Technicalities seldom withstand moral grievance. So it is with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte's justification for allowing the remains of a reviled dictator to be buried at Libingan ng mga Bayani — the Heroes' Cemetery.
Duterte has offered to relinquish his post if people were able to deny that Ferdinand Marcos had been a president and a soldier. These apparently suffice for inclusion among the honoured dead. He is not wrong on either point, technically.
When the Supreme Court junked a consolidated petition against the burial (voting 9-5, one abstention), it affirmed executive powers over who could be buried at the cemetery. It also noted that Marcos had never been convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude.
In effect, the court overrode the 1992 repatriation agreement between the then-Ramos government and the Marcos family, which carried the explicit condition that the remains be interred in Ferdinand's northern hometown.
These are all technicalities. The response to the burial shows just how brittle they can be, and how tenuous the relationship between the law and justice.
When news broke out that the deed was done, students at high schools and universities walked out and organised a 'noise barrage' in the streets. People converged at various points in metropolitan Manila through the night. There is a protest on 25 November, dubbed 'Black Friday', which is expected to draw even larger crowds across the country.
The ambivalence toward (or even tacit approval of) the Duterte administration, amid the high murder toll associated with his drug war, has momentarily dissipated. The reasons are interesting, and may be somewhat encouraging in these times.
People don't like being duped, even if it is just a feeling. The president ran on an anti-corruption platform and voters believed him. Many did not take seriously the prospect of Marcos' remains being transferred to the Heroes' Cemetery.
"Filipinos had always taken pride in the 1986 revolution; 'people power' was a historical contribution to democratic ideas. This was a sneaky burial, undertaken
without their consent."
But Duterte had been barely inaugurated when he gave instructions for the army to make ceremonial arrangements for the burial. The Supreme Court found no constitutional impediments months later, on 8 November. A mere ten days after that, with no public notice, Imelda and her children laid the patriarch at the cemetery. They never wavered from the conviction that there is nothing to atone. Malacañan Palace claimed no prior knowledge of the details of the burial, even as a funeral wreath hung there bearing the president's name.
The mood that prevailed throughout Philippine social media that day was one of intense disgust. Filipinos had always taken pride in the 1986 revolution; 'people power' was a historical contribution to democratic ideas. This was a sneaky burial, undertaken without their consent. It is hard to tell how much of a lightning rod this will turn out to be, but it has encouraged progressives who have felt little hope these past several months of ever consolidating a meaningful, committed opposition.
The presence of millennials in the protests also demonstrates that protecting the truth matters; that it matters for its own sake. There had been real concern over the past few years that the distance of time, the lack of a definitive account in textbooks, the fact that Marcos' children hold political office, that not enough people were punished for embezzlement and human rights abuse — that these would lead to distortions and erosions of memory.
Young Filipinos, observing recent political disorder, had begun wondering whether Marcos was really that bad. Weren't we more disciplined in his time? Didn't we have more pride? This was met by a concerted effort, especially in the lead-up to the 30th anniversary of the revolution this year, to remember those who had resisted the regime and were tortured and killed. Their stories appeared in news outlets. TV specials ran. A multi-media exhibition was opened. Videos featuring martial law survivors went viral on social media. Symposia were held at universities. The pushback against historical revisionism seems to be paying off, manifest in the placards and chants coming from fresh voices.
The fervent response against the Marcos burial reminds us that authoritarian populists are not necessarily invincible. Their tendency to project themselves as purer than anyone in the establishment makes them slip harder and more noticeably. When they do, people who had not voted for them will feel vindicated; those who had will feel betrayed. It is a precarious position, but one that creates opportunities for bearing moral and ethical arguments. The president would do well to take them seriously.
Fatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She tweets @foomeister and blogs at This is Complicated.
Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.
Father John George
24 November 2016
I attended Ateneo de Manila Uni, then a hot bed of anti-marcos activity in 1980s. It was then
suggested& later confirmed that Marcos’ claims of being a war-time hero had already been refuted.
The US Army said that Marcos’ claims he had led a guerrilla resistance unit during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines were both “fraudulent” and “absurd.”
Marcos had always portrayed himself as a hero – to the extent of being given a Medal of Valor.
But US Army documents, which had been archived for years but made public in 1986, said investigators found no evidence that Marcos once headed a band of guerrillas known as Ang Mga Maharlika (The Royals) between 1942 to 1944.
The documents were discovered by Alfred W. McCoy, a historian who was researching a book on World War II in the Philippines
25 November 2016
A 'mindful' article, Fatima! I recall Carl Gaspar, then a layperson on his first visit to Australia, taking his various audiences through the processes of liberation theology that had conscientised and activated the support of various Australian pressure groups appalled by Marcos's crass abuse of military and usurpation of executive power and leading to the assassination of Senator Ramos. There was no doubt in my mind and in any of the groups with which Gaspar interacted that people-power was an extraordinary, tangible movement committed to not just cleaning up the Philippines but on offer as a Gospel alternative to the oligarchical rule that has so often imposed itself on the people-power solidarity of the Philippines citizenry. Duterte had better sit up and take notice!
Father John George
26 November 2016
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) is against the burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
The commission said it studied President Rodrigo Duterte's basis for allowing Marcos' burial at the cemetery. In May, days after his election victory, Duterte said he would allow it "because he was a Filipino soldier, period."
This claim supposedly makes Marcos eligible for interment there, in accordance with guidelines set by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
However, in a 26-page pamphlet entitled, "Why Ferdinand E. Marcos Should Not Be Buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani", the NHCP disputed Marcos' record as a soldier during World War II, saying that it is "fraught with myths, factual inconsistencies, and lies."
The commission said that Marcos "lied about receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Order of the Purple Heart", a claim he supposedly made as early as 1945.
There were also doubts raised about Marcos' travails at Bessang Pass. An ABS-CBN report quoted the son of Colonel Conrado Rigor Sr as saying that his father was the real hero of Bessang Pass, and that Marcos was not even there. – Rappler.com
Father John George
26 November 2016
According to NCHP**, Marcos lied several times about his involvement in the military.
In its letter, the NHCP said: "[T]he Commission has studied Mr. Marcos' war record and found that:
"1. Mr. Marcos' claims about his war medals from the U.S. are highly questionable. There is strong reason to doubt that he ever received them, let alone foxhole during the war, as Mr. Marcos claimed in one of his authorized biographies.
"2. Mr. Marcos lied about his rank.
"3. His guerrilla unit, Ang Maharlika, was never recognized by the U.S. government.
"4. His leadership of the unit was also doubted at official levels and his practice of listing his name on different guerrilla rosters was called a 'malicious criminal act.'
"5. Other acts of Mr. Marcos were officially called into question:
His command over the Alias Intelligence Unit (described as 'usurpation');
His commission of officers (without authority);
His abandonment of USAFIP-NL ostensibly to build an airfield for Gen. Manuel Roxas;
His 'illegal collection' of money for the airfield."
**The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (, abbreviated NHCP) is part of the government of the Philippines. Its mission is "the promotion of Philippine history and cultural heritage through research, dissemination, conservation, sites management and heraldry works." As such, it "aims to inculcate awareness and appreciation of the noble deeds and ideals of our heroes and other illustrious Filipinos, to instill pride in the Filipino people and to rekindle the Filipino spirit through the lessons of history."
Michael D. Breen
27 November 2016
Thanks, Fatima. This kind of revisionism is like a second blow to the people. They suffered under Marcos, despite the PR and spin to the contrary.
But the revisionist sly repaint and lipstick, untrue and undignified as it is, gives another slap in the face to the victims and the nation. It also suggests that it is possible to tell cover up lies if you are strong enough. Your piece is professional historian stuff.
Anyone thought of suggesting to Rodrigo Duterte that he propose Marcos to the Vatican for canonization?