In exchange for bringing back Ferdinand Marcos’ body
By Raïssa Robles
I was really very surprised when my phone rang last Friday and an aide of Fidel Ramos said the former Philippine president wanted to speak with me. Beyond the usual press briefings and conferences, Ramos and I have never been warm friends. But we’ve had several interesting encounters.
He has always been an accommodating and ever gentlemanly source no matter the number of times I got under his skin.
The first time I saw him up close was at his office inside Camp Crame the day after he and then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile parted ways with President Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986. Ramos was Mr Cool, although he chomped on an unlit cigar. I was a newbie political reporter then. Forever etched in my mind is that moment when he calmly told a gaggle of us reporters and photographers – “Ladies and Gentlemen, the tanks are coming. I suggest you to all go down. You will be safer there.”
My next close encounter with him was on a flatbed truck while he was campaigning for president in 1992. I happened to be the only reporter on board. I felt it was my duty and opportunity to ask him about this certain woman who was being written and talked about because she was forever dropping his name within the corridors of power.
It must have been the rain that gave me the courage to ask then. I’ve written about this encounter in my piece on Sex and the President, which was published in the book Dateline Manila by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).
After Ramos won, he launched a book about himself which my Philippine Star editor, the late Betty Go-Belmonte, asked me to cover. When he saw me, he did not say anything. He wrote a gracious dedication on the book (which I bought with my hard-earned money). But I saw his jaw muscle really bobbing up and down. It was then that my admiration for him rose because what I had written nearly contributed to the sinking of his presidential campaign and had caused him much emotional agony.
Early in his presidency, Ramos visited Manila Chronicle newspaper where Alan asked what made him, a minority president, think he had any powers to push his legislative agenda through congressional gridlock. It made him a bit testy.
After his term ended, Ramos surfaced in the limelight as calls mounted for his successor Joseph Estrada to resign from office. Ramos even met with FOCAP. He denied he was planning any coup and said he was busy with a think tank. After his briefing, while bantering around with some of us, I could not resist telling him Alan’s joke about his think tank. “Sir,” I said, “my journalist-husband Alan said ‘maybe it’s more tank than think.”
Ramos replied, “Ha-ha-ha, I didn’t get the joke.” A few months later, Ramos turned out to be part of the group that unseated Estrada.
One thing about Ramos – he never held a grudge and he didn’t totally lose his composure.
Why am I telling you all these?
Because it is in this context that our conversation about Ferdinand Marcos’ non-burial and about other issues took place. I have learned through years of reporting that the dynamics between a source and a reporter affect how much the source decides to reveal.
Ramos confirms giving Imelda Marcos 3 preconditions
Ramos sounded chirpy. He got to the point at once. “The story is fairly accurate,” he said, referring to my article Marcoses broke promise to bury FM’s body at once in Ilocos – Fidel Ramos “Tama yung three conditions.” (The three conditions are correct.) He said these were: the direct transport of the body to Ilocos without passing Manila; military honors for an army major; and the immediate burial of the body.
“What I’m telling you are from my own recollection and some scanned files. It’s not probably the complete story,” he cautioned me. He recalled it was Congressman Roquito Ablan who had negotiated the terms for the family.
He was authorized by the family. There were two congressmen (representing Ilocos Norte) then – the first district was Ablan, the second district was Bongbong (Marcos’ son Ferdinand Jr., now a senator).
It was Roguito Ablan who brought the proposal that we referred to Secretary (Rafael) Alunan of DILG (Department of Interior and Local Governments).” Like other Philippine presidents, Ramos was fond of referring to himself as “we”.
Scouring his memory, Ramos said:
It was the Ablan proposal where it says – after the transfer from Hawaii to Batac, remains to stay overnight in the north with the mother who was in Sarrat…Lola Sepa would be buried on the 9th of September in Batac beside Elizabeth Marcos-Keon (the dead dictator’s sister).
Then the next day, Marcos would be “buried”, Ramos added. Several times during the conversation I made kulit (the word sounds nicer in Filipino than “nag”). I kept asking him to confirm whether or not he was telling me that Imelda Marcos had really agreed to his three preconditions. And everytime, he said “yes.” I asked him if anything at all was signed by Imelda Marcos agreeing to the preconditions. He paused and said:
The major stipulation was signed by Imelda Marcos and Alunan. His remains shall be buried at the family burial grounds in Batac itself…The remains shall be buried on the 9th of September more or less, depending on the arrival of the direct flight.
At that time they were still negotiating clearances from the US FAA (Federal Aviation Authority).
I asked him what kind of a written agreement it was. He paused and said, “to my recollection it was an MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) or MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between Alunan and Imelda.”
No, he said he did not witness the signing of the agreement, and noted that this agreement was even on a much lower level than a bilateral trade agreement.
Ramos says why he did not press Marcoses to bury the body
I asked him why he never compelled the Marcoses to bury the body between 1993 and 1998. His answer to me was: It was Imelda who decided to put Marcos in A mausoleum in a refrigerated state. As for what to do with the remains, the family has the absolute right. I pressed him whether the incumbent president, Benigno Aquino, could now compel them to honor the agreement that Imelda Marcos had entered into with the Philippine government in order to bring home the body. He evaded the question. Instead, he said:
Let history be the judge. The history is not settled yet. There are so may allegations of human rights violations, torture, unexplained wealth which are still unresolved.
Ramos said it was really President Aquino’s call on the issue. He denied that the reason he did not compel a burial was that a compromise settlement on the Marcos loot was in the works –
No. We were not trying to forge any compromise in 1993.