Honoring a dictator is not who we are
When a court stops the government from doing something, it is wagging a finger at the errant official, saying, “That is not who we are.” We are a people who respect human rights and dignity, so the police may neither enter our homes uninvited and without a warrant nor torture or kill suspects. We are an independent people, so the government may not pursue foreign policy that makes us dependent on another country.
We all agree that we are a democracy. The democratic ethic pervades our Constitution. Because democracy is part of our identity, the government may not undermine the democratic ethic. But this is exactly what it would do if it buries the remains of Ferdinand Marcos—who destroyed democracy to become a dictator—in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Marcos declared martial law and used soldiers to arrest, abduct, imprison, torture, or kill more than 70,000 people he considered enemies. He muzzled the press, closing newspaper offices and broadcasting stations, arresting journalists, columnists and publishers, and censoring criticism. He also employed flimsy legalisms—a dubious new constitution, amendments to it, dissolution of the legislature and refusal to convene its mandated successor, etc.—designed to make him dictator for life.
But Marcos’ control of the bullet could not contain the people’s clamor for the ballot. He was forced to call a snap presidential election. When he saw that Cory Aquino would win, he resorted to electoral fraud—stuffed ballot boxes, phony registration, flying voters, vote buying, manipulated election returns. Most knew that
Marcos had cheated, and Cory declared herself the true winner. Marcos refused to budge—until a group of reformist soldiers mutinied.
Marcos ordered his military to crush the mutiny, but People Power prevailed. Over a million Filipinos massed on Edsa to protect the mutineers. Tanks stopped when met by priests and nuns. Soldiers refused orders to shoot the women and children handing them flowers. After four days of peaceful protest, most of the armed forces and the whole Manila police defected. On Feb. 25, 1986, Marcos fled Malacañang and Cory took the presidential oath. People Power had deposed the dictator.
It also birthed our Constitution. The product of the anti-Marcos struggle, the 1987 Constitution is an anti-Marcos Constitution. Its sections limiting the president’s martial law powers, bolstering judicial independence, disqualifying the president’s spouse and relatives from holding high government offices, etc. are all designed to prevent the abuses that Marcos committed to kill Philippine democracy.
At the plebiscite for our Constitution, 90 percent of those eligible voted and 76 percent ratified it. Support for the Constitution was thus broader than the 82-percent turnout and 39-percent vote Rodrigo Duterte obtained in the presidential election. Support for the anti-Marcos principle was also deeper. Mr. Duterte’s campaign spanned mere months, and his platform was antidrugs, not pro-Marcos. The anti-Marcos struggle spanned at least a decade. And people not merely voted; they risked their lives fighting Marcos’ violent repression.
Such broad and deep support behind the anti-Marcos struggle is both rare and decisive. The constitutional principles that result from it distill the marching orders of a people to their government. Through these principles, the people say: “This is who we are.” The Supreme Court, in upholding the anti-Marcos principle, will preserve the clear and authoritative instructions of the Filipino people.
It is obvious that we cannot have a hero’s burial for Marcos under a Constitution mothered by an anti-Marcos struggle. Nor can our Supreme Court allow it in a democracy established by an anti-Marcos Constitution.
Bryan Dennis Gabito Tiojanco is a doctoral student at Yale Law School and a Yale Fox International Fellow at the National University of Singapore. He graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines College of Law in 2009.
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