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Libingan ng Bayan

At the start of the Supreme Court’s hearing of oral arguments on the issue of whether to allow the burial of the remains of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro remarked: “I think it is the name that creates controversy.” She was referring to the name of the cemetery “Libingan ng mga Bayani.”

For 23 years now, the embalmed body of former President Marcos has been on display in a refrigerated crypt in Batac, Ilocos Sur. After the People Power Revolution of 1986, President Marcos and his family went into exile in Hawaii.

After his death, the body was brought home in 1993.

The Marcos family sought to have the former President’s remains interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, but a succession of administrations — Corazon C. Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph E. Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Benigno S. Aquino III — opted to keep the remains in Batac in deference to various sectors who had suffered from martial law.

Thus the remains stayed at a mausoleum in Batac, where they lay like the remains of Lenin in Moscow and Mao Tse-tung in Beijing, an object of pilgrimage by Marcos loyalists. Until President Duterte included a Marcos burial at the Libingan among his campaign promises. A few weeks after his election last May, he gave his official approval and the Marcos family prepared for the burial on the former president’s birth anniversary on September 11. But protests were held at the Luneta and petitions were filed with the Supreme Court.

At the start of the court hearings last Wednesday, many legal issues were raised in the petitions, including possible violation of the Constitution’s Declaration of Policy that the state “values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights” (Article II, Section 11) and calling on all educational institutions to “foster appreciation for the role of national heroes in the historical development of the country” (Article IV, Section 3.2).

This latter provision ties in with the claim of protesters that burying Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani –Cemetery of Heroes – would go against the constitutional call for appreciation of the role of national heroes.

It is this matter of appreciation for the role of national heroes that seems to be at the center of the current dispute. As Justice De Castro remarked: Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani is being opposed on the argument that he cannot be classified as a hero – a bayani.

President Duterte, as commander- in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has all the right to allow his burial at the Libingan, which is under the administration of the Department of National Defense. There is a law, RA 289, that says former presidents of the country, may be buried there. Three of the country’s presidents are now there – Elpidio Quirino, Carlos P. Garcia, and Diosdado Macapagal.

It is the name “Libingan ng mga Bayani” that is at the heart of the controversy. If this Armed Forces cemetery had a different name –perhaps “Libingan ng Bayan” – we might not have all these protests and the Supreme Court would have a clearer road to a just and legal decision.