Poking at old wounds
The Supreme Court’s Tuesday decision on the Marcos burial was, though disheartening, hardly a surprise.
Voting 10-5, the high court affirmed with finality its November 2016 decision allowing the burial of Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and dismissed “for lack of merit” the motions for reconsideration filed by former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman. The same 10 justices who voted for the Marcos burial reprised their arguments, as did the five dissenting justices.
According to the majority ruling, President Duterte did not violate the law but merely exercised his mandate under the 1987 Constitution, and the dictator Marcos possessed the qualifications needed to be interred in the cemetery for heroes, being “a former president and commander in chief, a legislator, secretary of national defense, a military personnel, a veteran, and a Medal of Valor awardee.”
Ocampo had argued that Mr. Duterte violated the 1987 Constitution that requires the state to take effective measures against graft and corruption. He had also wanted the high court to cite the Marcos family for contempt for the “sneaky” manner with which the dictator’s remains were accorded a hero’s burial on Nov. 18.
Lagman had described the Marcos burial as “a gross distortion, a malevolent revision, and a wanton derogation of Philippine history.”
The fact is that the high court’s ruling hews faithfully to the letter of the law, and ignores its intent and spirit. While the man fulfilled the technical requirements for a slot in the Libingan, the ruling glosses over the possible grounds for his disqualification. One such failing, per a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, is being “dishonorably separated, recalled or discharged from the service, and being convicted by final judgment of an offense involving moral turpitude.”
As the victims of Marcos’ martial law reminded the high court in their rallies protesting the very idea of a hero’s burial for the dictator who was toppled by People Power in 1986, only those who can serve as inspiration and model for emulation deserve a place at the Libingan. In its petition last year against the burial, Change.org described the high court’s ruling as “a disdainful act that will send a message to the nation’s future—our children—that the world we live in rewards forceful and violent hands.”
Indeed, who can ignore the dark years of martial law under this man who was named by Time magazine in 2011 as among the 15 worst dictators of the world, along with Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, Benito Mussolini of fascist Italy, and Pol Pot of Cambodia?
Eight months after the burial that was pulled off by the dictator’s family with full state assistance, some people had hoped that time and distance would have provided the majority justices better perspective and a deeper appreciation of the impact of their earlier ruling on the nation’s sense of history and Filipinos’ sense of justice. Their affirmation presents their shortsighted view of the law against the long memories of the 70,000 men and women imprisoned, the 34,000 tortured, and the families of the 3,240 killed during the dictatorship.
By affirming the hero’s burial, the high court might as well have also dismissed the massive plunder of the national coffers, the ill-gotten wealth stashed overseas, the people’s suffering that has yet to be eased by full reparation. Instead of hastening “national healing and reconciliation,” which Mr. Duterte had cited in explaining his decision to allow the burial, the original ruling and the high court’s affirmation of it poke at old wounds still festering after all these years.
“Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, be considered for a national burial,” wrote Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew. “Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered yet his wife and children were allowed to engage in politics…”
What to do to hurdle yet another obstacle to etching martial law memories as part of our political history and a powerful deterrent to potential despots? There are urgent tasks at hand: to maintain and sustain an education campaign on the Marcos dictatorship and the pillage of national resources, and to remember not to forget.
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