Wouldn’t the injustice suffered by the victims of the Marcos dictatorship become starker if the Supreme Court allowed the burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani of the dictator’s body – years after his ouster by the Filipino people in 1986 and death in exile in Hawaii in 1989?
Would it be right and just if public honors are accorded both to the victims of human rights violations and the one chiefly responsible for such violations?
These, in effect, were the related questions that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno posed to Solicitor General Jose Calida, representing the administrators of Libingan, in her questioning before the end of oral arguments at the Supreme Court last Wednesday.
It was the second round of oral arguments on the petitions to stop the burial of Marcos’ remains at the Libingan, as authorized by President Rodrigo Duterte. A week earlier, the petitioners had argued their case – with the Court allowing four women to narrate their horrible experiences of torture and detention under martial law.
The Chief Justice premised her questions on the fact that Congress has enacted a law (RA 10368 in 2013) which declares as State policy “to recognize the heroism and sufferings of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance and other human rights violations committed during the regime of (Marcos), covering the period from September 21, 1972 to February 25, 1986 and restore the victims’ honor and dignity.”
(The same law also declares that the State “acknowledges its moral and legal obligation to recognize and provide reparations to said victims and/or their families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations and damages they suffered under the Marcos regime.”)
Sereno went as far as to say that the recognition and reparations (both monetary and nonmonetary) provided under the law may not suffice to make up for the losses and sufferings of the victims.
Aggravating the victims’ plaint is the fact that the implementation of RA 10368 – which took over a decade to be approved by Congress – has yet to yield benefits to them. No one has yet received any monetary reparation, since the compensation board created to carry this out is still going through the 75,000 applications filed to determine who should be paid and the amount to be paid corresponding to the type or degree of violation each one suffered.
The law also provides for the establishment of a memorial/museum/library (initially funded with P500 million) wherein the names of the HRV victims will be inscribed in a roll and their records of sufferings shall be preserved and made accessible to the public via the Internet. This too has yet to be established.
Thus it would truly heap more injustice on the victims if the body of Marcos were allowed to be buried at the Libingan – whether before or after the provisions of RA 10368 have been carried out.
Adding further pain to the victims’ collective injuries were the statements by Calida and the private lawyer representing the Marcoses that the former’s emotions and feelings have no relevance to the burial issue because they could seek remedies under other laws.
Under questioning by the magistrates, Calida cited varied reasons for Duterte’s decision, among them being what he called the “wisdom and propriety of the President’s well-meaning desire to put closure to this divisive issue.”
He got himself in a knot by first averring that the President doesn’t intend to bury Marcos as a hero, but as a soldier and former president. Later he asserted that, having been awarded a Medal of Valor for alleged World War II gallantry (given when he was already President in 1966), the dictator has effectively been declared a war hero. Worse, under Justice Marvic Leonen’s rapid-fire questioning, Calida was compelled to admit, impliedly, that it was Marcos himself who issued Presidential Decree No.1687 recognizing a Medal of Valor awardee as a hero, on March 24, 1980.
Sereno upbraided Calida for repeatedly citing mere AFP rules and regulations to justify Marcos’ burial at the Libingan, as the solicitor general kept referring to AFP Regulation No. G161-375. (Coincidentally, an online petition and house-to-house campaign launched in Ilocos Norte, Marcos’ home province, to collect a million signatures to support his burial at the Libingan, cites as authority AFP Regulation No. G161-137.)
“You’re using AFP regulations to force upon this Court your definition of a hero,” Sereno told Calida, adding: “You are reducing us to a court that will legitimize everything due to a regulation by the AFP…Are our pronouncements so meaningless to you… that all of them will be set aside so you can justify under just an administrative issuance [the burial at Libingan] so the President can fulfil a promise made during his [electoral] campaign?”
Peppering him with questions, to which Calida answered yes to some, disagreed in two others, the chief justice induced the solicitor general into admitting that AFP regulations don’t carry the same weight or authority as laws enacted by Congress.
Meantime, Marcos’ body won’t be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on September 18, as set by his family.
The Supreme Court has extended until October 18 its 20-day status quo ante order which originally would have lapsed in mid-September. Lawyers of both sides have been given 20 days to submit their respective memoranda (summation of written arguments).
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Published in The Philippine Star
Sept. 10, 2016