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Marcos’ Health Is Not Issue, the Philippines’ Health Is

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In an effort to avoid federal prosecution, former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his associates are involved in a well-orchestrated campaign to give the perception that he is sick and near death and thus unable to travel to New York to face arraignment.

The campaign is meant to gain the sympathy of the American and Filipino publics--and not necessarily in that order. Marcos hopes to persuade the Filipino people that his time on Earth is about to run out, thereby putting pressure on the government of Corazon Aquino to relent and let him come home. And that would open the way for him to escape federal prosecution. He would lobby Washington for permission to leave his exile in Hawaii. The State Department would probably be willing to give its approval if the Aquino government, the real party of interest in the federal criminal cases against him, said he was welcome to return.

While the Philippine government has no medical evidence to dispute the claims of Marcos or his doctors, it would be wise for everyone to remember that the ousted dictator and his wife Imedla are masters at creating perceptions. Both are great stage performers. In the past, when he wanted to give the impression of being in great health, Marcos would have himself videotaped lifting weights. Imelda Marcos can do an impression of crying Madonna, rosary and all, that would make a Hollywood director proud.

Yet Marcos’ health has often taken turns for the worse, particularly when it was convenient for him to be so disposed. Thus when Benigno S. Aquino Jr. was assassinated, Marcos persuaded many that he was so gravely ill that he could not possibly have given the order to kill the opposition leader.

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Marcos, 71, has been diagnosed as having pneumonia. But even if he is near death, does this mean he should be allowed to return to the Philippines? Let the present situation of the Filipino people answer that question. The country is $28 billion in debt. There is a legacy of institutionalized graft and corruption in government. Thousands of Filipinos have left the country for menial jobs abroad, separated from families and subject to abuse, alienation and loneliness. For those who remain, 70% live in conditions of mass poverty and suffer the attendant evils of crime, disease and ignorance. It is not uncommon to see Filipino children digging through heaps of stinking garbage to find discarded scraps of food.

But the suffering is not limited just to those consigned to a life of impoverishment. The families of murdered opponents also bear the pain of the Marcos years. Torture victims carry the emotional and physical scars of their ordeal.

Yet today Marcos remains unrepentant. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he continues to deny stealing billions of dollars from the Filipino people. He continues with his efforts to destabilize the present Philippine government, even after coup attempts that he helped finance failed. He still has tremendous resources at his command and uses them to influence the Philippine media or to buy the favors of corruptible civilian and military officials. To the dismay of so many, some of Marcos’ worst murderers and torturers have remained uncharged or acquitted--some even have been appointed to high office--all because of his influence and resources. If he can create so many problems from outside the Philippines, it is unimaginable what he can do if he is allowed to return. The national security and interest of the Philippines must prevail above any of Marcos’ reasons to return.

As the Filipino people continue their difficult journey toward true democracy, it is well for them to look down the road through which they have passed. Toppling a terrible dictatorship by facing tanks and guns with prayers and rosaries and courage was a tremendous milestone in this journey and will always be something that Filipinos can truly point to with pride. But the journey must continue. Marcos cannot be allowed to stand in the way.

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