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Cult of Marcos rises among his former subjects

IN A small town in the northern Philippines, the body of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos remains unburied in a mausoleum. It lies in a glass box, a little over-rouged perhaps, but with pompadour erect. "Ave Marias" wail over it and in the dark burns a memorial flame.

This, says Rodolfo Cabusao, is fulfilment of biblical prophecy. He has the verses from Revelations to prove it. From village obscurity, Mr Cabusao has recently found notoriety in the Philippines as the head of a cult that venerates Mr Marcos as a saint.

"I had a vision one day, at exactly 4.17 in the afternoon," remembers Mr Cabusao, a slight, bespectacled man who wears a Harley Davidson T-shirt and was once a tailor.

"Mr Marcos came to me and said, `Cabusao, you have long searched for the new Jerusalem.' I replied, `Yes, I have long searched for the new Jerusalem.'

"Then, Mr Marcos patted himself on the chest and said: `The one you are searching for is here.'"

Surrounded by admiring peasants, Mr Cabusao continues: "`You?' I cried, `but the papers say you killed the people and stole the money?' And he replied: `The word is Jerusalem.' I said: `What does this mean?' And he: `Cabusao, have you forgotten your mother's teachings?'

"So I looked again and saw that the word meant, `Hero in the Philippines'. And then he disappeared."

On the last Saturday of every month, over a hundred worshippers congregate with Mr Cabusao at his modest bamboo and grass chapel, among rice fields, in the secluded foothills of Abra province, 200 miles north of Manila.

The chapel's features include a flag bearing the words "God's New World Government", and a portrait of the "Sacred Heart of Jesus" with the face of Ferdinand Marcos. "I consider him a Filipino lamb, a witness of God, used to materialise the prophecies," Mr Cabusao explains quietly. "I feel no shame. I am serving God and the people."

The cult stems from an earlier "Rizalian brotherhood" - a movement that worships Jose Rizal, the hero of Philippine nationalism, as the second coming of Christ. It is the latest of several Marcos cults founded since the dictator's death.

News of Mr Cabusao's teachings has left the Catholic Church unamused. "Comparing Marcos and Jesus - we are not in favour of this," Monsignor Hernando Coronel, of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, was quoted as saying. "`The Sacred Heart of Jesus' stands for love, mercy, and peace, while Marcos stands for other values. That is disrespect for the church and for Christ."

President Marcos was toppled in 1986 and died three years later in exile in Hawaii. His 21-year dictatorship is commonly associated with a plundering of Philippine assets and a grim human rights record: an alleged 3,257 extra-judicial killings and some 35,000 victims of torture.

The Philippine government announced this week it is stepping up efforts to recover the wealth accumulated by the late dictator. The Presidential Commission on Good Government knows there is Marcos money hidden in Switzerland and the United States, but billions of dollars are also now believed to have been stashed in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Germany, Britain, the Cayman Islands, Morocco, Libya, Liechtenstein, Austria, the Channel Islands and Panama.

So far, the government has only identified about $610m (pounds 380m) which was held in several Swiss bank accounts.

Undeterred, Mr Cabusao maintains that the spiritual mission of Ferdinand Marcos is not yet done on this Earth. "Oh, he's still around, he's here, influencing people," he says with a knowing smile.

Konrad Muller