The Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who served as president of a dictatorial regime from 1972 until 1981, was interred in a Heroes’ Cemetery on November 18th, 2016. Although groups petitioned for the cancellation of this internment, on August 8th, 2017 the Supreme Court finally decided to affirm the ruling authorizing the Hero’s burial. With Marcos’ regime having left behind a record of 70,000 people imprisoned, 34,000 tortured, and 3,240 killed from the Martial Law era (Amnesty International as cited in Rappler, 2016), it is called for to dissect this issue and the decision of the incumbent Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, to grant a hero’s burial to the said dictator-president. With lessons learned from this critical issue, may the Philippine nation be more prudent in the future in passing such divisive policies and actions especially those that may revise the country’s history.
Former President Marcos a Hero?
Basic dictionaries like Merriam Webster and Oxford provide a common definition of a hero: a person greatly admired for his valor and outstanding achievements and qualities. It is therefore not surprising that the recent decision of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to bury the country’s former Dictator-President Ferdinand Marcos in the Heroes’ Cemetery in Taguig incurred the ire of many Filipinos, especially the numerous victims of the Marcos Regime.
It was Rodrigo Duterte, the incumbent president, who initiated the move, contending that giving President Marcos a hero’s burial would heal the divided nation, and that Marcos could be viewed as a hero because he had been a soldier during World War II. Furthermore, the Office of Solicitor General (OSG) argued that the move was consistent with the President’ power of control over the Philippine Veteran Affairs Office, the agency that administers the military shrines (GMA News Online, 2016). In an effort to address people’s conjectures, the OSG even added that, “The internment of the remains of former President Marcos does not and will not make him a hero. On the contrary, the interment of his remains at the Libingan (Heroes’ Cemetery) was due to the fact that the late Ferdinand Marcos was a former President of the Republic, statesman and soldier, whose remains may be and are to be interred at the Libingan.”
First, on the issue of Marcos being a soldier: The report of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines states that Pres. Marcos lied about receiving US medals (Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Order of the Purple Heart); his guerilla unit, Ang Mga Maharlika, was never officially recognized; US officials did not recognize Mr. Marcos’ rank promotion from Major in 1944 to Lt. Col. in 1947; and lastly, some of Mr. Marcos’ actions as a soldier, such as his command over the Allas Intelligence Unit, were officially called into question by upper echelons of the US Military..
Another of Duterte’s arguments was that although Marcos may not be a hero, he was still a President. The National Historical Commission and the National Commission for Culture and Arts had said that there was no law governing a proclamation of a hero, but, Pres. Duterte skirts around with the guideline of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the government arm that owns the Heroes’ Cemetery – in a Press Release given by the AFP, they mentioned that former presidents are qualified people to be interred at their cemetery. Thus, a logical conclusion is that provided that Marcos was a President, he could be granted a hero’s burial.
However, there is a caveat in the guidelines of the AFP – that those who were dishonorably discharged from service, or personnel convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, do not qualify. Pres. Marcos was ousted from his office due to his disloyalty to the public. His term was riddled with controversies, cronies and corruptions, and the country’s debt ballooned during his time. The failures of Marcos weigh far more than his successes.
The legacy of Marcos’ presidency
Specifically, violations of human rights and corruption cases took place at a grand scale. In May 2015, there were 75,730 persons who filed in the Human Rights Victims Claims Board. There was a transfer of Php 69 M by Marcos from the Malacanan contingency funds to the Marcos’ allies in the House of Representatives to be used in the re-election campaign in 1969.
Marcos’ cronies were at the helm of the list of beneficiaries of his dictatorial regime. Taking advantage of the “sins” of the oligarchy, he took over business empires such as those owned by the Lopezes & Jacintos. Companies in major industries as varied as airlines, mass media, coconut harvesters, real estate, oil and energy, tobacco, construction, and casino gambling were all given to his cronies (Aquino, 1999; Li & Wu, 2007). Pres. Marcos slowed down the old elites, so that he could create his new band of cronies and elites. The process became a cycle, and in the end, the common people suffer while those on top vie for greater power.
Why did President Duterte make Marcos’ burial his priority action (despite the magnitude of its controversy) when there were more pressing issues to handle such as corruption, poverty, housing, diseases and infrastructure building? At best, the situation shows it is payback time to the Marcos family who helped financed his campaign during his election.
In the end, taking into consideration the pros and cons of a hero’s burial without regard to preconceived notions about the Marcos family, Pres. Marcos does not merit to be given the hero’s burial. He does not fit the criteria of the National Heroes Committee and the guidelines mandated by the AFP over their property of the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maria Pilar M. Lorenzo has recently finished her coursework in the Master of Public Administration from the University of the Philippines. She works as a Director for the Center for Leadership, Communication and Governance Research and Consultancy Institute (CLCGI) and a Researcher for the Philippine Society for Public Administration (PSPA), where she serves as well as the Managing Editor of their publication entitled Philippine Governance Digest. Her researches deal about citizen participation, youth unemployment, ethics, and governance. She is also a registered teacher and a licensed trainer.
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