The law says Marcos is a hero—and it also doesn’t

The law says Marcos is a hero—and it also doesn’t

Manuel L. Quezon III looks into why Marcos is still considered a hero, officially, by some.

The simple truth is, our institutions are divided on whether Marcos was hero or heel—no wonder the public’s confused, too.

The reason President Rodrigo R. Duterte can weigh in on whether or not the Great Dictator should be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is because our government itself is of two minds on the matter. Like any politico, given two sides of the coin, he knows the presidency is powerful enough to dictate whether it’s heads or tails on the matter.

From an official point of view, it’s a simple question, really. As Arsenio Andolong, Public Affairs Service Director of the Department of National Defense said on August 8, “I believe based on these regulations, he [Marcos] is qualified.” You’ve probably heard about AFP Regulations G 161-373 (“Allocation of Cemetery Plots at the LNMB”), issued on April 9, 1986 by GHQ under then AFP Chief of Staff General Fidel V. Ramos and then-President Corazon C. Aquino, amended by AFP Regulations G 161-375 on September 11, 2000, which states that among other things, former presidents, former secretaries of National Defense, veterans of World War II and the guerrillas, are all authorized to be buried in the Libingan. A bureaucrat in the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office, going through a checklist, could easily say: Instruction from the commander in chief? Check, see the memo of National Defense Secretary Lorenzana on August 7. Veteran? Check. Medal of Valor awardee? Check. Former commander-in-chief? Check. So what’s the problem?

Which goes to my point, which is, what we all overlook in this debate is that it has been framed, and approached, by officialdom as a primarily a military matter. And as far as the military is concerned, the Great Dictator remains in the ranks of its hallowed dead. The only person to my mind who zeroed in on this was veteran reporter Alan Robles, who was outraged to discover the official history of the Department of National Defense glossed over military abuses during martial law.

And if there is one thing the military, like all well-developed bureaucracies knows how to do well, it’s to protect one’s turf. The history of the Libingan itself points to it having been conceived, and administered, as a National Shrine primarily of a military nature. If you follow the trail of official documents, from the time President Ramon Magsaysay to 1986, it was first and foremost a military cemetery with the status of a National Shrine (see the annexes below if you want to follow the paper trail). Even the first former president buried in the Libingan, Carlos P. Garcia (who died in 1971) had been a guerrilla leader during World War II. It was by means of the military’s own regulations that the criteria for being buried in the cemetery was expanded. When former presidents Diosdado Macapagal in 1997 and most recently, Elpidio Quirino who was transferred from the Manila South Cemetery just this year, were buried there, these were after the 1986 regulations which made the Libingan a place where even non-soldiers could be buried.

It must bother the armed forces that civilians are getting into the act.

Opponents of the decision pursue several arguments. The first was that former President Fidel V. Ramos gave permission for Marcos to be buried provided they proceeded directly to Ilocos from Hawaii, that he would given only the military honors due a Major in the Armed Forces, and that he buried immediately in Batac—the first two were fulfilled by the Marcoses and the government, the last condition was never met by the Marcoses who, officially, at least, have had him on display but not buried since 1998. So, the Marcoses broke a solemn covenant between themselves and former president Ramos representing the Republic. The second argument is that the Libingan regulations themselves state that if a person has been guilty of “moral turpitude,” they cannot be buried in the Libingan—though as UST Law Dean Nilo Divina pointed out, the convictions of Marcos for ill-gotten wealth are civil, and not criminal, cases so the prohibition does not apply—although opponents could always go to court since the definition of what constitutes “moral turpitude” is, he says, “broad.”

Ever-helpful Speaker Alvarez weighed in, dusting off an old law—Republic Act No. 248 enacted in 1948—which he said established a National Pantheon for presidents.

Atty. Mel Sta. Maria wrote an impassioned rejoinder on the basis of the law providing that the National Pantheon would exist “for the inspiration and emulation of this generation and of generations still unborn.” But there’s one big problem, to my mind, with following the Speaker down this particular rabbit hole. And that is: the National Pantheon was never built.

Here, a memory comes to mind. When I was a kid, I remember my father telling me that the proposed National Pantheon (which was supposed to be built where the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas Mint is now located along East Avenue, Quezon City) was finally ready to push through, but Victoria Quirino Gonzales (daughter of President Quirino) mentioned it to Pitoy Moreno who in turn mentioned it to Madame Imelda Romualdez Marcos—whereupon the project died (Ruby Gonzales Meyer, daughter of Vicky Quirino, alas doesn’t recall the incident when I checked). The story is significant only in that it suggests critics of the Marcoses believed they weren’t keen on their predecessors—we forget that during the dictatorship, the portraits of past presidents were all reframed, to make them smaller than the Great Dictator’s; after EDSA they were reframed again, to bring them back to their original sizes (you can still see the marks where they’d been folded to make them smaller)—and that the pantheon plan never took off.

To be fair to the Great Dictator, one has to take into account we are a nation that has long been wonderful at enacting laws and deplorable when it comes to executing them. We know for a fact that in his last week in office, President Quirino set aside a parcel of land along East Avenue, Quezon City, for the National Pantheon on December 23, 1953 but that seems to be the last time any president issued an order on the matter.

The proposed National Pantheon may have never gotten off the ground simply because the Manila North Cemetery was already fulfilling the function. Quezon (1946), Roxas (1948), Magsaysay (1957), and Osmeña (1961) were all originally buried in the Manila North Cemetery because it was the most prominent government-owned cemetery and thus our civilian leaders were logically buried there. The Mausoleum of the Veterans of the Philippine Revolution, the Boy Scouts Memorial (the ones killed in a plane crash in 1963 were buried there) and statesmen such as Claro M. Recto, Quintin Paredes, and others interred there, too. Other presidents were buried in the Manila South Cemetery (Quirino in 1956) or in their home provinces (Laurel in Batangas in 1959, Aguinaldo in Kawit in 1964).

And we know for a fact that less than a year later, President Magsaysay renamed the Republic Memorial Cemetery as the Libingan ng mga Bayani—for soldiers. It may well be, that by the time Garcia died in 1971, the decision had been made to turn the Libingan essentially into a national pantheon—but it is crystal-clear that the Libingan ng mga Bayani was a different place entirely from the pantheon envisioned by Congress in 1948.

This brings us back to the heart of the problem. The criteria for burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, over time, has become elastic: your CV as a high official is all that is required; and yet, while it can accommodate civilians, by tradition and administrative regulation, it is primarily a military preserve and the military maintains Marcos in its roster of greats.

Never mind if the nation itself, at least according to our laws, has publicly acknowledged Ninoy Aquino is a hero (which can only be taken as an indictment of Marcos); has acknowledged and indemnified the human rights violations undertaken during his rule (over 76,000 claims are being processed); not to mention the date of his fleeing into exile, February 25, is a holiday for school children. It does not matter if the Supreme Court has upheld the forfeiture in favor of the Republic, of shares of stock and funds owned by the Marcoses, on the grounds that they represent ill-gotten wealth. Both by statute and tradition, the military is paramount in the Libingan and institutionally-speaking, the armed forces never disowned the dictator.

The Marcoses have been persistent and their persistence has paid off. They were close to achieving their dream of a vindication of their patriarch during the time of President Joseph Estrada, who was, and is, a Marcos loyalist. But Edsa Dos got in the way. Now, it is Springtime for Marcos again. True, there are those who have decided to act in defiance of the plan. Chuck Syjuco and others took to leaving stones inscribed with the names of martial law victims in the intended site of Marcos’ Libingan grave (until they were banned by the military). The family of National Artist Cesar Legaspi asked for his remains to be disinterred and had him reburied elsewhere. Others say they will follow suit. A citizens’ assembly will be held in in the shadow of the Lapu-Lapu monument in Rizal Park on August 14, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. Things may even end up in court. Even some of the President’s devoted allies, such as (former and current) Senate Presidents Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and III, are urging President Duterte to reconsider. But he says he will stick to his guns.

Whatever happens, the issue has come to a head, because of our schizophrenic institutions. On one hand the Republic has disowned Marcos; on another, it holds him up as a heroic veteran.


FOR those interested, here is the paper trail and some readings.

My blog entry on the Marcos medals: he used his mastery of affidavits and his rising up the ladder, to get himself awarded heaps of awards. The NHCP position paper on the Marcos burial is linked to in the entry, too. For decisions of the Supreme Court on ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses being forfeited to the state, see G.R. No. 149802, January, 2006; G.R. No. 152154, July 15, 2003; G.R. No. 152154, November 18, 2003; and G.R. No. 189434, April, 2012. See also The World Bank: Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative: summary on Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (Switzerland).

See also:

Republic Act No. 289, June 18, 1948: providing for the construction of a National Pantheon for presidents of the Philippines, national heroes, and patriots of the country, and establishing a board for planning purposes.

Proclamation No. 431, December 23, 1953: setting aside a parcel of land in Quezon City for the National Pantheon.

Proclamation No. 86, October 27, 1954: renaming the Republic Memorial Cemetery in Fort McKinley, Rizal Province, the Libingan ng mga Bayani because the old name was “not symbolic of the cause for which our soldiers have died, and does not truly express the nation’s esteem and reverence for her war dead.”

Executive Order No. 58, August 16, 1954: declaring Bataan and Corregidor as National Shrines, and creating a Corregidor-Bataan National Shrines Commission to develop and maintain the shrines.

Executive Order No. 87, January 5, 1955: amending the composition of the Bataan-Corregidor National Shrines Commission.

Executive Order No. 204, October 9, 1956: renaming the Corregidor-Bataan National Shrines Commission as the National Shrines Commission and putting it in charge of determining other battlefields that should be declared National Shrines and take charge of them.

Executive Order No. 49, September 16, 1963, amending the composition of the National Shrines Commission.

National Fund Campaigns for the National Shrines Commission: Proclamation No. 331, s. 1964; Proclamation No. 310, s. 1967; Proclamation No. 507, s. 1968; Proclamation No. 880, s. 1971.

Proclamation No. 208, May 28, 1967: separating the Libingan ng mga Bayani from the Fort Bonifacio Military Reservation, and declaring the cemetery a National Shrine under the administration of the National Shrine Commission.

Presidential Decree No. 1, September 24, 1972: reorganized the entire Executive Branch of government; it abolished the National Shrines Commission and transferred its powers and duties to the National Historical Commission.

Presidential Decree No. 105, January 24, 1973: declaring National Shrines as hallowed and sacred places, and providing for the punishment of persons who desecrate or disturb the peace and serenity of the places by digging, excavating, defacing, causing unnecessary noise and committing unbecoming acts within their premises.

Presidential Decree No. 1076, January 26, 1977: transferring the functions of the defunct National Shrines Commission to the Department of National Defense.

G.R. No. 88211, October 27, 1989: Supreme Court decision dismissing motion for reconsideration on its upholding government’s refusal to allow the return of Ferdinand Marcos’ remains.

Republic Act No. 9256, February 25, 2004: declaring August 21 as Ninoy Aquino Day, a nationwide nonworking holiday.

Republic At No. 10368, January 25, 2013: providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime: “it is hereby declared the policy of the State to recognize the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance and other gross human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos covering the period from September 21, 1972 to February 25, 1986 and restore the victims’ honor and dignity. The State hereby acknowledges its moral and legal obligation to recognize and/or provide reparation to said victims and/or their families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations and damages they suffered under the Marcos regime.”

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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