BATAC, Philippines — Inside the house where Ferdinand Marcos grew up, an open coffin containing the body of his mother is still displayed nearly a year after her death.
A slip of paper, resting on the glass that covers her face, marks the number of days since her death.
Although the paper does not mention President Corazon Aquino, its message is clear: The body of Josefa Edralin-Marcos would have been buried long ago if the president had allowed Marcos to return from exile.
But Aquino, citing national security, has refused to permit the ailing 71-year-old Marcos to return from Hawaii, where he fled after being ousted as president in an uprising three years ago.
And so the house of Marcos has become more a mausoleum than a museum.
Gone are the large crowds that turned out to view 'Dona Josefa' when the body was brought last year from Manila to this town in Ilocos Norte province, 240 miles north of the capital.
National newspapers in Manila as well as most of the country's 58 million people have all but forgotten the endless wake for Dona Josefa, except for the occasional crude joke in the capital about "Marcos' mummy."
But a curious mix of tourists, relatives, Marcos loyalists and religious fanatics still gather daily to view the body and a display of Marcos' furnishings, newspaper clippings and war medals.
Subject of Prayers
They offer prayers not only for the soul of the former school teacher but for the return of Marcos from exile.
Although Dona Josefa died May 4 in Manila at age 95, her family postponed burial indefinitely in the hope that Aquino would relent and allow Marcos to return home for the funeral.
Relatives say a mortician visits the museum every two months to inject the body with embalming fluid. The body is dressed in a white embroidered gown that covers all but her face, which is heavily made up.
Masses were said in several churches in the area on Feb. 15, Dona Josefa's 96th birthday, residents said.
"She looks so fresh," said Marcos' niece, Cynthia Poblete-Chan, as she gazed at her grandmother's body. "We're just waiting for their (Marcos') word," when to bury her in the family plot at the eastern edge of this town.
Banners with slogans such as "The Whole Filipino Nation is Condoling" hang on the walls of the family home, along with pictures of Marcos, his wife, Imelda, and other mementos of his life.
Three times a day, a small group of Marcos supporters gathers around the bier to pray.
Residents have been joined recently by members of a religious sect, the "Alpha-Omega," who believe that the return of Marcos is part of a divine plan for the Philippines. Cult members, dressed in red and blue shirts printed with the words "Alpha-Omega," keep an almost daily watch by the bier.
When Poblete-Chan appeared during a recent wake, cult members knelt before her and kissed her hand reverently.
Teresita Maglahus, a spokeswoman for the group, said the cultists followed Dona Josefa's body to Batac after their leader, known only as "Mama Rose," received a "vision from God."
"Lola (Mrs. Edralin-Marcos) needs prayers for her soul," Maglahus said. "Nothing can stop God and the return of Marcos. If people only knew who Marcos is, they would kneel down in front of him."
In a town where Marcos is still revered, officials say the wake could go on indefinitely until the former president himself gives the word for burial.
"Personally, I want her to be buried so her soul can rest," said Vice Mayor Rodolfo Yadao, a member of Marcos' New Society Movement party.