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Marcos’ restless corpse in mausoleum: Wax or real?

For most of you, the names Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos won’t ring any bells. But from 1965 to 1986, Ferdinand was the President and Imelda the First Lady of the Philippines. In those 21 years, Ferdinand, with Imelda’s help, managed to rack up an astonishing record of abuses common to dictators – human rights violations, assassinations, corruption, embezzlement of public funds – and held onto power through the imposition of martial law, the abolition of the constitution, and the appointment of political cronies, including Imelda, a former beauty queen, to prominent posts.

Finally, in 1986, a people’s coup toppled the Marcos regime and the Marcoses were forced to flee their palace and the country. They were given safe passage by the Reagan Administration to Hawaii. In the palace, Imelda left behind 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 888 handbags and 1060 pairs of shoes, some say 2700 pairs. It was estimated that the Marcos family was worth $35 billion.

Three years later, still in exile in Hawaii, Ferdinand was dead at 72 of complications from lupus. Imelda wanted Ferdinand to be buried in the Philippines but his body was refused entry. So Imelda kept the body in a refrigerated mausoleum in Oahu, complete with soft music, wheeling him out over the years for a birthday party and an anniversary celebration. The power company soon threatened to suspend power for the costly tomb when thousands of dollars in electric bills went unpaid but, at the last minute, a friend came forward and picked up the tab.

In 2001, twelve years after his death, the Philippine government allowed Ferdinand’s corpse to return to his homeland and Imelda with it. Imelda went to work building a tomb in the national cemetery where Filipino heroes are buried. But fierce opposition broke out and blocked the former president’s burial. Ferdinand’s remains were then temporarily housed at a mansion in Batac, Ilocos Norte Province, in an air conditioned room. Eventually the corpse was moved to their present location in the Marcos family mausoleum in the village cemetery in Batac.


Former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos kisses the crystal coffin of her deceased husband, former President Ferdinand Marcos
Former First Lady of the Philippines kisses the crystal coffin of her deceased husband, former President Ferdinand Marcos
The once-ruthless dictator is now a shrunken fellow dressed in a barong tagalog and black slacks lying in a glass viewing case inside a refrigerated crypt in a stone room with soft lights and church music. He is on perpetual view. A steady flow of visitors file past him. There his restless corpse will remain, above ground, unless Imelda gets her way and the government relents, according him a government-sponsored burial with full military honors.

Twenty-two years later, his preserved remains are still on display at the Marcos mausoleum in Batac, Ilocos Norte, enclosed in a glass crypt inside an airconditioned room with Gregorian music playing endlessly. 

The Marcoses have been waiting for government to allow the dictator to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes' Cemetery). 

But over the years, people have begun to doubt whether the body on display is the real Marcos.

Some suspect it is only just a wax replica, with the real Marcos already secretly buried. 
However, while in Batac, the ABS-CBN News team met Frank Malabed, the mortician who embalmed Ferdinand Marcos in Hawaii. 

Malabed insists that the body visitors to the mausoleum see is that of the late dictator.

"Siya pa rin yan. Ang loob niyang mismo ay katawan niya," Malabed says. "Nasa kanila [Marcos family] naman yan kung ano ang iniisip nila, di ba? Basta [ang] nakikkita nila, eto si ser, ang ating dating presidente."
It turns out that Malabed was also the one who embalmed the late Ninoy Aquino in 1983. 

When Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, the family immediately called for him.

Malabed recalls that it took him 3 weeks to restore Marcos' body back to the way Filipinos would recognize.

"Yung mukha niya, yung binti niya, may manas siya, yung edema. [Yung buhok], wig na yan. Wala na siyang buhok nung may mangyari sa kanya...talagang buo ang ginawa sa kanya. Kumbaga sa ano, parang maskara na yan," he explains. 

But Malabed says he only preserved Marcos' body for 20-25 years. The time has come, he adds, for Marcos to be laid to rest.

"Kung hindi pa ito maililibing, kundi matuloy ngayong year na ito...medyo kinakabahan na rin ako. Kailangan ko na sigurong inspeksyunin na siyang muli," he says. 

Ferdinand Marcos has remained unburied for 22 years, and he's bound to remain so until the nation has decided whether he's a hero, or a villain in Philippine history.

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