Marcos Heroes Cemetery Burial in the Philippines Highlights Deep Social Rifts

By Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit —

Students of Ateneo de Manila University protest the burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos in the Heroes Cemetery on November 18, 2016. Source: Jeff Pioquinto, SJ's flickr photostream, used under  a creative commons license.

Students of Ateneo de Manila University protest the burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes Cemetery in the Philippines on November 18, 2016. Source: Jeff Pioquinto, SJ’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Thirty years after Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by Filipinos in the popular People Power Revolution the former president’s burial at the Heroes Cemetery has triggered national outrage and street protests. Sharply critical views have appeared in 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.

A hero’s burial for Marcos insults Filipino citizens, damages the political landscape, and mars the Philippines’ global standing. It also reveals that the post-People Power Revolution administrations did too little to address national reconciliation.

The struggle against the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s reintroduced democratic space in the Philippines and fostered Filipino’s current empowerment. For this reason, Marcos burial as a hero mocks Filipinos’ democratic aspirations, rejects the common urge for justice, and revives old social traumas. It is no wonder that many Filipinos are outraged. Protests sprung up on the date of the burial and more are scheduled for the coming week.

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 Hero’s Cemetery burial that bypassed the public made fools of marginalized Muslim Moros in the south, the broad progressive and leftist movement, opposing  elites, and Filipinos as a whole.

At the same time, a purely anti-Marcos orientation is too narrow. That the democratic space has repeatedly revealed its weakness to elite capture bodes poorly for the Philippines’ political future. History will repeat itself if the social and structural foundations of the Marcos dictatorship are not addressed. Despite what the 1986 People Power Revolution achieved, patron-client and elite-driven politics continues to deprive Philippine society of a level playing field. These structures of political inequality depoliticize the nation and undermine the majority’s participation.

The burial of Marcos in the Heroes Cemetery 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.

Moreover, Marcos’ controversial burial was carried out in the midst of growing concern over the alleged atrocities and abuses involved in the President Rodrigo Duterte government’s elimination of suspected drug users and dealers. The human rights violations that marked the Marcos dictatorship are magnified exponentially by the anti-drug campaign. This situation requires an explanation from national leaders.

The loyalty of a significant faction of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to the Marcos family is still evident and the ceremony could not have been possible without their collaboration. Recruitment of people from the Ilocos region in northwestern Luzon, from where Marcos came, into the AFP during the Marcos dictatorship was so extensive that it was referred to as the “Ilocanization” of the armed forces. Until today, a large number of politicians are in one way or another associated with the Marcos administration. Absent national consensus on Marcos’ legacy, these politicians could be back in power in the near future.

In this situation, the question of policy is important: The Duterte administration should seek to demonstrate goodwill while it pursues peace negotiations with the Moro people and the communist movement. The president should pronounce a clear-cut policy that aims to provide justice to the nameless and countless people aggrieved by the Marcos dictatorship.

While the 1986 Peoples Power Revolution reverberated throughout the international community, the incredibility of Marcos’ burial in a national hero’s cemetery likewise echoed around the world. And while dictators elsewhere are ridiculed, socially ostracized, hanged, or assassinated, the current president and the Philippines Supreme Court “permitted” a ceremony honoring the former Philippine strongman. The political squabbling brought about by this issue brings into question political credibility and whether the Duterte administration is capable of resolving a deeply divisive social issue where past administrations have failed.

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

For the Philippines, 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 turf and looking at national and international politics from a strategic perspective. This has not happened.

The Duterte 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 present administration has to confront and there are more important issues at hand. Statesmanship will be a key factor for Duterte to accomplish his goals going forward.

Professor Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit is president of Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies.


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