Butcher in a box
DURING the 20 years Ferdinand Marcos spent as president of the Philippines, his official salary never rose above $13,500 a year. Yet by 1986, when the “people power” revolution prompted him and his wife Imelda to flee into exile in Hawaii, they had amassed a fortune. Mrs Marcos left behind her shoe collection, but her husband brought with him jewellery, gold bricks and freshly printed Philippine currency, together worth around $15m. In all, he and his cronies are thought to have plundered perhaps $10 billion. What is more, during his time in office thousands of Filipinos were tortured, jailed without due process or murdered by the regime’s thugs.
Marcos died in Hawaii; since 1993, his embalmed remains have been displayed in a glass box in his home province of Ilocos Norte. Rodrigo Duterte, the erratic strongman now running the Philippines, believes the dead dictator deserves better: he has approved the Marcos family’s long-standing request to bury their patriarch in Manila’s National Heroes’ Cemetery, with full military honours—an idea all Marcos’s other successors rejected.
Mr Duterte insists that Marcos is entitled to such a burial not because he is a hero (“the issue about his heroism is political” is Mr Duterte’s baffling deflection) but because he was a soldier—never mind that Marcos’s claims to military valour during the second world war were largely fabricated. He says the battle over Marcos’s burial has divided the nation. Many older Filipinos do recall Marcos fondly: a petition supporting his reburial garnered 1.1m signatures. But that is small beer in a country of 100m where the median age is 23 or so: most Filipinos do not remember Marcos’s regime at all.
Mr Duterte may spy a political opportunity. He comes from the southern island of Mindanao, and is the first president who is not part of the elite of Manila. His victory owes as much to voters’ disenchantment with the dozen or so families that dominate Philippine politics as it does to his tough-talking image. But winning as an outsider is a lot easier than governing as one, and the Marcos family remains powerful. Imelda serves in the House of Representatives; Imee, their daughter, is governor of the province of Ilocos Norte; her brother, Ferdinand junior, universally known as “Bongbong”, is a swaggering senator who came within a few thousand votes of the vice-presidency. Appeasing the family gives Mr Duterte a political boost in Ilocos and a favour to call in when he needs it.
Mr Duterte’s plan is not universally popular. A coalition of Jesuit groups said that interring Marcos in the heroes’ cemetery “buries human dignity by legitimising the massive violations of human and civil rights…that took place under his regime”. Opponents tried to get the supreme court to block the burial, arguing that the law reserves the cemetery for those “worthy of admiration”. This week, however, the court approved the burial and urged the country to “move on”. But to many, as one strongman buries another, the Philippines appears to be moving backward, not forward. The Economist