Batac: Marcos Mausoleum
Aside from the orange empanada, Batac in Ilocos Norte is also known as the ‘Home of Great Leaders.’ This claim is boldly printed at the top of one of the city’s buildings as homage perhaps to famous leaders such as General Artemio Ricarte (the Father of Philippine Army), Gregorio Aglipay (founder of the Philippine Independent Church) and former President Ferdinand Marcos, who considered the place as their hometown.
Other attractions in Batac are the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church which was built in 1587 and the Riverside Empanadaan. But we went there primarily for the Marcos Mausoleum where the remains of the former president are interred. There is also a museum nearby that showcases his gradual rise to power, starting from his days as a bemedalled war veteran up to the time when he became president of the republic.
The air-conditioned tomb is open to the public for a few hours every day. No picture-taking is allowed. A single gatekeeper has been guarding the mausoleum and ensuring that this rule is strictly observed for the last 17 years. I thought hard of how to pull off something similar to what I have done at the National Museum. But out of respect to a former president, I abandoned all my options at the last minute.
Despite the eerie feel of the Gregorian chants being played in the background, I actually found the mausoleum fascinating. Once you are inside, you can see the waxed figure of Mr. Marcos enclosed in an airtight casing. The body was masterly retouched as it bore no effects of old age or the diseases that the late strongman endured until his death in 1989.
The Ozymandias sonnet crossed my mind while I was watching the body from a distance. I thought to myself that inside the glass coffin was an intelligent man who wielded power, reshaped society and sparked an infrastructure boom that is yet unrivaled by any successor. However, this was also the same dictator who amassed unexplained wealth, accused for the many human rights violations during his administration and blamed for the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, an opposition senator who is also the father of the current Philippine president.
MLQ stated in a commentary that “…he (Marcos) came to validate what is said to be the fundamental weakness of all strong man regimes: as the saying goes, nothing grows under the shade of a great tree.” Two decades have already passed since his death. We could only hope that we have learned our lessons well enough so as not to commit the same mistakes again.
From a practical standpoint, the kilowatt hours spent to preserve his body could be used to power a university laboratory or a few hospital wards. I think that even for that reason alone, Apo Marcos, as what his throngs of loyalists would affectionately call him, should be given a proper burial soon.
But what constitutes a proper burial is a question that has created a handful of heated debates. Those in disagreement believe that it would be an insult to place the unpopular dictator among the ranks of those who have rightfully earned the distinction. Mrs. Imelda Marcos has been hoping that her late husband would be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of the Heroes) one day. Four presidents have already passed but that day never came.
She has however, abandoned that idea this year saying that her late husband ‘can always be taken to another beautiful place.’ That beautiful place for the time being is Batac. And from the looks of it, this city will safely cradle Ferdinand Marcos’s remains for a long, long time.