HOW was it possible that last Friday’s burial of Ferdinand Marcos caught the country flat-footed? We now know that at around 8.46 a.m., the dictator’s remains were flown from Ilocos to Manila by Army helicopter. There was a grandhearse. Relatives and guests arrived in a fleet of big cars. The Marcos family was impeccably dressed: Imelda wore a beautiful black terno whose silken folds fluttered elegantly in the breeze. Imee was in immaculate white, and her brother chose a barong his father would have favored. The coffin, draped in the nation’s flag, was carried with great ceremonyby military pallbearers and honored with a 21- gun salute. Soldiers in full military regalia dutifully saluted. Priests, just as dutifully, prayed and officiated. There were wreaths and bouquets, one said to be from the President. The ceremony began promptly at noon, as tradition dictated, and ended an hour later. Rows and rows of soldiers and police stood guarding the cemetery’s perimeter and entrances. Clearly,the event wasplanned and executed with the sort of precision and meticulous coordination that seems so uncharacteristic of us Filipinos. Moreover, somehow, remarkably, itwas all accomplished with absolute secrecy. Not a shred of information was leaked. Not a single journalist was alerted. Not a single pesky protester was there to ruin the moment and the photos. The Marcoses even controlled the visuals, selecting only a few images of the event for public consumption. The President was conveniently out of the country. His office claimed ignorance. “We honestly don’t know,” said the doe-eyed spokesperson who stood before an aghast press corps. What an impressive and extraordinary feat.
The predictable outrage that poured forth looked futile and impotent. “I could hardly believe it,” raged Congressman EdcelLagman. “It is a continuing deception and abuse being committed by the Marcoses.” A livid Vice President Leni Robredo accused the Marcos family of flouting the law, likening the move to “a thief in the night”. There are demands for the body to be exhumed. There are demonstrations in the streets. The clamor sounds a lot like the closing of stable doors after the horses have bolted.
When questioned, Rodrigo Duterte shrugged the whole thing off. “[Marcos] was a president for so long [sic], and he was a soldier. That’s about it.” Sputtering indignantly about Marcos’ disgraceful military and presidential record, or his dark deeds of torture and murder, or his unbridled kleptomania, does not do much good. The winds have turned and they blow against history. Duterte’s dismissive nonchalance about the country’s martial law past is unlikely to change. “There’s no study, no movie about it,” he said. The President appears to be implying that the horror of the Marcos dictatorship was some kind of trick of the light.
Yet, Duterte’s prevarications are not as preposterous as one might think. Throughout his presidential campaign, Duterte made known his personal indebtedness to Ferdinand Marcos and his closeness to members of the Marcos family, in particular the dictator’s only son. He hinted that Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos would be the next Vice President. He repeatedly promised he would allow the late dictator to be buried in the Libingan ng mgaBayani with full military honors. He peddled the false idea that such an act would be one of healing. None of this put voters off, and Duterte took power. Just over a week ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a heroes’ burial for Marcos and the judges’ shoulder-shrugs were not much different from the President’s. “In law, as much as in life,” said Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta,usingabsurd New Age therapy-speak, “there is need to find closure.”
Who were present to pay their last respects? The list of cronies who owe Marcos their wealth and power is long and wide. It is not yet known whether the late dictator’s closest surviving henchmen, Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile, attended the funeral. More than anyone, these two men, one a cousin, the other a fellow Ilocano, both loyal throughout the Marcos years, commanded the police force and the military that were responsible for ensuring the stability of the authoritarian regime through brutal extrajudicial operations and nationwide state terror. Or Joseph Estrada, who was mayor of San Juan, Metro Manilain 1971, a position that gave him his first foothold on power. Perhaps there was a clutch of Supreme Court justices, acolytes and sycophants of the ageing former Justice Minister Estelito Mendoza, a longtime defense lawyer of the Marcoses. Present too, may have beentoday’s titans of commerce and industry, those who rose from nothing and ended up controlling the country’s media, utilities and natural resources. Men such as Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco who enriched themselves from presidential favors that bought their patronage and, in doing so, turned ruthless venality into a virtue. Surely, thepriests in attendancewere obliged to obtain permission from the Catholic hierarchy to be present. It may well be that the justification echoed the President’s sentiments: “Marcos was a Catholic. That’s about it.”
We have become inured to the barefaced lies and flimflam maneuverings of our politicians. However, the Marcos family pulled off a startling coup of a different order. Whether they were able to do so becausemany of the country’s key big shots owe the strongman their lives and fortunes is, at the end of the day, neither here nor there. Marcos loyalists mentored and nurtured a successive generation of intellectuals and influentials, thus ensuring that deference and indebtedness would exert their own special weight.
What is clear is that the brazen might of wealth, entitlement, influence and power of the Marcoses bore down on the institutional pillars of the nation. The military, the police, the Church, the judiciary, the presidency, gave their assent and kept arrangements secret. The Marcoses issued a directive and it was followed.
Simply put, the Marcos family was able to do it because they could.