Philippine Ex-President Marcos’ “hero’s burial” serves a modern agenda

Protesters shout anti-Marcos slogans denouncing the burial of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (heroes’ cemetery), along a main street in Taft avenue, metro Manila, Philippines November 18, 2016. (Photo by Romeo Ranoco for Reuters.)

For many in the United States, the name Marcos draws the image of Imelda and her closets of shoes, and her heyday with her late husband, Ferdinand, the ousted president who held a tight grip on Philippine politics for 20 years.

This is the backdrop of a wave of anger sweeping the Philippines, after current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte allowed Ferdinand Marcos — who died in exile, having fled to Hawaii after a disputed election ended his corrupt and brutal 20-year regime —  to be buried in the Philippines’ Heroes’ Cemetery for his service in World War II.

The protests continue to swell, along with the burning question, “Is Marcos truly a hero deserving this burial?”

Why — more than 70 years after World War II and 25 years after Marcos’ death — is this such a big deal? The answer has connections both to President Duterte’s current power plays in Philippine politics and to a historic flag sitting in a bank vault here in Seattle.

A disputed hero of war

From his first days in power in 1965, Marcos’ propaganda machinery crafted an image of a president to be admired: a sterling lawyer with a beautiful wife and a history of leading troops in a victorious battle in World War II. The third claim was questionable.

Stories, and even a movie, were produced by his spinmeisters, extolling him as a war hero for leading a fictitious Maharlika guerilla group. One of the books published about Marcos’ life, “For Every Tear a Victory,” asserted that Marcos and this (nonexistent) Maharlika group fought in the infamous Battle of Bessang Pass.

To understand the importance of this battle, U.S. war records depict it as one of the most compelling in the Philippines during World War II.

“At Bessang Pass…the ultimate honor, indeed, belongs to the immortal Fil-Americans who died the glorious death so that the Philippines might be redeemed,” wrote Col. Russell Volckmann, the Commanding Officer of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines—Northern Luzon.

Evidence casts doubt on Marcos’ Maharlika tale of being at Bessang Pass.

According to Rico Jose, a World War II historian at the University of the Philippines, Marcos was assigned as an intelligence officer and never served in any armed encounters. But for 20 years in the Philippines, there was little countering of the narrative that he led the troops there, and books written by other veterans of the war that contradicted that claim were banned.

This is what really happened: the 3rd Battalion of the 121st Infantry led by my late father Major Conrado B. Rigor — along with the “bolo men” guerillas who were indigenous to the mountain region of Bessang Pass — spearheaded the final assault against the Japanese stronghold. This victory in Bessang was not official until the Americans arrived.

Nevertheless, the Filipino soldiers, in hot pursuit along the ridges of the Cordillera mountains, continued and eventually forced the surrender of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, known as the “Tiger of Malaya.”

Bessang was the battle that Marcos wanted to be remembered by, despite no evidence that he was there.

It was also at this battle that Japanese Admiral Kyoguro Shimamoto surrendered to my father and gave him the Japanese Imperial flag flown on Pearl Harbor that fateful Dec. 8, 1941. This flag is proof of who really led that infantry to victory.

Today’s echoes of the past

Instead of being displayed as a physical reminder of the real Filipino heroes of World War II, including my father, that flag is in storage in Seattle.

In a gesture of peace and closure, my family had initially tried to return the flag to the family of Admiral Shimamoto, who raised the Imperial flag on Pearl Harbor, and later assigned to the Philippines to defend Bessang Pass. But Shimamoto’s family declined and we respected that.

We tried to donate it to the National Park Service for display at Pearl Harbor. We hoped it would be used to commemorate the role of Filipinos in World War II. We wanted to remind the world of the Filipino victory in the battle of Bessang Pass, along with the widely remembered losses at Bataan and Corregidor. But we were told we wouldn’t have control over the display of the artifact, so my family decided to hold on to the flag for now.

But today in the Philippines, Marcos has a place of honor in a cemetery for national heroes and people are protesting Duterte’s allegiance to the Marcos family. The Marcos family, who are once again in the Philippines and holding elected offices, supported Duterte during his campaign for presidency. It’s payback time.

FILE PHOTO – Former first lady Imelda Marcos kisses the glass coffin of her husband, late president Ferdinand Marcos, during her 85th birthday celebration in Ferdinand Marcos’ hometown of Batac, Ilocos Norte province, in northern Philippines July 2, 2014. (File photo by Erik De Castro.)

Thirty years after Ferdinand Marcos’ ouster, his family seeks to re-establish its dynasty. Marcos’ 20-year presidency pushed a people’s endurance to survive a system based on excessive cronyism, enriching the few, especially his relatives and friends and enforced through a cadre of close military strongmen.

Ferdinand’s only son, Ferdinand Jr., is being groomed to lead the nation. He lost his bid for the vice presidency, but he perhaps has an opening through Duterte’s continuous discrediting of the currently elected Vice President Leni Robredo, who is from an opposition party.

Duterte turned the matter over to the Philippine Supreme Court, which allowed the burial to proceed in spite of widespread opposition, especially from the student population. The burial of his ashes took place in complete secrecy, in a manner that fuels more questions than answers. Duterte was not in the country at the time.

The burial of Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes’ Cemetery is an attempt to bury the demons of his past so it can pave the young Marcos back in power, unblemished.

In the meantime, the debate behind the Marcos claim to heroism intensely rages on. And the flag, in all its faded glory, remains intact, waiting to be displayed, to finally honor the true Filipino heroes of that battle.

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5 Comments

  1. Idiots, If you guys can name me the all the Filipinos that fought in Bessang Pass then I will rest my case. Its a war and you idiots based it on America’s report which is based only about their troops. MARCOS is a good president and after he gets ousted Philippines turned into a SHITHOLE.

  2. Must watch !!! U.S. Senator. Richard Black: US should respect President Duterte and Filipino culture (youtube subs)

    Video Url: https://youtu.be/_27CVzufV9U

    Video time – 00:02:52

    “…I think what many Filipinos are now coming to recognize is that when the then Ferdinand Marcos government was overthrown largely through direct US intervention by George Schultz Paul Wolfowitz and others in 1986, declared to be a dictator and so forth, he, like Assad in Syria, that you’ve made the point over and over, he (Ferdinand E Marcos = FEM) was tremendously popular in the country but there was an urban group (the Yellow Cult Oligarchs together with the CIA and State Department) that rallied against him and they succeeded in removing him, but with removing him from office, all of what he (FEM) had brought to the Philippines, an industrialization programs, rice self-sufficiency, the building of the first nuclear power plant (that Cory Aquino, US Puppet, does not want to make it work because the Aquinos, US Puppets, wants Filipinos to hate FEM) in Southeast Asia, health facilities, not only for the Philippines but for all of Southeast Asia.

    All of that has been shut down (sold) and the Philippines that was once looked at as the most promising developing country in Southeast Asia, has now become the basket case with tremendous poverty, which Mr. Duterte, president Duterte has always point the fact that you have thirty to forty percent poverty and even hunger across the Philippines. So, in all this time of the U.S. development and us friendship in US aid all we were willing to do is invest in mines to take out their raw materials or to use their young people in call centers to serve Americans with their banking or computer problems. But no industry, no infrastructure, and now the Philippine people see an opening, an opportunity for that and I think what President detect a said to his business people should be listened to as you’re saying by the united states which was well, why doesn’t the United States make us the same offers that the Chinese are offering us, and then we’d be glad to take them…”

  3. The above 2 comments are wholly without any truth. Marcos was directly responsible for the murders of two young Filipino-American ILWU union leaders in Seattle on June 1st, 1981.
    Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes were murdered at Marcos’ order by a corrupt local union president that Silme and Gene had defeated in an election. It took many years to prove a direct connection between Marcos and his US stooge but it was proven in Superior Court and is a matter of public record.
    The fact-less, evidence-absent statements the two previous commenters made must not be allowed to stand and are excellent examples of the type of national discourse we see where (for some amazingly stupid reason) a Tweet=Truth and “I said it so it must be true”.

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