by Alan Robles
Fourteen years ago the Marcos family fled into the night, escaping an outraged citizenry that had surrounded their palace and was preparing to tear them to bits.
For millions of Filipinos it looked like a happy ending, the kind found in fairy tales and movies.
But now the fairy tale's evaporated. The movie has a horror sequel. The Marcoses, once among the most hated people on this planet, are back in the Philippines: unrepentant, triumphant, rich and sneeringly in power.
The country is no longer their personal property (although Imelda says otherwise); it is no longer a crime of "sedition" or "subversion" to criticize or make fun of them. Despite these drawbacks, they'd still do the late Ferdinand Sr. proud. The Marcoses have successfully held off attempts to recover most of their plunder, estimated to be at least US$10 billion though nobody will ever know for sure, so craftily was the paper trail concealed.
No Marcos has gone to jail for theft, torture or murder though these are among the cases that have been filed against them.
When her father was still in power, Imee's guards murdered a student who had dared to criticize her in a youth meeting. She's now a congresswoman, Four years ago Imelda was convicted of embezzling public funds, and should now be doing 18 to 24 years time. She too is a congresswoman. She has about as much chance of seeing the inside of a jail as of Ninoy Aquino springing to life and leading the Independence Day celebrations.
Under the Marcos dictator thousands were arrested illegally and tortured. Scores were murdered. Due process was hurled out the window and the only ones who prospered were the Marcoses and their friends, many of whom are still around and still very rich. Under the Marcoses, poverty increased from 24% in 1974 to 40% in 1980. Imelda called herself the "slave of the people". Some slave.
Once, when she was still First Lady she was being driven around in her limousine with a foreign journalist. When the reporter noted how police held back traffic to accommodate the First Lady, snaring traffic in the city, Imelda breezily said: "This is what power is all about."
The "slave" spent millions of dollars of from her "masters" to fund shopping sprees in the US. One pillow in a plush condo she owned in New York bore the stitched motto: "Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere."
Of course, the Marcoses have denied and continue to deny anything and everything. As Imee says, "I have not seen anything that we need to apologize for." Dismissing the suit filed against his family by people who were tortured, Bongbong Marcos -- currently governor of Ilocos Norte -- says "some of these people that are claiming they are human rights victims have never been victims of anything except their own greed."
What happened? From a ferocious initial intent to bring the Marcoses to book in 1986, the Philippine government gradually debased its position to recovering the stolen loot, and then to recovering some of the money. Now the only debate is how government will split the loot with the Marcoses, and whether the family should issue an apology.
The low point was reached when Erap Estrada became President. One of the first things he wanted to do was to bury Ferdinand Marcos in the national heroes' cemetery. Asked how she felt when Estrada was elected President, Imee squealed:
"Delighted! we are over the moon. We waited 12 years to be on the right side of the fence." The Supreme Court acquitted Imelda.
The truth is Estrada didn't bring about the Marcoses rehabilitation -- he just helped their good fortune along. The Marcoses were on the road to recovery long before Estrada came along. Their path was smoothed by a culture of politics that seeks to impose forgiveness before it is even asked for, that is concerned mainly with letting bygones be bygones, that wants to settle and not punish. Crime doesn't pay, but it can haggle: 75 per cent for government and you can keep the rest.
Their rehabilitation was guaranteed by a people that has a hard time remembering nasty things. Creatures who once held a knife to the country's collective throat are now seen as curiosities to be interviewed in lifestyle sections. What kind of mother are you, Imee? gushes one interviewee, as if we needed to know the answer to that.
Nothing has changed fundamentally in the Philippines since the Marcoses were evicted. Poverty is still as widespread as corruption. The only thing lacking is Martial Law, and there are occasional rumors of that as well. You can remove the fungus but if you don't clean the dung heap you'll find more growth pretty soon.
Little wonder it's such a great time to be a Marcos. This is a country they'll always call home. It's a country that deserves them.