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A hero to the court a villain to others

MANILA (SE): A vote of nine to five, with one abstention, saw the Supreme Court of The Philippines rule on November 8 that the body of the former president, Ferdinand Marcos, can be buried in the Heroes Cemetery (Libingan ng mga Bayani) in accordance with the wishes of the powerful Marcos family and as ordered by the incumbent president, Rodrigo Duterte.

The ruling has been met with jubilation by the band of Marcos supporters and rowdy displeasure by those who remember the atrocities of martial law, which the former president proclaimed on 21 September 1972 and remained in force until 1981.

In Not on Our Watch, published in 2012 to mark the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, Conrado de Quiros remembers his friends weeping as they stared at the dead bodies of their comrades in the street, noting that their families could not cry as they did not understand, but he cried because he feared he would never understand.

No doubt de Quiros is crying today at the crowd calling for a hero’s burial for the late Philippine leader without understanding the over 70,000 people who were incarcerated, some 35,000 of whom were brutally tortured and over 3,400 who were officially executed.

He would ask if they understand what it means to have a muzzled press, quilted opposition and liquidation squad to deal with anyone opposing one-man rule.

The cheap beer, rice, electricity and petrol that the Marcos family today tout as the greatest thing to happen to The Philippines since sliced cheese has prompted nostalgia among some, including many migrant workers who thank Marcos for creating the overseas worker programme, without questioning why they have to leave their country to find decent work.

By 1979, the economic progress of the country had dissolved into an upward spiral of interest payments to service the foreign debt that paid for the cheap prices, which brought on the death of the economic tiger of the early 1970s and gave birth to the poor man of Asia.

This poor man is still paying the cost of the Marcos years that Archbishop Socrates Villegas describes as depriving many people of their basic needs, while Marcos and his friends were enriched.

“We will not allow this to be forgotten by future generations so that the strong hand of oppression may not happen again,” the president of the bishops’ conference said in a statement on November 8.

Although Duterte says he gave his consent to the burial to heal the division in society, Archbishop Villegas says that it has created an even deeper wound, as only justice can heal rifts and justice requires recognition of the harm that was done and restitution for the damage caused.

“We are very sad,” he said. “The burial is an insult to the EDSA spirit (1986). It mocks our fight to restore democracy. We are puzzled and hurt and in great grief. It calls for greater courage to make the full truth of the dictatorship known.”

De Quiros notes that this process has not really begun as The Philippines has not produced a worthwhile body of literature on the more than eight years of martial law, nor has its history been well documented or effectively presented in the nation’s educational institutions.

While a spokesperson for the Supreme Court, Theodore Te, explained that the justices had found no grave abuse of discretion on Duterte’s behalf when he ordered the burial, the court pointed to the fact that Marcos was never convicted of a criminal offence and that charges filed against him were all civil in nature.

In a seemingly strange statement, Eduardo Justice Peralta, noted, “As the purpose is not self-evident, petitioners have the burden of proof to establish the factual basis of their claim. They failed. Even so, this court cannot take cognizance of factual issues since we are not a trier of facts.”

However, UCAN reported Bishop Broderick Pabillo as commenting, “The call of human rights violation victims was not given attention by the court” and Edith Burgos, the widow of anti-dictatorship journalist, José Burgos, as lamenting the short memory of the Filipino people.

“Until my last breath, I will fight those who swept through our… village and dragged us out of our homes, to torture us,” UCAN quoted Meling Florentino as saying at a protest on November 8 in Quezon City.

One of the petitioners against the hero’s burial, Bonifacio Illagan, told the rally that the decision of the court spits on the victims of the Marcos dictatorship.

De Quiros asks why Filipinos question Japan over its presentation of The Rape of Nanking as a normal military operation, but never question martial law, which at the time was compared with the Japanese occupation and the martial law of the puppet president of World War II, José Laurel.

Laurel gave the country its second taste of martial law on 22 September 1944. The first came from the hero of the revolution against Spain, Emilio Aguinaldo, on 23 May 1898, when he assumed command of all Philippine military forces and established a dictatorial government with himself at the top.

The fourth came from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when she declared martial law in Maguindanao in December 2009 in the wake of the Maguindanao Massacre.

“In so doing, Malacañang has suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the province except for certain areas, enabling the military to make arrests without court intervention,” GMA News reported on December 5 of the same year.

When Marcos was forced out of the country in 1986 by the massing of people in the EDSA People Power Movement there was dancing in the street, but while some danced to remember, it seems others danced to forget.

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