The memory of a monster: Why the Philippines is still torn apart by Ferdinand Marcos

Photo: Bluemask/CC BY-SA 3.0

President Duterte has ordered that the body of former Filipino leader Ferdinand Marcos is re-buried in a new grave in Manila’s Heroes Cemetery. The decision has sparked a wave of protest and heated discussion on whether a man that faked his valour and tortured his people can be a hero at all. 

By Claire Heffron

The Philippines is currently in uproar over President Duterte’s decision to move the body of the late President Ferdinand Marcos to a new grave at Manila’s Heroes Cemetery with full military honours. Despite mass protests, the new leader is defiant on his stance. According to him, the law states that Marcos can be buried there as a former soldier.

But why are so many against his burial in that location? Duterte made it clear during his campaign that he would allow it; supporters say he is keeping his promise. However it is a sensitive issue, and particularly difficult for those that suffered exploitation during the Martial Law era. These noisy campaigners insist the former leader is unfit to join the fallen heroes graves as he was a cruel dictator.

In recent weeks, thousands have taken to the streets of cities across the country and appealing to Duterte to reconsider his judgement. These victims of the Marcos government have also filed numerous petitions to the Supreme Court to block the move, which experts say has as much to do with the opinion of Duterte as it does with government rule.

Meanwhile, politicians and lawmakers are also reluctant to endorse the plan, saying it will misrepresent history. Senator and human rights lawyer Leila De Lima told the press that burying Marcos at a resting place for heroes would be tantamount to “removing the memory of the monster that was the Marcos regime.”

Citizens are still angry over the years of repression, torture and murders Marcos brought. And among the accusations against the dead president are that he left the nation with personal but illicit wealth estimated at between $5 billion and $10 billion, while public coffers owed a national debt of $26 billion.

An anonymous source explained “he may have done some great things for our country, but the killings he committed far outweigh the benefits he has brought to us. What makes matters worse is that the Marcos family still reject to apologise for what emerged back then”.

Another expressed disdain for the idea, “Durterte wants to bury him in a place for heroes as if he was one of those heroes. That’s a grave dishonour to those men who willingly gave up their lives to serve their country. If Marcos had died during the war, his wrongdoings against the Filipino people would not have happened.”

Was Marcos a hero?

On the other side, those who favour the burial, say he was the greatest president the Philippines ever had, and they are pleased he will finally rest in peace. Duterte says that burying Marcos at the site does not associate Marcos with being a “hero in the true sense of the word”. Instead, he explained that, without a law that specifically bars Marcos from being buried there, he had the same entitlement of any other former soldier or president to be laid to rest in the Heroes’ Cemetery.

Legally allowed or otherwise; this is not a popular decision. Many Filipinos argue that Marcos is not a genuine hero. In fact, historians say he used his intelligence to submit fake reports to get undeserved awards and recognition from the US armed forces – even as other honest soldiers and guerrillas died undocumented and unrecorded.

Ricardo Jose, a professor at the University of the Philippines, said that Marcos had counterfeited his service record in the anti-Japanese resistance to win war medals for bravery. “There are World War II heroes buried there who sacrificed their lives … But here’s one guy who distorted things in his favour,” he explained.

Some residents are sitting on the fence and suggesting maybe not a heroes’ burial, a proper presidential internment, just like all the other presidents. Compared to all their past presidents he has accomplished more for the country.” However, this claim seems pitiful when others make it clear that his strongman rule prevented other statesmen from raising or promoting levels of development in the Philippines, instead pushing the country further into extreme poverty and powerlessness.

For many, Marcos cannot be considered a traitor because he did not declare loyalty to a foreign country, but he certainly destroyed the country’s bright future. President Duterte may have succeeded in his plan to bury Marcos in the Cemetery of Heroes, but few shed a tear at the fomer leader’s passing.