“The fact that it will reopen old wounds, isn’t it a continuity of impunity that the 1987 Constitution ended?” — Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Supreme Court justices grilled the lawyers of the respondents during the second round of oral arguments on the petition against the burial of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB), Sept. 7.
Solicitor General Jose Calida and Hyacinth E. Rafael-Antonio, counsel for the heirs of Marcos, presented their arguments before the high court.
Calida maintained that the burial of Marcos would enforce the policy of President Duterte for national healing and reconciliation and the fulfillment of a political promise. Both Calida and Rafael-Antonio said the issue at hand is not between Marcos and the human rights victims.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno asked Calida during interpellation, “We must set aside the feelings of 75,000 plus victims, is that what you’re saying?”
Sereno cited the data provided by the Human Rights Claimants Board; more than 75,000 individuals have applied for compensation under Republic Act 10368 or the Reparation Law.
Calida could not answer right away. The solicitor general then replied “Yes.”
Sereno zeroed in on the issue of reparation for human rights victims during Martial Law.
She asked Calida where the P10-billion compensation for martial law victims comes from. Calida said it was from the Swiss deposit account of the Marcoses; a portion of the ill-gotten wealth.
“The money stolen from the Filipino people will be paid to victims. Where is the acknowledgment, confession?” Sereno said.
Calida argued that the burial of Marcos in the LNMB would not affect compensation for the victims.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said during the first round of oral arguments last Aug. 31 that pending cases against the Marcoses on ill-gotten wealth amount to more than $365 million.
Sereno pointed out reparation is beyond monetary compensation. “No amount of money can really be enough to compensate our living heroes,” she said, citing congressional deliberations on RA 10368.
“Aren’t we disacknowledging the pain of the victims by the burial (of Marcos)?” Sereno asked. Calida said burial of Marcos would not erase history.
Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguiao asked, “Will not the burial of Marcos in LNMB have a negative effect on human rights obligations and reparations for victims?” Calida said “No.”
Sereno cited the United Nations principles on the right of human rights victims to a remedy and reparation. She told Calida, “How do we fulfill our international law obligations if we are extolling a human rights violator?”
Calida replied the UN principles are not legally binding.
SolGen contradicts self
During the interpellation by several justices, Calida contradicted himself.
Calida claimed that Marcos would be buried in LNMB as a president, soldier and a statesman. “Nothing more,” he said.
However, during interpellation by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, Calida said that Marcos, being a Medal of Valor awardee, fits the definition of a hero. Calida cited Presidential Decree 1687, which cites privileges for Medal of Valor awardees.
Leonen noted PD 1687 was issued by Marcos.
“Which part of Marcos is President, which part is being accused by victims of human rights violations?” Leonen said. “Why is it that government wishes to take only part of Marcos’ life and highlight it and use it as a justification to bury him in the LNMB?”
Leonen argued further, “When the word is clear, no interpretation is needed…Libingan ng mga Bayani is a cemetery for heroes.”
What legal basis
Both Rafael-Antonio and Calida invoked AFP regulation 161-375, which states that all presidents of the Philippines may be interred at the LNMB.
Leonen asked Rafael-Antonio, “If there is a conflict between the AFP regulations and a statute or treaty, which will govern?” The lawyer of the Marcoses said a statute or treaty should govern.
Leonen asked Rafael-Antonio if the three presidents buried in LNMB and the three Supreme Court chief justices buried in the LNMB committed human rights violations. Rafael-Antonio said, “No.”
Leonen maintained that the AFP regulation is not a law but an administrative order from the AFP. He added that the AFP has no jurisdiction over civilians.
Sereno pointed out that many Supreme Court decisions disagree with Calida’s arguments.
Leonen said that 20 court decisions characterize Marcos as a dictator and 18 decisions describe him as authoritarian.
Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza asked Calida to convince him as to why a president who was a dictator, plunderer, human rights violator deserves to be buried in LNMB. Calida said the matter rests solely and exclusively on presidential prerogative under residual powers.
Citing prohibited acts stated in Presidential Decree 105, Caguiao asked Calida, “In light of executive, legislative and judicial pronouncements that characterize President Marcos as a dictator, plunderer, human rights violator, can you explain how his burial in the Heroes’ Cemetery can further the policy to hold and keep the cemetery sacred and hallow or with people to be esteemed?”
“The fact that it will reopen old wounds, isn’t it a continuity of impunity that the 1987 Constitution ended?” Sereno asked Calida.
Calida maintained that as far as they are concerned, President Duterte is not violating any law in ordering the internment of Marcos in LNMB.
Sereno said, “Always, our north star is the Constitution.”
Public money only for public purpose
Responding to Sereno, Brig. Gen. Restituto Aguilar of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office disclosed that 100-square meter lot has been allotted for the grave of Marcos.
Sereno asked how much of the public funds are being spent for the maintenance of the LNMB. Aguilar said he would submit the budget to the high court.
Turning to Calida, Sereno asked if the solicitor general concedes that public funds would be used for the burial of Marcos. Earlier, Calida claimed that the late dictator would be given “simple graveyard military honors” and that no public funds would be used.
Sereno said use of public funds should have public purpose.
Calida claimed the public purpose is to execute Dutere’s policy of healing.
“There is a campaign promise, that is a political purpose. That is not a defined public purpose,” Sereno said. “And public money cannot be used to fulfill a political promise.”
Asked for reaction, Bonifacio Ilagan of the Campaign Against the Return of Marcoses in Malacanang (Carmma), said, “If there’s anything good coming out of the controversy, it’s the fact that Marcos as a dictator, as a plunderer and a human rights violator is being now discussed publicly.”