Hero or heel?
As this is being written, the Supreme Court has yet to release the results of its deliberations on the burial of the remains of Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, or Heroes’ Cemetery.
In the news, two opposing camps are campaigning for their desired outcomes. Ilocanos marched from Ilocos Norte, where Marcos daughter Imee is governor, to the Supreme Court to urge the justices to rule in favor of the burial. Imee told the media that allowing the interment of her father, whose body remains above ground in an air-conditioned glass coffin in Ilocos, would “heal the country’s wounds.” She echoed President Duterte’s assertion that his decision to allow the burial of Marcos would foster “national unity.”
A news report quoted the oldest Marcos child as saying that “whatever our sentiments, we will all be united… and our wounds will heal if we allow (my father’s) burial.”
To recall, when then President Fidel Ramos allowed the Marcoses to bring home the body of the late dictator, it was on condition that a quiet funeral would be held in his home province of Ilocos Norte and that he would be buried there.
I had often wondered about the decision-making that preceded the family’s insistence on a “hero’s burial” for Da Apo, keeping him in his air-conditioned coffin as his features slowly gave way to tropical heat and humidity. Was it really for “national unity” or for giving him his “historical due”? Or was it not the use of his remains as insurance for his survivors’ return to some semblance of power and influence?
Far from “healing the wounds” that martial law and its horrors inflicted on the nation, the Marcoses’ insistence on the burial at Libingan—with the encouragement of President Duterte—has opened new ones. Or rather, has torn the healing scabs that have grown over painful memories of torture and killings sustained by its victims and their families.
Filipinos who bear little or no memories of the martial law years, or even of the Edsa Revolt that led to the Marcoses’ exile, have been awakened to a part of history they had no knowledge of. If anything, the uproar surrounding the Libingan burial has pushed the issue of the Marcos family’s guilt back to national consciousness. Suddenly, we have been awakened from the stupor we fell into in the years since Edsa, and jolted awake by the imminent rehabilitation of the Marcos family. Former senator Bongbong Marcos’ frightening near-victory in his run for vice president was the slap that ended our reverie. The planned burial of Marcos as a hero could well be a punch in the gut.
Survivors of martial law atrocities have been gathering to voice their opposition to the Marcos rehabilitation. Lately, a social media campaign has been gathering momentum to get at least eight justices to vote against the Marcos burial. There are rumors that the “Supremes” are evenly divided, seven-seven, on the issue. Who will be the brave—or ignominious—individual who will break the impasse?
Imee Marcos has rebutted talk that she “donated” campaign funds to Duterte in exchange for his assurance that her father’s moldering remains would be interred at Libingan.
Some have tied the missing P1 billion from the budget meant for relief and rehabilitation in typhoon-wracked Tacloban, where Madame Imelda’s family still controls the political strings, to the “donation” to the Duterte campaign and the interment of the late dictator. If true, then that leaves more than just a bad taste in the mouth—it makes one want to throw up!
Martial law victims have described the quid pro quo arrangement as “payback,” the fulfillment of a campaign promise made in exchange for an infusion of funds.
So far, the government has relied on mainly legalistic arguments to urge the Supreme Court to allow Marcos’ Libingan burial. Government guidelines have allowed the Libingan burial of former soldiers and presidents, as well as to national figures like national artists. Since Marcos was a former soldier (although his own record of service is spotty and fraught with fraud) and a former president, the government argues, he is eminently qualified for a hero’s burial.
But was he a hero? Or a heel? That is the question our justices must determine.
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