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Marcos' secret burial: not what Philippine heroes are made of

Philippines
07.12.16-marcos-dictator-590.jpg

A protest against the burial of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos at Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines, 18 November 2016. Jeffrey Pioquinto under a Creative Commons Licence

Iris Gonzalez reflects on the dictator's legacy and recent burial.

The sound of cannons boomed in the distance. Under the yellow noonday sun, a widow in black weeped as soldiers in crisp white uniform secretly buried the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the National Heroes’ Cemetery. White anthurium’s adorned the dark brown casket and a Philippine flag covered it as it was lowered to the ground. This was the scene at last month's ceremony.

It was a ceremony fit for a hero and it was a place where real heroes including national artists and former presidents are resting in peace. 

But nobody except Marcos’ family and supporters wanted him there.  

Still they insisted and like a thief in the night, the secret burial took place at exactly 12 noon on November 18, leaving the nation in absolute shock and resulting in widespread protests across the country.  His remains, which were preserved in his home province in Ilocos Norte for nearly three decades were brought to the heroes’ cemetery by a military chopper. 

It’s not how real heroes should be buried. On this day, people wore black, students left their classes and schools draped their walls with posters of protests. It was not to mourn the death of Marcos but to mourn the desecration of the memory of heroes. 

It was cunning to say the least because for decades, the public protested the family’s wish for Marcos to be buried in the heroes’ cemetery. And rightly so. He was after all the man who declared martial law so that he could stay in power. 

And his 20-year dictatorial rule left tens of thousands of human rights abuse victims until he was overthrown in a historic People Power Revolution in 1986. 

Marcos is no hero. It’s as simple as that. 

But President Rodrigo Duterte, whose father worked as a member of the Marcos Cabinet, allowed the burial despite widespread protests.   

I felt a pang of deep profound sadness and guilt. 

I wondered – how could I even explain to my nine-year old daughter that the country’s only dictator, he who committed human rights abuses during his 20-year reign and who plundered the country’s resources, had been buried in a place that belonged to heroes. 

Marcos, said his supporters, was a brilliant man and to this day, some of the hospitals and cultural icons built during his term still stand. 

But the more than 10,000 human rights victims that suffered under his 20-year military rule are testimonies of his administration’s dark side. Whatever accomplishments he made have all been negated by these abuses committed by the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary, a military unit with police powers. 

He committed grave abuse of power just so he could stay in power longer. Stories of cronyism, extravagance and corruption abounded throughout his term. He was elected president in 1965 and ruled under martial law from 1972 to 1981. 

It was one of the darkest periods in the history of the Philippines.

The stories of abuses are varied as they are endless. They are all painful and brutal. The women were sexually molested, if not raped. The men were tortured and some disappeared for good, never to be found again. 

There is the story of Marie Hilao Enriquez, head of human rights group Karapatan. As an activist, she experienced abuse under the military and her older sister Liliosa, a student journalist, was the first woman killed during the martial law era.

Witnesses said Lily was tortured, forced to take muriatic acid and was raped by her captors. 

After her sister died, Marie went to the countryside to continue her work as an activist but was later arrested and suffered psychologically because of heavy interrogation by the military. 

Marie's and Lily's stories are just among the many tales of brutality during the Marcos era.

There are many other stories of human rights abuses, torture, media repression and grave abuse of power. 

And finally, Marcos was ousted from power through the 1986 People Power Revolution. 

Now, that’s definitely not what heroes are made of. Indeed, he is no hero. He was a dictator and always will be.

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