I don’t know which is worse: President Duterte’s statement that the opposition to the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is merely a continuation of the personal war between the Marcoses and the Aquinos, or the wording of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the President’s right to order the dictator’s burial at the national military cemetery.
Mr. Duterte’s view is not only an ill-informed reduction of the complex events that led the country back to democracy after an almost-14-year fatal flirtation with authoritarianism; it is also an unwarranted disparagement of the sacrifices of those who gave their lives resisting oppression and exposing the corruption during the brutal years of the Marcos dictatorship.
The Court’s decision avoids this fatuous allusion to a family feud. Indeed, it notes: “Interestingly, even if they were empowered to do so, former Presidents Corazon C. Aquino and Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, who were themselves aggrieved at the Martial Law, did not revise the rules by expressly prohibiting the burial of Marcos at the LNMB.” But the Court majority is no less guilty of belittling the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.
Toward the end of this self-indulgent treatise, the author of the decision, Justice Diosdado Peralta, solemnly declares: “It is undeniable that former President Marcos was forced out of office by the people through the so-called EDSA Revolution. Said political act of the people should not be automatically given a particular legal meaning other than its obvious consequence—that of ousting him as president. To do otherwise would lead the Court to the treacherous and perilous path of having to make choices from multifarious inferences or theories arising from the various acts of the people. It is not the function of the Court, for instance, to divine the exact implications or significance of the number of votes obtained in elections, or the message from the number of participants in public assemblies.” Wow!
Let’s go over this revisionist thesis once more: “So-called Edsa Revolution…. should not be automatically given a particular legal meaning other than its obvious consequence—that of ousting him as president…. It is not the function of the Court … to divine the exact implications or significance of the number of votes obtained in elections, or the message from the number of participants in public assemblies.”
Does Justice Peralta even remember that the 1987 Constitution that he is sworn to preserve is a product of that momentous event he now demeans as the “so-called Edsa Revolution.” Though I am not a lawyer, I know that judicial rulings must be formulated separately from the imperatives of politics. But, this is not the same as saying that the Court can be oblivious of history or of what is happening outside of its echo chambers.
In fact, Justice Peralta’s recitation of the facts of the case belies his woefully myopic understanding of the Court’s function. “In the campaign period for the 2016 Presidential Election, then candidate Rodrigo R. Duterte (Duterte) publicly announced that he would allow the burial of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos (Marcos) at the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani (LNMB). He won the May 9, 2016 election, garnering 16,601,997 votes.” My translation: Duterte made known his intention to give Marcos an honorable burial during the campaign. He has won the presidency. Ergo, the people’s votes gave him the mandate to proceed. If that’s not interpreting electoral outcomes, I don’t know what it is.
The pretense at legal detachment is palpable throughout this shabbily written ponencia. But, the bias stands out. Example: “For his alleged human rights abuses and corrupt practices, we may disregard Marcos as a President and Commander-in-Chief, but we cannot deny him the right to be acknowledged based on other positions he held or the awards he received.” The word “alleged” is misplaced if the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, which has questioned the authenticity of the Marcos war medals, is to be believed. It should come before “awards” rather than before “human rights abuses and corrupt practices.”
Umberto Eco, the Italian writer and semiotics professor, wrote: “Linguistic habits are often important symptoms of unspoken sentiments” (“Five Moral Pieces,” 2001). The unspoken is indeed everywhere in the Supreme Court’s Nov. 8 ruling. In cliché after cliché, the Court tells the nation to forget.
“Finding closure” is one overused phrase: “In law, as much as in life, there is need to find closure.” “Moving on” is another: “To move on is not to forget the past. It is to focus on the present and the future, leaving behind what is better left for history to ultimately decide.” And there’s the other one: “Let history be the judge.”
No, the refusal to allow Marcos’ burial among the nation’s heroes is not just about the past. This battle is as much a vital part of the struggle to prevent another dictatorship from destroying this country again. “We are here to remember what happened,” Eco writes in reference to the fascist nightmare in Europe, “and to declare solemnly that ‘they’ must never do it again.”
The struggle against forgetting is not an easy one. While events may remain vivid in memory, the emotions felt during those events fade over time. But, last Friday, upon learning that the Marcos family had pulled a fast one by burying the dictator’s remains in the LNMB, I felt a deep anger in my guts. Then, I heard that students were massing in protest. Rage is back, I told myself. Perhaps nothing revives the emotions more forcefully than a jolt in the present.