President Rodrigo Duterte stirred controversy when he made a firm resolve to have former President Ferdinand Marcos buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani—a Philippine national cemetery within Fort Bonifacio in Western Bicutan, Taguig City.
The divisive decision has pitted Marcos loyalists and some supporters of Duterte against anti-Marcos groups to include Martial Law survivors and their families, as well as different groups of concerned citizens. Both sides have provided compelling arguments nonetheless.
Arguments: Reasons for allowing Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani
1. Marcos was a soldier and a former president
President Duterte reiterated that allowing Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayan is simply a matter of enforcing the law. AFP Regulation G 161-173 states that active and retired military personnel of the AFP, as well as former presidents and commander-in-chief are entitled to this privilege.
Note that former AFP chief of staff Fidel Ramos and former President Corazon Aquino issued this regulation on 9 April 1986. Furthermore, Republic Act No. 289 also provides for the construction of a national pantheon for presidents, national heroes, and patriots to perpetuate their memories. The Libingan ng Mga Bayani is this national pantheon.
Considering Marcos as a hero remains subjective according to Duterte. He might not be a hero based on some standards. However, the suggested reinterment is not an issue about whether Marcos was a hero or not. It is a matter of upholding the existing law. Simply put, Marcos is qualified because he was a former soldier and president.
2. There are no laws disallowing the burial
From a legal perspective, there are no laws prohibiting the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. Duterte mentioned that previous government administrations should have had crafted a law that would legally and permanently bar Marcos from receiving an honorary burial.
Those who oppose the suggested reinterment have argued that the AFP Regulation G 161-173 excludes people who “were convicted by final judgment of an offense involving moral turpitude” from being buried at the national cemetery.
However, some legal experts have explained that this stipulation only covers criminal offense. The decisions of the Hawaii court, Swiss court, and Supreme Court against Marcos only involved civil cases.
3. It is the duty of the president to give the honorary burial
In his comment on consolidated petitions before the Supreme Court to counter the arguments against the impending burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, Solicitor General Jose Calida argued that President Duterte is merely performing his powers granted to him by the Constitution as well as the Administrative Code by allowing the suggested reinterment of Marcos.
In other words, this argument also seems to echo suggest that the president, regardless if it is Duterte or some other elected person, has the legal obligation to give qualified people like Marcos an honorary burial.
4. The honorary burial will help the nation move forward
President Duterte wants the country to move forward by mending the wounds from past. One way to do this is to allow the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. He added that this issue has long created divisions among the people. The burial will put an end to the divisive issue.
Furthermore, the burial will promote national healing and forgiveness according to President Duterte. He further argued that it is high time for the country to move on from the past horrors of the Martial Law era.
Counterarguments: Reasons for not allowing Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani
1. Marcos was a disgraced public official
Marcos subjected the country under a dictatorship that lasted for 20 years. He imposed a martial law and severely punished dissent. Corruption became rampant in all levels of government. There have been allegations of human rights abuse against him as thousands of people were tortured, imprisoned, or simply disappeared over the course of his reign.
Giving Marcos the honorary burial will only glorify his supposed atrocities according to martial law victims and their families, as well as human rights advocates. The suggested reinterment is also a downright insult to the victims of the Marcos regime and the families they left behind.
Furthermore, the fact that Marcos was ousted from power means that he was a disgraced public official or more appropriately, a disgraced president.
2. He falsified his military accomplishments
Marcos should also be disgraced as a solider because he allegedly made fraudulent claims about his military accomplishments. He claimed that he led a guerilla resistance unit against the Japanese army during World War II. However, an investigation by the U.S. Army concluded that this claims were both fraudulent and absurd.
Claims that Marcos was the most decorated war hero remain dubious. Most of the 33 medals he claimed he received were fake or fictitious. In a study by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, three of the supposed US medals he received untrue.
Furthermore, an investigation made retired army officer and former house representative Bonifacio Gillego claimed that only two of the 33 medals could be given during the war.
3. Previous deal with the Marcos family prohibits the burial
Former President Fidel V. Ramos made a deal with the Marcos family in 1992 in exchange for allowing the return of the remains of the former dictator to the Philippines. This Ramos-era deal should be enough to bar the honorific burial.
Under the deal, the Philippine government allows the return of the remains provided that it would be flown straight to Paoay, Ilocos Norte from Hawaii. Marcos is entitled to honors befitting an AFP major but there will be no honorific burial at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.
4. Republic Act 10368 should bar the honorary burial
The Republic Act No. 10368 or the “Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013” should prevent the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. The law gives the State the legal and moral obligation to recognize and/or provide reparation to the victims or their families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations and damages they suffered under the Marcos regime.
Some interpretations of the law might argue that reparation should not merely cover extending financial assistance. The government has both the legal and moral obligation to appease the victims or their families. Allowing the suggested reinterment would be tantamount to discrediting the human rights violation that transpired during the Marcos regime.
Summary: Should Ferdinand Marcos be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani?
Both parties provide compelling arguments nonetheless. Note that R.A. 289 is clear when it said that there should be a national pantheon for burying presidents, national heroes, and other patriots to perpetuate their memories. The same is also true for AFP Regulation G 161-173. Based on the status of Marcos as a former president and solider, he remains qualified for an honorific burial.
As a president, Marcos was indeed disgraced and ousted from a popular revolution due to charges of human rights violations and corruptions. The AFP regulation and even R.A. 289 do not provide clear restrictions or criteria for disqualifying former presidents.
The “moral turpitude” wording found within the AFP regulation is still contestable. It might cover convictions covering criminal cases but some may argue that it should also cover civil offenses. This wording is also only applicable to “personnel” or members of the military and not presidents.
With regard to his status as a soldier, Marcos was never dishonorably separated or discharged from service. He might have had faked his war medals and accomplishments but there exist no convictions that would make him a legally and properly disgraced personnel of AFP.
However, allowing the burial will be tantamount to disregarding the sufferings and sacrifices of Martial Law victims and their families and vindicating other atrocities that transpired during the Marcos regime. This will also be tantamount to bestowing honor to someone with a dubious and detestable career as military and government official.
In a nutshell, allowing Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani is merely a matter of enforcing applicable laws. On the other hand, arguments against the suggested reinterment revolve around appeals to promote moral standards and norms that would deny public figures soiled with controversies whatever honorific entitlements.
Supreme Court ruling: High court gave a go signal for the reinterment
The Supreme Court cleared all legal obstacles related to the reinternment of Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani during a decision released on 10 November 2016. Nine justices voted in favor of the burial while five voted against.
Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo, Teresita de Castro, Jose Mendoza, Diosdado Peralta, Jose Perez, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and Presbitero Velasco Jr. comprised majority of the vote.
On the other hand, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, together with Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, Marvic Leonen, and Francis Jardeleza dissented.
Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes inhibited from the case.
Some of the arguments of the Supreme Court decision included the absence of laws barring the burial of Marcos, the function of the President to decide on the use of lands owned by the government, the credentials of Marcos as former commander-in-chief or former solider and secretary of defense that made him eligible for a burial at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, the lack of convictions regarding moral turpitude accusations, and the insubstantial claims regarding dishonorable discharge. Photo credit: Aissa Richards/Adapted/CC 2.0