Marcos bust blasted

- Artemio Dumlao -
PUGO, La Union – A huge concrete bust of deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, erected on a mountainside here, was blown up by unidentified men before dawn yesterday, police said. The upper half of the 99-foot bust of the late president was destroyed, its eyes, ears and nose blown off.

Philippine National Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Leopoldo Bataoil said investigators believe the blast was the handiwork of treasure hunters who thought there was gold hidden inside the bust.

Imelda Marcos, widow of the former ruler, said in a statement that she was "very sad" to hear of the incident, remarking that the bust was a "loving offering of local residents" to her husband.

"When anything that symbolizes something positive, something beautiful, something right, is destroyed, it is always very sad," Mrs. Marcos told The Associated Press, her voice cracking.

Asked whether the attack scared her, Marcos said without elaborating: "I’m always careful."

Benguet Gov. Raul Mencio Molintas said initial findings of the police also pointed to treasure hunters as the suspects, and that they have brushed aside the possibility that the blast was politically motivated or was carried out by communist guerrillas.

The controversial bust, much smaller than those of US Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, has been seen by critics as an attempt by Marcos to immortalize himself. The bust was previously bombed once in the late 1980s, creating cracks and other minor damage, police said.

Molintas claimed that before the incident, a white Toyota FX van was seen always parked around the area.

He said he could not discount speculations that there may be treasure in the Marcos bust, which had become a famous tourist attraction in the North.

The Marcoses’ eldest daughter, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, also deplored the attack and said the incident reflects the breakdown of law and order in many parts of the country.

"It (the blasting) is symptomatic of the breakdown of law and order in the Cordilleras and Northern Luzon and in many parts of the country," she said.

The lawmaker also claimed she felt "disturbed" by this new act of violence, and that her father had thought the statue "actually was a terrible idea."

She said insurgency and criminal activities in Northern Luzon are partly to blame for the deterioration of what was once a peaceful place. "Even tourists are being attacked," Marcos said.

"We don’t want to get praning (paranoid) about it. We don’t consider it a personal attack. Although I, together with Bongbong (her brother Ferdinand Jr. who is Ilocos Norte governor) am on the hit list of the kaliwa (the communists) in northern Luzon," she added.

Marcos, however, said she will not consider the incident as an attack on their family, remarking that "any high-profile landmark would be a natural target for someone of a violent bent."

She said they will leave the incident to the authorities to investigate and apprehend the culprits.

Superintendent Elpidio Gabriel, public information chief of the Cordillera Police Regional Office, said unidentified persons had secretly planted dynamite on the huge statue but added they had no suspects in the crime.

Debris from the shattered statue was scattered all over the area but no one was reported hurt in the incident.

A local resident, Juan Zarsaid said he heard the explosion before dawn but did not see anyone near the site.

Senior Superintendent Benjamin Magalong, Benguet police director, however, announced that their initial investigation showed the communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas might have carried out the bombing.

A time bomb was reportedly used to destroy the decades-old statue apparently to draw the attention of President her family.
Decades-old target
The bust was completed by the government in the early 1980s when Marcos was in power but it fell into neglect after a popular revolt toppled the Marcos regime in 1986 and sent the fallen dictator and his family fleeing to exile in Hawaii.

Marcos ruled the country for 20 years, much of it under martial law, until he was toppled by a popular uprising and died in Hawaii while in exile in 1989.

The bust has been controversial for years as a symbol of Marcos’ self-glorification, partly because a tribal group, the Ibalois, was displaced from the area to make room for the statue which overlooks the Marcos Highway.

Shortly after Marcos’ 1986 ouster, tribesmen displaced by the building of the bust and an accompanying park and golf course slaughtered a carabao and pig and poured the animals’ blood on the bust to "exorcise" it of evil spirits. They then filed cases in court to reclaim their land.

Communist insurgents who opposed Marcos, have long criticized the construction of the huge bust but Gabriel said there had been no signs of any guerrilla activity in the area.

Rebel spokesman Gregorio "Ka Roger" Rosal earlier described Mrs. Arroyo’s administration is like that of Marcos.

Rosal had claimed the number of human rights abuses under the Arroyo administration has surpassed Marcos’ 20-year record.

Pablo Sanidad, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), an organization of human rights lawyers that clashed with Marcos, said the destruction of the bust was "very unfortunate."

Sanidad said many groups had been contemplating in tearing down the bust but no one had enough courage to carry out the task.

"It (Marcos bust) was a reminder of our folly as a people and that we should never allow dictators to rule our land." he said. "Now that it is gone, we may be doomed to commit the same mistakes."

But for some residents here, even those now living overseas, they wanted a piece of the blasted bust "for souvenir."

A local resident who is now assistant bureau chief of an international news service, had even requested a piece of the debris of what is left from the bust. "A la Berlin Wall (like the Berlin Wall)," he said referring to the infamous concrete wall which literally divided Germany until the late 80s.

To the Ibalois who were displaced by the Marcos bust, it was a symbol of mistrust of the authorities because their lives were thrown into disarray when it was built. - With reports from Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez, AFP, AP

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