WITH the sole cooperation of the military and without alerting the public in advance about it, the Marcos family buried the remains of the late former President Ferdinand Marcos in private rites at the Libingan ng mga Bayani at high noon last Friday, while their mostly leftist adversaries prayed in vain for a reversal of the Supreme Court decision dismissing their petitions against the burial, and while President Rodrigo Duterte, its main proponent, was attending the APEC summit in Lima, Peru. It was a totally unexpected coup.
One way of looking at it is that the Marcos camp won and the petitioners lost. The better way of looking at it is that we all won, nobody lost. We can now heave a sigh of relief that one massive load has been taken off our shoulders and our backs, and hopefully the nation can now move forward. This gives the President a much bigger space in which to maneuver and lead.
What the Court said
In its 9 to 5 ruling penned by Associate Supreme Court Justice Diosdado Peralta, the high court said that Duterte’s decision to allow the burial was political and “outside the ambit of judicial review.” No law is violated, which recognizes the rights of victims of any human rights violation from Sept. 21, 1972, when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law to turn back the communist insurgency, until Feb. 25, 1986, when he fell in a civilian- and US-assisted military coup.
The Court said the petitions should have been dismissed on procedural grounds because the petitioners, which included self-described victims of human rights violations during martial law, had failed to show how allowing the burial of Marcos’s remains threatened any of their rights.
The Court could not have been fairer than this.
All except one of the five justices who had dissented against the Peralta ponencia were Supreme Court appointees of former President B. S. Aquino Jr., who had waged a strident personal campaign against the Marcoses during his six years in office. The non-Aquino appointee argued that Marcos’s ouster in 1986 had wiped out his right to rest at the Libingan.
This was a political opinion which no magistrate has any right or duty or competence to make; it carries no factual or constitutional weight in this controversy whatsoever. Do we actually know, for a fact, what actual forces ultimately drove Marcos out of the Palace? That is only the first of so many unasked, and unanswered, questions.
PNoy’s influence on his justices
As for the Aquino justices, their patron had made it clear that he would not allow Marcos’s remains to be buried at the Libingan during his watch, just as he would not allow any member of the Marcos family to come close to the presidency, if he could help it. Thus last May, PNoy did everything to make sure that Marcos’ son and namesake, then Senator Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr., would not be declared vice president-elect, regardless of his actual votes.
Marcos Jr. was leading the vice-presidential race from the start of the counting until the early hours of the next day when he was suddenly overtaken by the Liberal Party’s Leni Robredo, PNoy’s candidate. He never recovered from that, and had to file a formal protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, composed of all the members of the high court, where the case now sleeps.
It started with Cory
As president, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, PNoy’s late mother, declared that Marcos would no longer be allowed to return to the Philippines from his exile in Hawaii, where the US Air Force had taken him and his family after his fall from power—not even to answer the charges filed against him for crimes he had allegedly committed against the Philippines.
As Cory Aquino’s supporter at the time, I had to point out in a public statement that the Constitution, which she had just promulgated, was meant to protect all Filipinos without exception, not all Filipinos except Marcos. It could not withhold its legal protection from the Marcoses any more than it could withhold such protection from any of Cory’s friends and allies.
Marcos died on Sept. 28, 1989, and was not allowed to be brought home. But his widow, Imelda Romualdez Marcos, was allowed to come home to answer some summonses and run in the 1992 presidential elections.
In 1993, President Fidel V. Ramos, who had been Marcos’s Philippine Constabulary Chief and later AFP Vice Chief of Staff and had helped then Defense Secretary/Minister Juan Ponce Enrile implement martial law from 1972 to 1980, allowed Marcos’s remains to be brought home.
But he withhheld permission for the remains to be buried at the Libingan. Imelda decided to keep them inside a refrigerated vault in Batac, Ilocos Norte, Marcos’s hometown, where long lines of visitors came to pay their respects especially on weekends.
In the last presidential campaign, DU30 promised to allow Marcos’s interment at the Libingan should he win. Did he promise to have him buried as a hero? Not at all. Except for PNoy, who tried to make heroes of his deceased parents, no president can declare a particular individual a hero. The people confer the proper recognition on their own heroes.
Although Libingan ng mga Bayani literally means “Burying Ground for Heroes,” the term is more of a generous exercise of poetic license. Libingan is no more than a national military shrine administered by the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office under the supervision of the Department of National Defense. It is not to be confused with the National Pantheon, which is authorized but remains unimplemented by Republic Act 289, meant “to perpetuate the memory of all Presidents of the Philippines, national heroes and patriots for the inspiration and emulation of this generation and of generations still unborn.”
Being a hero is not a necessary qualification for one to be buried at the Libingan. Under the military guidelines, a former soldier, a recipient of the Medal of Valor, a former secretary of national defense, and a former president may be interred there. On the few occasions I have visited the Libingan to join a Mass for my dear departed friend and former colleague, Senator and later Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, I did not see a single marker belonging to anyone I thought was a hero. I tried to look for the grave of Cory’s police dog, but I was told it was buried inside Malacanang Park.
Congratulations, not condolences
It was against this background that the Marcoses staged their unpublicized burial of the Marcos remains. Instead of condoling with the Marcoses, as is usual on these occasions, I heard people congratulating them for “outsmarting their political enemies”. Many, if not most, of these “enemies” are associated with the old communist movement which had prompted Marcos to declare martial law in 1972, but which found a sanctuary in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and in the Philippine countryside, where it managed to survive the collapse of Soviet communism and the end of the Cold War in 1991, and succeeded recently in inserting itself inside the DU30 government.
Despite this, they are in open conflict with DU30 on Marcos’s burial.
By nightfall of Friday, pockets of demonstrators, mostly students, occupied a portion of the square of the People Power Monument on EDSA, reciting a mantra and brandishing anti-Marcos placards. They were more noisy than numerous; the next day, their ranks dwindled to a few holdouts. At the same time Imelda led thousands to pray at the Marcos tomb and protect it from any possible disrespect from the anti-Marcos group.
Visibly thrown off balance by the turn of events, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and other protest leaders denounced the burial as illegal and threatened to have Marcos’s grave dug up. To this, a Marcos loyalist was heard to say that this would be quite all right, provided at least one of them would take Marcos’s place inside his desecrated grave.
The absence of non-family members at the Libingan tended to bolster the claim that the Marcos family merely wanted to fulfill the late strongman’s dying wish that he be buried side by side with his fellow soldiers. The family merely wanted a simple soldier’s burial, not to proclaim Marcos a hero. The protest now tries to revolve around the placard “Marcos is not a hero.” But no one is saying he is!
The military gave Marcos an honor guard, a 21-gun salute, etc—all the honors due a departed president. This showed the kind of respect, affection perhaps, which the officers and men of the AFP had for Marcos; but this was not within the control of the Marcoses. In any case, the military does not have the authority to make a national hero of Marcos.
De Gaulle’s example
Not too long ago, I was asked, as one of the surviving members of the Marcos Cabinet, what I thought of the Libingan issue. I said that if I were a member of the Marcos family and I had a decisive say on the matter, I would recommend that, like General Charles de Gaulle, the President of France, who was buried not in the Pantheon in Paris, but inside the churchyard in his village of Colombey-les-deux-Eglises, Marcos should be buried in a private place rather than at the Libingan.
If his memory outlives his enemies, such a place would in time become much more important than any common burying ground.
After the Supreme Court said there was no legal obstacle to burying Marcos’s remains at the Libingan, I thought it would be a class act if the Marcos family were to issue a formal statement thanking the Supreme Court for its ruling, and then announce that they had decided to bury Marcos in a private plot which would be accessible to all people at all times. This would have thoroughly disarmed the petitioners and the alleged martial law victims.
But then I learned that it was not the family’s wish that Marcos be buried at the Libingan; it was rather his dying wish. No one dishonors that. Having fought against the Japanese invasion in World War II, received the Medal of Valor, served as secretary of national defense, been elected president not once but thrice (1969, 1980, 1986), he was qualified, on each of these counts, to be interred there. Is it possible that some people are not merely against Marcos being buried at the Libingan, but are against Marcos being buried in the country at all?
Through the untethered social media and the gullible and witless mainstream media, we have created an overdose of unthinking individuals who are so ready to parrot the grievances of the so-called victims of martial law without trying to find out whether or not these alleged victims had in fact contributed to the cause of martial law. The most stupid of them say, “Never again martial law;” none of them ever says, “Never again the things that brought about martial law.”
In one careless swing, FVR called on the Marcos family to apologize for martial law. This was most egregious. As president, Marcos exercised powers of the state. He did not share these with any member of his family, least of all his children, who were minors at that point. As my neighbor on this page, Rigoberto Tiglao, has pointed out, Ramos was an implementor of martial law, and should be the first one to apologize, if any apology is needed.
Former Senate President Enrile, who was Marcos’s defense secretary until he led the military mutiny against him, was the main administrator of martial law. He is waiting to be asked questions by any “martial law victim,” if they could but temporarily shift their gaze away from the dead and defenseless Marcos.