On Monday, while the rest of the nation ignored or mourned the 100th birthday of Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator’s family hosted a celebration at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.
In a transparent attempt to further the administration-supported, court-sanctioned rehabilitation of the mastermind of military rule, Imelda Marcos and her family invited the diplomatic corps as well as high government officials, even including members of the opposition, to the ceremony.
It was an extraordinary gesture, properly Imeldific in scope of ambition, and while many did not honor the invitation, it served to make a point: The Marcoses are not putting closure to the controversy surrounding both dictator and dictatorship, but rather opening a new, revised chapter in the country’s history.
That the Marcoses could even attempt this whitewashing — in a cemetery designated a “national shrine,” bodyguarded by the same Army that Marcos first politicized and then turned into a weapon against his own people, under the legal aegis of a Supreme Court decision—gives the lie to the central rationalization of that unfortunate ruling.
Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta’s majority decision began with an appeal to closure: “In law, as much as in life, there is need to find closure. Issues that have lingered and festered for so long and which unnecessarily divide the people and slow the path to the future have to be interred. To move on is not to forget the past.”
How wrong the Court was! The ruling did not provide closure to the Marcos “issue,” because it offered his family and his supporters the opportunity to begin revising historical record. And the Marcoses, never shy about opportunities economic or political or legal, have done exactly that.
The Court ruled that the Libingan ng Mga Bayani was not in fact the national heroes’ cemetery — but ordinary citizens can read the cemetery’s name and judge for themselves. While the majority decision busied itself with distinctions like this, the Marcoses and their supporters lost no time in treating the Libingan the way ordinary Filipinos see it, as the final resting place for heroes.
How naive the Court was, to think that the Marcoses would not use the prominence, the significance, of the Libingan ng Mga Bayani as a means to support their conviction that Marcos was, in fact, a bayani.
(Former prime minister Cesar E. A. Virata did himself no favors when he agreed to recite, at the birthday ceremony, a list of Marcos’ accomplishments during his two decades in power. Virata had been the subject of great controversy when the University of the Philippines renamed its College of Business Administration after him; by choosing to appear at Marcos’ birthday rites, Virata only stoked the fire of controversy surrounding his own grandfather, Emilio Aguinaldo, when the nation marks the 150th birth anniversary of its revolutionary president in 2019.)
How cowardly the Court was, to imagine that history was something remote, something removed from judicial decisions. “There are certain things that are better left for history — not this Court — to adjudge.
The Court could only do so much in accordance with the clearly established rules and principles. Beyond that, it is ultimately for the people themselves, as the sovereign, to decide, a task that may require the better perspective that the passage of time provides.”
In truth, the Court made history, or created a new vector for it, when it disregarded settled precedent and current law to arrive at the narrowest possible justification for allowing the burial of Marcos’ remains at the Libingan. But the Marcoses have proven themselves to be adept at maximizing the potential of cowardice. If the Court will leave it to “history” to adjudge Marcos, his family will rush in where cowards fear to tread.
And that is why we had that sorry spectacle on Monday: honors paid at the national heroes’ cemetery, for a man whose political career dishonored both nation and its true heroes.
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