The issue of where and how to bury the corpse of Ferdinand Marcos has less to do with the past than with the future. There is little we can do with our memory of the Marcos past except to clarify and write it. But there is much we can do still to redress the injury and the pain that the Marcos regime inflicted upon the nation. The burial issue must be resolved in the light of that objective.
In thinking our way through this emotional issue, it is useful, first of all, to be clear about a few things. There is admittedly something disgraceful about a dead person lying unburied; it violates all our sense of humanity regardless of religious faith. But Marcos does not lie unburied. His family, for reasons of its own, has chosen to inter his remains in a refrigerated glass crypt. That the Marcos tomb is designated as a temporary resting place is no one’s choice but the Marcos family’s alone. No one is preventing them from finding a permanent private ground in which the remains of the former president can rest.
What Imelda Marcos demands, however, is not simply that the remains of Ferdinand be buried – for they are buried – but that they be buried specifically on public ground, where the nation’s veterans and soldiers lie, in ceremonies befitting a former president of the republic.
Marcos is clearly entitled to be buried in that special cemetery known as the Libingan ng mga Bayani; he was a soldier and veteran of the last war. That some of his medals were subsequently exposed to be fake does not erase the fact that he fought for country in the last war. Unless we think the Libingan ng mga Bayani is meant only for undisputed heroes, whatever that might mean, I believe Marcos deserves a place in that cemetery.
The greater controversy, however, arises from Imelda’s demand that her husband be buried also with full state honors appropriate to his stature as a former president. That Marcos was a former president is a fact that cannot be disputed. That he was also a president who nearly destroyed the nation was, however, politically and morally resolved at Edsa. I do not believe that history renders final judgments. But it is clear to me that, by what we have done in the last 12 years and by what we continue to do now, we cannot possibly think of Ferdinand Marcos as someone who deserves to be honored and extolled as an exemplar for national leaders.
Just as it is unthinkable for Iran’s present government to bring back the corpse of the late Shah and accord it full honors, or for Germany to give Hitler a proper burial because he was after all a former Chancellor, so too should it be inconceivable for the Filipino people today to go back in time and officially mourn the passing of a president they had deposed for betraying the nation. Nations may and do indeed own up to past mistakes. But this is accomplished only in full awareness of what is being done, never as the implied premise of what may be but a simple gesture of kindness.
To honor Marcos today is not just to mock the pain and the horror the nation suffered from the abuses and corruption of the Martial Law years, it is also to undermine the moral basis for prosecuting criminal and civil cases still pending against the Marcoses and their cronies. But more than this, to honor the legacy of the Marcos presidency would be to prepare the ground for future adventurers who would, with impunity, stage a coup against their own state to prolong their grip on power.
My main worry is not over the fact that what we do now may be inconsistent with our past beliefs. For that would only require either a reweaving of our belief system or a revision of the meaning of our present actions. Far more crucial, I believe, is that what we do today as a nation should be consistent with what we intend to be tomorrow. For, in the final analysis, our concept of the future is the only base on which we can stand, the only spot where we can take a measure of things on still trembling ground.
It does not require much thinking to know that what Imelda seeks to control by insisting on a hero’s burial for Ferdinand is not so much her husband’s place in our nation’s past as the future of her family’s fortune. It is also the principal reason why the family must remain active politically. A permanently disgraced Marcos spells continuing political vulnerability for the family. Vulnerability means their hold on the stolen wealth remains shaky. The unresolved cases against them and the cronies will continue to hang over them like the sword of Damocles.
A national reconciliation with the ghost of Marcos, sealed with state honors upon his corpse, would be Imelda’s passport to negotiating a practical settlement on the stolen wealth and the withdrawal of all cases against the family. At the level of meanings, it would be as if Martial Law never happened, Marcos died but never left, and the Edsa Revolution was nothing but a fantasy. This is Imelda’s project. But what is ours?
Twelve years have passed since the Marcoses fled from Malacanang. Marcos died without a criminal case being proven against him. It is a failure that will forever haunt us. None of the big corruption cases that could give our people a picture of the extent of the plunder of the nation’s treasury has been proven against members of the Marcos family or their cronies. That too will forever haunt us.
On this year of our Centennial, it would be an outrage to compound these failures by now honoring a man we should have sent to jail but failed to convict. To confer state honors on Marcos would be to disparage a goal that alone gives warrant to our current national celebration — to achieve a nation built on justice.
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