8/21/83 means ‘no’ to FM hero’s burial

The murder of a political opponent, regardless of the mastermind, is one compelling reason why Ferdinand Marcos (FM) should not be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. It was during his watch that the murder of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. took place, and command responsibility makes him at least an accessory. There were convictions of and sentences served by certain persons, but they could not have been motivated to kill except through an order from someone likely to remain unnamed forever. It was deemed that only Marcos or the people around him would benefit from Ninoy’s death.

The day of Ninoy’s killing, Aug. 21, 1983, was a turning point: Filipinos awakened and finally realized that one-man rule will never serve the common good. At Ninoy’s wake and funeral, the people came out in the millions to express indignation with solemnity and respect. It was an unprecedented funeral, comparable to those of Mahatma Gandhi and John F. Kennedy.


The end to Marcos’ rule began. The early “benefits” of martial law—when the people believed that political and social stability were being provided—turned illusory because these happened at the cost of the killing and disappearance of persons resisting it. Freedom was too much a price to pay for the illusion of effective governance.

The insistence of the Marcos family to bury FM in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is but part of a script to rewrite contemporary Philippine history. That script sets aside the lives offered by thousands for the cause of freedom; it may be deemed an attempt to murder Ninoy a second time. And perhaps, the millions who stepped forward the first time, and mobilizing likewise for the funeral of Ninoy’s widow, Cory (the first widow to beat a Ferdinand Marcos in an election), may again not be cowed and show up to raise a collective “no” to the planned hero’s burial. The Marcos sense of entitlement to reinforce the myth of his heroism cannot, should not, be reinforced.


Some may disagree with Ninoy over his politics, his public service, or with his beliefs. But his courage to leave his relative comfort in exile to face imminent death, like many others who resisted Marcos’ martial rule, is undeniable.

Ninoy chose to take that risk to convince FM to pave the way for a peaceful transition from his 18-year hold on the presidency, which should have ended in 1973 but was extended by his imposition of martial law on Sept. 21, 1972.

There can be millions still supportive of FM given the 14,155,344 votes that his son and namesake received last May 9, Election Day, for the vice presidency. But Leni Robredo garnered 14,418,817 votes to become the elected vice president. Though the vote is now under protest, Robredo is the Philippines’ VP, and not the dictator’s son.

A hero’s burial for FM, like the historic spontaneous expression of gratitude and love in the funerals of  Ninoy and Cory, can happen in Batac, Ilocos Norte. Insisting on burying his remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani might just reignite a firestorm, like the one that led to Edsa I, the People Power revolution in 1986. Those who stepped forward and decided in 1986 that freedom for all is worth fighting for may find a symbolic call to a peaceful protest action again on the day of the planned burial. The unilateral decision of President Duterte to allow the FM burial can be opposed. It may be an unnecessary and untimely “referendum” on the use of whatever political capital he holds.

The FM issue remains an active and sensitive issue, with yet no closure on the killing, torture and disappearance of the victims of martial law. Concerns over the Marcos ill-gotten or unexplained wealth may have been overshadowed by the apparent corruption that generated more ill-gotten and unexplained wealth for the succeeding ruling elite in the 30 years after Edsa I. But these need closure, too. The priority of President Duterte must be the many poor left unserved by the last five presidents. But FM at the Libingan will not serve this cause one bit.

Mr. Duterte needs all the political capital he can muster for the agenda he has outlined. The war against illegal drugs can potentially use up a substantial amount of this capital. The extrajudicial killings and seeming summary executions may breach a threshold that can lead to instability. A spiral of violence might be triggered. The push for the amendment of the Constitution may also require substantial political capital, as will the crusade against “oligarchs” in the corporate sphere and against the “hacienda landed class.” Mr. Duterte is fighting on many fronts, and one campaign deal should not become a distraction. The Marcoses will have to be sensitive to the leaning of history, too. The common good will not be served by their self-centered wish.

Aug. 21, 1983, cannot simply be forgotten. Perhaps in an unguarded moment, Mr. Duterte mentioned martial law as a possible option to overcome an obstruction to his war against illegal drugs. The 1987 Constitution provides limitations to the declaration of martial law. Given the Marcos experience, its mention cannot be taken lightly. As Ninoy once said: “I believe that the Filipino will respond to the call to greatness, not by coercion, but by persuasion, not by intimidation, but by the ways of freedom.” By the offering of his life on Aug. 21, 1983, never again should the prospect of martial law be proffered by any president without deep and sufficient thought.


Sept. 21, 1972, cannot simply be forgotten, too. All leaders are mortals. The reminder from Ecclesiastes rings loudly: “Like the fool, the wise must die, too.” If Ferdinand Marcos had known how history would unfold with his declaration of martial law and the fate of his remains 17 years after his death, he may have been more circumspect. It is sad that he is dead and still not “laid to rest.” If he could choose, and indeed it is said that he had chosen, he would be buried where he still is loved—in Ilocos Norte.

The burial of FM in the Libingan ng mga Bayani will be a contradiction to Aug. 21, Ninoy Aquino Day, which the country commemorates as a public holiday.

Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now a business consultant.

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