Perspectives on Marcos at the National Heroes’ Cemetery

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase-Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) for Strategic and International Studies

Thirty years after Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by Filipinos at EDSA, his burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani has triggered national outrage and street protests. Critical views have traveled through social and print media, reflecting many Filipinos’ indignation that a dictator who plundered the wealth of the country and left the nation in social ruins could be immortalized in this way. The hero’s burial duped Filipino citizens, damaged the political landscape, and marred the Philippines’ global standing — but also revealed that the post-EDSA administrations did too little for national reconciliation.

SUPERFICIAL DEMOCRACY

The struggle against the Marcos dictatorship reintroduced the democratic space in the Philippines and fostered Filipino’s present empowerment. For this reason, the hero’s burial mocks Filipinos’ democratic aspirations, rejects the common urge for justice, and revives old societal traumas. It is no wonder that many are outraged.

Without democratic approval, the hero’s burial is doubly illegitimate. The historical and political sensitivities around the issue should elevate it beyond the President’s prerogative; the people should have been directly consulted. Instead, a burial sneaked past the people made fools of marginalized Moros, the broad progressive and leftist movement, the antagonized elite, and Filipinos as a whole.

At the same time, a purely anti-Marcos orientation and struggle is too narrow. That the democratic space has repeatedly revealed its superficialities bodes poorly for our country’s political future. History will only repeat itself if the social and structural foundations of the dictatorship are not addressed.

Despite what the 1986 EDSA uprising achieved, patron-client and elite-driven politics continue to deprive our society of a leveled playing field. These structures of political inequality depoliticize the nation and undermine the majority’s participation.

POLICY GAPS AND POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

The burial of Marcos at the LNMB demonstrates the historical absence of a clear policy for national reconciliation. Rather than absolution and reconciliation, the burial promotes the recognition and admission of the incapacity of past and present administrations to forge national unity and take a very important step in nation-building.

Moreover, the controversial burial was carried out amid growing concern over the alleged atrocities and abuses involved in the elimination of suspected drug users and pushers. The human rights violations that marked the Marcos dictatorship are magnified exponentially and the situation badly begs an explanation from the national leadership.

The loyalty of a significant faction or a critical mass of the AFP to the Marcos family is still evident and the ceremony could not have been possible without their collaboration. The recruitment of Ilocanos into the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship was so extensive that it was referred to as the “Ilocanization” of the armed forces. To date, a large number of politicians in power are in one way or another associated with the Marcos administration. In short, it can only be surmised that they could be back in power in the near future.

In this situation, the question of policy is important: In what way could the present administration demonstrate goodwill in trying to forge peace negotiations with the Moro people and Communist movement? What clear-cut policy could the present administration pronounce to provide justice to the nameless and countless people aggrieved by the Marcos dictatorship?

INTERNATIONAL REPERCUSSIONS

While the 1986 EDSA uprising reverberated throughout the international community, the incredibility of the burial of the dictator in a national hero’s cemetery likewise echoed throughout international spaces. And while dictators elsewhere are ridiculed, socially ostracized, hanged and/or assassinated, the current President and our very own Supreme Court “permitted” such ceremony. The political squabbling brought about by this issue raises the question of political credibility — whether the new administration is capable of resolving a deeply divisive social issue and achieving a milestone where past administrations have failed.

Institutional capacity is weakened when it is tainted with doubt over the ability of our country’s institutions to provide justice to its people. Institutional integrity is more critical than the elimination of business permits in attracting both foreign and domestic investments.

‘THINKING BEYOND POLITICS’

A policy of national reconciliation and an international stance of an empowered state cannot be achieved by settling political debts and expressing whimsical remarks. To think beyond politics is to act in a disinterested manner; unmindful of political turfing and looking at national and international politics from a strategic perspective. This has not happened.

While adhering to the general interest, the present administration should distance itself from sensitive social issues it cannot solve overnight. The Marcos burial controversy is just one of the many critical social issues that the Duterte administration has to confront and there are more important and bigger issues at hand. Statesmanship is and will be a key factor for President Duterte to accomplish his goals. It could be achieved through policy and vision and through astute pronouncements and communicative means.

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