by Alan Robles
originally published in SCMP September 21, 2006
Today, September 21, marks an important date ... except that I can't seem to recall what it is. Hang on, I remember: it's the anniversary of the day martial law was declared in 1972. There'll be the usual editorials and speeches about how we should never again allow a dictatorship; how we should never forget the tyranny of that strongman, Ferdinand What's his Face. No wait, it's "Marcos".
Pardon the lapses. You see, it's been 34 years since martial law was imposed and 20 since Marcos and his wife Imelda were chased away. The memory of that period seems to be fading. Most of the population is now too young to have experienced military rule, and probably think "martial law" is the name of a TV series. They're likely tired of the same old, gruesome anniversary recollections of tortures, murders, massive looting and corruption - so different from the killings, graft and misgovernance they enjoy now.
I think the anniversary would make a deeper impression if people learned what became of some key characters in the story. Start with the main figure, Ferdinand Marcos. After his brutal, larcenous one-man rule was overthrown in 1986, he died in exile in 1989 and his body was flown back and put in a refrigerated crypt. I've heard that, because the embalming job was so bad, and the air-conditioning isn't always on - because the electricity bill isn't paid regularly - the dead dictator needs constant, ahem, retouching. It's possible that the body no longer looks like Ferdinand. But I'm sure there's no truth to the rumour that it now resembles Imelda.
Imelda herself, whose shopping binges amazed the world, returned from exile, ran for office and won. No longer a public official, she lives in Manila, where she clanks around in heavy jewellery, complaining about government persecution. This hasn't stopped her from partying with luminaries, such as the government commissioner who's supposed to be recovering her stolen wealth. Imelda says she has enough money - from a secret treasure hoard her late husband discovered, she claims - to pay off the country's debts.
The Marcos kids have all grown up and two have gone into politics. Perhaps they hope to follow their father's footsteps. The country should be so lucky. Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos' defence and justice minister, turned against his benefactor and is currently a senator. He once apologised for helping to overthrow Marcos then, oddly, threatened to sue a government official who called him a "Marcos crony".
Looking at these brief stories, I think the lesson is crystal clear. If you're involved in a murderous dictatorship and it gets overthrown, you can expect to meet your just reward: a high government position. It's a lesson everyone should bear in mind as we mark this important date ... let's see, what was the occasion again?