Restless Corpses?

by Juan L. Mercado

Is there a controversial state  funeral just ahead  for  us?  No. The horse-drawn-caisson won’t be for who you suspect.

Yes, said  candidates  Manuel Villar, in Cebu, and Gilbert Teodoro, in Tugegarao.  If elected president, both are  “open to finally burying” Ferdinand  Marcos cadaver at Libingan ng Mga Bayani (“Heroes’ Cemetery”). That’d bring closure to an issue that festered since 1989.

No way snapped candidate Benigno Aquino III.  “Libingan is reserved for heroes. ”Trampling on values won’t bring  “closure to many abuses (from) repression to conjugal hypocrisy.”  Aquino’s parents were authentic heroes. Neither demanded Libingan  plots.”

Has controversy over Marcos “restless corpse” been reignited?  By happenstance, BBC is now airing :”Josef Stalin’s Return.”

Stalin and Marcos were dictators.  They remain eerie icons: Marcos in Ilocos Norte,  Stalin in Georgia. Like Mao Ze Dong, their embalmed cadaver were propped in mausoleums: Marcos in Batac, Mao in Tiannamen Square and Stalin in Red Square, next to Vladimir Lenin, starting 1953.

In  1961, Stalin’s  corpse vanished.  Nikita Khruschev’s secret speech, denouncing Stalin’s crimes, had leaked. Stalin’s ashes  surfaced in a small obscure niche,  in the Kremlin Wall necropolis.

People  Power drove Marcos into  Hawaiian exile. He died from lupus complications in 1989.  The new administration agreed to his body’s return in 2001.

In her book: “The Political Lives of Dead Bodies” (Columbia University), anthropologist Katherine Veredry asserts: Lenin’s  cadaver to Prince Lazar’s bones, paraded in parts of Yugoslavia claimed by Serbs,  are “powerful symbols…They are stirred by psychological needs, intensified in times of great upheaval”. Sometimes, they recast national histories.

Among  “psychological needs” is: heroes be interred in hallowed ground.   These shrines include: Singapore’s Krangji memorial,  France’s Notre Dame de Lorette, Gettysburg and Arlington Cemeteries in the US – and  Libingan ng  Mga Bayani,

Their shared theme resonates in the Kohima Battle memorial plaque “When You Go Home, Tell Them And Say, /For Their Tomorrow,  We Gave Our Today.”

Joseph Estrada never thinks in such terms. As mint-new president, he casually-agreed to a Libingan state funeral. The firestorm  it triggered  shell shocked  Erap. French writer Francois de la Rochefoucauld  could have told him:“The pomp of (state)  funerals has more regard for vanity of the living than honor of the dead.”

The Libingan, is not another memorial park,” former Justice Isagani Cruz wrote in “That Queasy Feeling” It is a place “where none but heroes lie”.  Even before he assumed the presidency, Erap, advocated burial of Marcos in Libingan” Cruz recalled. “He  backtracked when people angrily protested.”

“Today,  Marcos’cadaver is ringed by  fuschia, bougainvillea, white sampaguita and aster in the Batac masouleum, “There are no yellow flowers”, Inquirer notes.. A Libingan burial,  Imelda Marcos insists, is the dictator’s  —  by  right.

“Time and the wide wait for no man”. Not even dictators. A free society, free, ensured by People Power, unraveled  the manufactured myth of  Marcos leading marauding Maharlika guerrillas.

“At no time did the Army recognize that any unit, designating itself as Maharlika, ever existed as a guerrilla force in the years of Japanese occupation 1942 to 1945”,  New York Times Jeff Gerth and Joel Brminkley  wrote. “The immensity of Mr Marcos claim that Maharlika served the entire Luzon was absurd.”  The 27 war medals were mostly bogus.

A marker at Fort antiago claims: “Capt. Ferdinand E. Marcos” was among those imprisoned by Kempetai there. Nonsense,  Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus wrote Marcos was never there. Nor did he fight at Bessang Pass.  The myth of war hero collapsed, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism  reports.

Today,  “old folk still revere the elder Marcos,” Inquirer notes. “But young Ilocanos are struggling whether to embrace loyalty or change.”

“What matters to the youth is how our leaders get our economy moving,.  not  moving  the body of the late president,” Laoag  high school senior  Clarissa Jelene says. “In the heart of Ilocanos, he was a hero. End of story.” Retired nurse Susan Ucol  asserts: “Ilocanos have strong memories”

That view merits respect.  But others have different memories. They should be appreciated.  Here is one:

“When World War II started, my younger brother, was a fighter pilot”, Victoria Mansueto recalled in  an open letter.  Lt. Salvador Manlunas flew  in Capt. Jesus Villamor’s  squadron.

“Bading and others fought, in obsolete P-26 planes, against modern Japanese Zeroes. He was killed in action.

“He never had a Swiss bank account. Nor did  he own vast lands. All he has is a tree-lined street,  in Villamor Airbase, that bears his name, plus a Libingan grave.

“Now, you’d bury next to him, as a hero, someone who the Guinness Book of Records credits for massive theft” and span a lie with bogus war medals!”.

That, too, is memory.

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