Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda were strong believers in luck and numerology; seven was the lucky number for the late dictator, a belief he passed down to his children.
When Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr filed his candidacy for vice president in October 2015, he said this: “I am the seventh person to file. The ‘lucky seven’ for us Marcoses is still there. I think it is a good omen.”
Marcos Jr lost.
And, in the latest whammy to hit the Marcos family, Imelda may want to divine something from the fact that, seven days after her conviction on graft charges – in which her advanced age and alleged frail health were invoked to justify her delayed arrest – another historic conviction took place that essentially said age or infirmity is no excuse to be absolved of accountability, especially for heinous crimes left unpunished for long.
On November 16, exactly a week after the court handed down its decision on Imelda, a UN-assisted court in Cambodia sentenced Nuon Chea, 92, and Khieu Samphan, 87, two of the most senior surviving members of the Khmer Rouge, to life imprisonment for committing genocide against the Muslim Cham minority and ethnic Vietnamese communities in the years 1975-1979.
These past two weeks, then, would appear to be a case of long-delayed justice finally catching up with high-profile, now ageing, personalities who abused their power during two of Asia’s darkest periods.
But, while Imelda remains free, and is even seeking a gubernatorial post in next year’s midterm elections despite supposedly suffering from a slew of “organ infirmities”, the two former Khmer Rouge leaders who are similarly in advanced age are serving life terms for crimes against humanity – on top of the genocide sentence – from a separate trial.
Another Khmer Rouge figure, Kaing Guek Eav, 76, known as Duch and identified as the former chief interrogator and torturer of the genocidal regime, is likewise serving a life sentence.
He was hospitalised late last month due to a serious ailment, but has since been sent back to jail following his recovery.
They are not the only ageing former leaders behind bars. In South Korea, former president Lee Myung-bak, 76, was last month sentenced to 15 years in prison on corruption charges, including abuse of power and embezzlement.
Lee, who has been held at a detention centre since March, failed to show up in court to hear the verdict, citing health reasons (Imelda did likewise).
Park Geun-hye, 66, another former president, is serving a 25-year jail term for abuse of power and bribery, among others. She will be 91 by the time her sentence is done.
It must be noted that the defendants were incarcerated while the cases in Cambodia and South Korea were being tried. Being a senior citizen – having surpassed 60 years of age – was no valid reason for the courts to exempt the defendants from jail time.
But the Philippines need not look to other countries for such examples.
In its own backyard, there are about 4,500 senior citizens still languishing in vastly overcrowded jails, according to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
The only apparent difference: They’re all poor and obscure. Imelda is neither.
Cases of several senior citizens who have faced arrests for various crimes have been highlighted on social media following the former first lady’s non-arrest.
Flaviana Sagapsapan, 94, from Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte, was arrested last August for parricide.
Ricardo Castro was 79 when he was arrested in 2012 for allegedly stealing Bt60 worth of chocolates.
Petra Lukingan was 88 years old when jailed in 2012 for falsification of documents; she became the oldest prisoner in Mandaluyong’s Correctional Institution for Women before she was released in 2015 at the age of 91.
There is no justification for Imelda’s continued freedom despite her conviction.
Other countries have the will to jail their high-profile criminals, no matter the age. The Philippines, lacking that critical faculty, continues to spin in circles.