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The Saga of the Corpse of Ferdinand Marcos

We interrupt election news just long enough to bring you breaking news of Ferdinand Marcos, deceased.  As corpses’ sojourns go, his has been one of the most enduring, due in large part to the devoted attention of his wife, Imelda. To long time readers of this column, apologies are in order since some of what is described today was reported ten years ago in this very space.

Ferdinand moved to Hawaii in 1986, having been overthrown as president of the Philippines in a People Power Revolution.  His move was assisted by President Ronald Reagan who arranged for the United States Air Force to provide two U.S. Air Force C-141s to carry the Marcos family, its retainers and belongings to Hawaii.  Sadly, Mr. Marcos’s sojourn there was cut short by his death on September 28, 1989.  His death marked the end of one adventure but the beginning of another, an adventure that will end on September 18, 2016, when he will come to rest in the Heroes Cemetery in Manila.

The question that was presented to the family, following Ferdie’s death in 1989, was what to do with his corpse.  Imelda wanted him buried in the Philippines, but the government there would not permit the family or the corpse to return to the country. Barred from returning Ferdie to the Philippines, Imelda bought a refrigerated casket into which he was placed. In order to provide him with amusement, Imelda arranged for Handel’s Messiah to be played inside the casket 24 hours a day.  Ever thoughtful, in 1990, on the occasion of Ferdie’s birthday,  Imelda arranged for a birthday party and Ferdie was wheeled into the party to a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” sung by the guests in attendance at the festivities.  Notwithstanding the pleasant surroundings and the musical casket, Imelda wanted to return to the Philippines with Ferdie so that he could be given a proper burial.  In 1990 she was permitted to return in and 1992, the frozen corpse followed her.

Once he was back in the Philippines, Imelda wanted Ferdie buried in the Heroes Cemetery in Manilla but the country’s president refused the request, saying Ferdie could only be buried in his hometown of Batac.  Accordingly, Ferdie was taken to Batac, and placed in a glass coffin beneath the Seal of the Presidency in front of an eternal flame. According to reports at the time, Handel’s Messiah was replaced by an unidentified piece by Mozart, a welcome substitution, one assumes, irrespective of how fond one is of Handel’s Messiah. For the ceremony in Batac, Ferdinand was wearing a white Barong long-sleeved shirt and a rainbow colored chest sash bearing medals from World War II. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Imelda said that the burial was only temporary. When, in the future,  permission was granted for a burial in the Heroes Cemetery, she, ever the optimist said: “We’ll dig him up and move him down and bury him again.  We do that all the time.” Following the Batac burial, the saga continued.

In March 1997, a dispute arose between the Marcos family and the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative that was keeping Ferdie cold and providing his musical entertainment. Ilocos was upset that there were $214,500 in unpaid electric bills for cooling and Mozart.  The word on the street was that without cooling, Ferdie would last at most seven days.  A utility company spokesman said after that, things would become, to use his words, “messy.”  The dispute over the unpaid bill was resolved before that happened.

Following the dispute over cooling the family chilled out until September 12, 2006 when it was reported that Imelda had given up trying to put Ferdie in the Heroes Cemetery in Manila and was going to place him, instead, in a plot on the family property in his hometown.  That, everyone thought, was that.  But Ferdie’s peregrinations were not yet over.

On August 13, 2016, it was announced that Ferdie would once again be on the move.  His new final resting place is to be in the Heroes Cemetery in Manila.  This came about because on July 11, 2016, Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, said that Ferdie could be buried in the Heroes Cemetery. According to the announcement, the military is to provide “all necessary military honors that are accorded Presidents of the Philippines. . . .” The announcement further states that the Army is to provide: “vigil, bugler/drummer, firing party, military host/pall bearers, escort and transportation, and arrival and departure honors.”  The “arrival and departure” honors are probably superfluous since Ferdie is, by anyone’s calculations, long gone. The rest of the ceremony, however, is certainly going to be a ceremony to behold.  He will be buried in a solid bronze casket purchased from a company in the United States.  Ferdie’s son expressed the hope that the burial would bring the saga of the corpse to an end.  That would seem to be a reasonable thing to hope and expect.  There is no better place left to send Ferdinand.

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