Just last week, I asked one of my classes if they believe that former president Ferdinand Marcos deserves to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB)
This has it become a hot topic among colleagues and friends especially on social media, following President Rodrigo Duterte’s confirmation that he will allow the burial.
President Duterte first announced this during the campaign period as a “promise” to the Marcos family in Ilocos Norte in one of his campaign sorties. He also identified himself as a “friend” of losing Vice Presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., son of the late president.
There were many discussions among my students about the issue, ranging from atrocities of martial law to fake military records (we’ll go to this later), but one important question was raised by a student during the heated debate.
“If Marcos qualifies as a soldier, can we just bury him as an ordinary soldier?” one of them asked.
Then I figured, in order for my students to be able to analyze both sides of the table, they should know the arguments of each side.
Former President and a Soldier
An argument from individuals who favor the burial of the late president in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is that he is qualified simply because he is a soldier and a former president. The LNMB is a national cemetery established as a fitting resting place for military personnel as well as Filipino heroes and martyrs.
In an interview by Rappler, Department of National Defense (DND) Public Affairs Service Director Arsenio Andolong said that the late president qualifies to be buried in the LNMB.
“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) has very clear regulations regarding that… I believe based on these regulations, he is qualified.”
Among those who are entitled to be interred in the LNMB are Medal of Valor awardees, Presidents of the republic, Defense secretaries, Chiefs-of-staff of the AFP, war veterans from the 1896 revolution to World War II including guerillas, and national artists.
Currently, three former presidents are buried in LNMB, namely: Elpidio Quirino (6th president), Carlos Garcia (8th president), and Diosdado Macapagal (9th president).
Before becoming president, Ferdinand Marcos was a military personnel who was enlisted prior to the commencement of the second World War. He was an ROTC officer at the University of the Philippines and was among those who fought in Bataan when war broke out, joining and surviving the Bataan Death March.
Moreover, the late president, according to his account, led a guerilla unit named Maharlika which conducted several successful offensives against Japanese forces.
By 1962, Marcos would claim to be the most decorated war hero in the Philippines, claiming to have received 27 medals and accolades, including two of the highest military medals in the US armed forces: the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor.
All of the awards and distinctions received by the late president are exhibited at the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum at Batac, Ilocos Norte, where his remains are currently on public display.
The remains of Ferdinand Marcos where brought home in 1993 from Hawaii, following an agreement with the Ramos administration. In 2011, then president Benigno Aquino III tasked then Vice President Jejomar Binay to study the necessity to allow a hero’s burial for Marcos – a ceremony requested by the president’s widow, Imelda Marcos, back in 1993.
Dictator and hero?
Being a president alone qualifies Marcos to be interred. However, there are parties that question this qualification and raises the moral value of deciding to allow a former “dictator” to be considered an honorable hero.
In 1972, Marcos placed the whole country under Martial Law, which lasted for almost a decade during which thousands fell victims to abuse of political power that led to violation of human rights, death of civilians, and rampant corruption.
As of 2015, around 75,000 claims of human rights violations during the Marcos presidency are still being processed by the government to provide compensation for victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and abuse. Moreover, when the Marcoses left Malacanang in 1986, external debt was at around $926.72 million. In an estimate by Ibon Foundation, taxpayers will still be repaying the Marcos debt until 2025, 39 years after the Marcos’ ouster.
Given the number of cases and the amount of suspected-plundered funds from external debts, the anti-Marcos groups raises the morality judgement on allowing an interment at the LNMB.
‘Fake’ war records and awards
Also pointed out by several experts is the questionable validity of distinctions and activities by Marcos during the second world war.
Despite claims to being the most decorated Filipino soldier, Marcos has always been bothered by controversies about his participation in WW2.
Earlier this month, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) objected to the proposed Marcos interment in the LNMB, mainly because they believe that the late president is not qualified to be buried there.
In a statement, NHCP demonstrated that they object to the proposal mainly because:
(a) Marcos lied about his achievements and military records; (b) His guerrilla unit, the Ang Mga Maharlika, was never officially recognized and neither was his leadership of it., (c) U.S. officials did not recognize Mr. Marcos’s rank promotion from Major in 1944 to Lt. Col. by 1947, and (d) Some of Mr. Marcos’s actions as a soldier were officially called into question by upper echelons of the U.S. military.
The anomalies regarding the war records of Marcos were unraveled in the 80s, when documents regarding his claim of leading a guerilla group Maharlika was turned down by the United States Army, saying that the claim was fraudulent. In a report by ABS-CBN News, it was stated further that Marcos was even arrested during war time due to illegal collection of money. The guerilla unit he lead was also not recognized by the US, calling it fictitious.
In 1986, the New York Times also reported:
“Between 1945 and 1948 various Army officers rejected Mr. Marcos’s two requests for official recognition of the unit, calling his claims distorted, exaggerated, fraudulent, contradictory and absurd. Army investigators finally concluded that Maharlika was a fictitious creation and that ”no such unit ever existed” as a guerrilla organization during the war.
In addition, the United States Veterans’ Administration, helped by the Philippine Army, found in 1950 that some people who had claimed membership in Maharlika – pronounced mah-HAHR-lick-kuh – had actually been committing ”atrocities” against Filipino civilians rather than fighting the Japanese and had engaged in what the V.A. called ”nefarious activity,” including selling contraband to the enemy. The records include no direct evidence linking Mr. Marcos to those activities.”
Various groups who are against the burial of the late president in the LNMB have raised this particular issue. They argued that Marcos cannot be buried in the LNMB because of his questionable activities during the war. While the laws clearly qualify previous presidents, it also clearly states that personnel who were dishonorably discharged, or involved in moral turpitude cannot qualify for interment.
Up to the courts
On Sunday, thousands gather in Luneta Park to protest the president’s approval of the decision to allow the late president’s interment in LNMB. In the gathering, participants signed the petition in order to stop the transfer of Marcos’ remains.
In a report by GMA News Online, Trinidad Herrera, spokesperson of Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) said that their group will be filing a petition to secure a temporary restraining order in the Supreme Court (SC) on the administration’s plan.
The palace said it is ready to oppose any petition to be filed in the SC, but will respect any outcome or decision of the court regarding the matter. (HMJC Brizuela)