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IN 1947, a Memorial Cemetery for Filipino military personnel who had served in World War II was set up within Fort Bonifacio in Bicutan, Taguig City. The war had ended in 1945 and a new Philippine republic established in 1946. The many Filipino soldiers who had died in the war, from privates to generals, would have a fitting resting place.
In 1948, Congress enacted Republic Act 289, “An Act Providing for the Construction of a National Pantheon for Presidents of the Philippines, National Heroes, and Patriots of the Country.” President Elpidio Quirino signed it into.
In 1954, President Ramon Magsaysay, in Proclamation No. 86, renamed the Memorial Cemetery to Libingan ng mga Bayani.
In 1967, President Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Proclamation No. 208, setting aside 142 hectares of land in Fort Bonifacio for the cemetery. It would not only be a cemetery for soldiers but also a shrine for fallen heroes.
In 1993, President Fidel V. Ramos issued Executive Order No. 131, including national artists and national scientists among those eligible for burial at the Libingan.
This, briefly, is the story of the Libingan, how it started as a cemetery for soldiers, how it was expanded to include presidents of the country, then fallen heroes, and then national artists and scientists.
President Marcos was buried at the Libingan last Sunday, after the Supreme Court rejected petitions opposing President Duterte’s decision allowing Marcos’ burial there after so many years. It was a legal decision, citing the law, RA 289, listing former presidents of the country as among those eligible for burial there. The other eligible groups are “national heroes and patriots of the country,” under RA 289; and “national artists and national scientists” under Ramos Executive Order No. 131. And, of course, soldiers, the original group for which the Memorial Cemetery was intended.
Not all these groups are “bayani” or heroes, but they are eligible for burial here by virtue of laws and presidential orders and proclamations issued over the years.
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III has now filed a bill to set aside land within the Libingan ng mga Bayani for a Libingan ng mga Makasaysayang Pilipino, to distinguish them from the fallen soldiers, the heroes. The Libingan ng mga Bayani would remain as a cemetery for soldiers, as was the intention when it was established in 1947.
All others – presidents, national artists and scientists, other distinguished national figures – would be interred at the Libingan ng mga Makasaysayang Pilipino.
It is a proposal worth considering. It should clear all misunderstanding on who may – or should not be – be interred at the Libingan. It should answer the protestations of anti-Marcos groups now threatening to demonstrate at the cemetery, some even calling for the exhumation of President Marcos’ remains.