NEWS ITEM: Should a long-dead dictator with a record of civil rights abuses get heroic honors? That’s the emotional debate dividing the Philippines this week. The body of former strongman Ferdinand Marcos has been kept in a crypt for nearly 30 years while his family demands a hero’s burial.
Flash Back to Summer 1972
President Ferdinand Marcos felt pretty good about himself. He was indispensable to Washington. The Nixon Administration needed access to Philippine military bases to support its war in Vietnam.
But at home Marcos was frustrated. He wanted a third term in the presidential palace but the constitutional limit was two. He had hoped congress would make an exception, but the political opposition was in control. He had lobbied constitutional convention delegates to change the rules, but wife Imelda’s companion bribery campaign had blown up in scandal.
His favorability ratings were terrible.
Privately, he contemplated a radical step — martial law and suspension of civil rights. Dictatorship had always intrigued Marcos. He mused about it in his diary after winning reelection in 1969. And he claimed to be getting divine encouragement.
Finally, giving in to God’s will that he step up and save the Philippines, the messianic Marcos put in motion his elaborate scheme.
First, he met secretly with members of his Supreme Court to clarify that he would tolerate no legal challenges.He orchestrated a fake ambush of his defense minister.
A special team of military loyalists arrested his most popular political rival – Senator Benigno Aquino, the man almost certain to replace him in the next open election.
That same night his police and military rounded up dozens (and ultimately hundreds) of prominent Marcos critics in congress and the media, as well as liberal priests and student activists.
Only then, as the city slept, were all independent media outlets seized and padlocked.
Manila woke up in the firm grip of a Marcos-controlled military. All voices of opposition and independent criticism were in jail, closed down or coerced into timidity. He had made free speech a crime.
Overnight political debate ceased. Democracy ceased. Silenced criticism left the illusion of Marcos popularity. A delusional dictator treated that fiction as fact. Marcos took credit for restoring law and order in Manila, writing in his diary:
September 25, 1972: “I am some kind of hero.”
BELOW: Filipinos previously dealt harshly with the deposed dictator’s heroic image