos Norte, not at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery), is the best solution to President Benigno ‘P-Noy’ Aquino III’s dilemma. It’s an equitable compromise considering that it has divided the people in half between those who opposed his burial at the Libingan and those who believed that he deserved to be buried in a place reserved for heroes.

“Given that one half of those who responded to an SWS survey believed that he was a hero and the other half believed that he was not a hero, it would have been a no-win situation for Binay. However, if Binay were King Solomon, he would have done something similar to what King Solomon had done to resolve the issue of the two mothers claiming the same baby: ‘Cut the body in half and bury one part at the Libingan and the other part in Ilocos Norte.’ ”

Well, it’s easier said than done. However, the idea of burying him with “full military honors” in Ilocos Norte, while it wouldn’t make everybody happy, would have given the Marcoses a face-saving solution and would have put an honorable closure to a dishonorable dark era in Philippine history.

A week later, in a follow-up article, “Solomonic solution to Marcos burial issue” (June 9, 2011). I wrote: “In reaction to Binay’s recommendation, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin – who served under the Cory Aquino administration — and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said that Marcos ‘deserves to be given military honors and to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani under military regulations.’

“One might ask if Marcos was deemed a ‘hero’ by virtue of him receiving the country’s highest military recognition, shouldn’t he be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani? Not necessarily. In my opinion, burial at the Libingan is a privilege, not a right. There are overriding criteria that constitute the basis for denial. The atrocities committed during the Marcos martial law regime would negate that one criterion which some people say justifies a hero’s burial for Marcos at the Libingan. To that end, I must say, ‘You can make a villain out of a hero but you cannot make a hero out of a villain.’ And to many Filipinos, Marcos was a villain, not a hero.”

At the end of the day, Binay’s “Solomonic” solution to bury Marcos with “full military honors” in Ilocos Norte might just be the right thing to do to put to rest not only Marcos’ body but also to quell the unrest that has been rocking the body politic of the nation. And besides, didn’t Marcos make a wish that he be buried next to his mother? Perhaps, his body should then be exhumed from the LNMB — as some people had suggested – and re-interred in Ilocos Norte with the pomp and circumstance befitting a distinguished son of Ilocandia.