In a disappointing decision from the Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court ruled in favour of burying the remains of the late Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani (Graveyard of Heroes).
Voting 9-5, Supreme Court justices ruled that there was nothing unconstitutional about Marcos’ interment at the burial ground for war heroes.
The decision was a response to several petitions being filed against the move – which was one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s key platforms when he ran a populist campaign.
Many historians, academics and surviving relatives of victims during the Martial Law era objected vehemently to the notion of honoring Marcos with a heroes’ burial, citing the human rights record of his presidency.
Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te said the high court dismissed all the petitions challenging the proposed burial of the former strongman Marcos at the Heroes’ Cemetery based on five reasons, one of these raises eyebrows: that Marcos’ burial cannot be stopped since he “was not convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude.”
Moral turpitude is a legal concept in several countries that refers to “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.”
Crimes involving moral turpitude include embezzlement, government fraud, extortion and bribery. If you’re scratching your head at that fact then you just surmised the collective reaction of Filipino political commentators when this verdict was given.
The Marcos era was practically remembered as the time when these atrocities were rife. Thousands of student activists went missing, close friends of the dictator accumulated unexplained wealth and the political opposition were constantly being harassed.
Although Marcos was never convicted of any of these crimes, there is sufficient recorded evidence to argue that the only reason he has not been convicted is the lack of an honest judiciary at that time.
Had the Philippines been a pure democracy, where the state institutions were not weakened by harassment from the military or the judiciary not had been infiltrated with Marcos-aligned cronies then perhaps there would have been a conviction.
However, the verdict of the global community was evident: Marcos is in history books as a malevolent dictator and human rights violator.
Forbes Magazine named Marcos as the 2nd most corrupt leader in modern history, amassing an alleged US$5-10B in public wealth and only beaten by the late Indonesian dictator Suharto.
Stanford University also released a research paper outlining the property theft occurring during the Martial Law era. The paper stated that, “Marcos progressively consolidated his power until he was able to break through restraints imposed; US financial support enabled him to do so.”
On Feb. 25, 2013, President Aquino signed Republic Act No. 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act, “providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, documentation of said violations, appropriating funds therefor and for other purposes.”
Thereafter, a whooping 75,730 claims of rights violations under Marcos were being processed. Many of which were filed by the bereaved family members of political activists who disappeared during the Martial Law era.
The law was a mere formality. A prior court ruling from the United States in 1994 already declared that the Marcos estate was liable for torture, summary executions and disappearances.
The victims have not received payments until now because of disputes over the Marcos property.
So the evidence for crimes involving moral turpitude that occurred under Ferdinand Marcos do exist and are in abundance. However, the Supreme Court made the right ruling.
As sad as that may sound, the nation’s highest court made no error in declaring that constitutionally speaking – there is no viable case against a heroes burial.
Rather than having gripes with the Supreme Court justices who had not erred in doing their job, why not turn our attention to the reason the issue of Marcos’ burial became a talking point in the first place?
The reason why arguments regarding a Marcos heroes’ burial became headlines is because it was one of the platforms that the incumbent president, Rodrigo Duterte ran on.
It was a populist gambit that was designed to cement his image as a pure antithesis to the Aquino/Roxas-led Liberal Party. A political move that was very popular to the legions of Marcos historical revisionists presenting bogus information on social media.
Yes, there are hordes of Marcos supporters on the internet – they surely will rejoice at this decision.
The reason for their allegiance to the late dictator seems to boil down to three different reasons: an ignorance of history, a deep disdain for the Aquino family or both.
It seems that during the course of the Benigno Aquino presidency, there was a surge in Marcos popularity. The biggest driver was the unpopularity of the then-president.
This characterized the sentiments of the pro-Marcos camp. Their beliefs are based on a dislike for an individual as opposed to sound arguments backed by historical facts.
A quick peruse of any pro-Marcos social media website will give you the same lines of argument, that is historically false and demonstrably false.
These include the Philippine economy being the second most prosperous in Asia during the Marcos era, countless infrastructure improvements and a strong peso (on par with the US dollar!)
The deception got so out of hand the History Department of the University of the Philippines, issued a statement earlier this year debunking such claims. The group of professors who made the statement called these claims, “deceptive nostalgia that never existed”.
They added that: “Under martial law, the country was plunged into a climate of repression and plunder and then into social crisis that exploded in the 1980s.”
Economic hardship, as opposed to golden years, better described the Marcos years: Poverty incidence grew from 41 percent in the 1960s to 59 percent in the 1980s.
From 1970 to 1983, foreign debt increased twelve times and reached $20 billion. It grew at an average rate of 25 percent from 1970 to 1981. It was reported in 2004 that taxpayers will continue to foot this bill until 2025.
The Department of Education also called for textbooks which contained erroneous historical claims pertaining to the Marcos to be recalled from schools.
Even though history tells a story contrary to the belief of the Martial Law enthusiasts, historical revisionism in our school system and in social media – two outlets where the younger generation derive their knowledge from – would always ensure that facts take a backseat to fiction.
The Supreme Court decision is a disappointment, but the blame does not go to the Justices. Rather, the criticism goes to us for all those times we became complacent at historical revisionism, dismissing them as a non-threat.
From now on let us call out bogus information wherever we see them and set the record straight; who knows what else the uninformed will rewrite in our history books?