A few days ago, 14 brave souls, in a 9-5 vote, decided that there was no legal impediment for former World War 2 veteran, Former National Defense Secretary and Former President Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
No date has been set for the date and time of the burial, though there are reports that the Marcos family is already coordinating with the authorities in charge of Libingan to fix the details.
In the wake of this decision, reactions have been strong and quite plentiful. Whether for or against, the people are passionate about this issue. While the intention (at least ostensibly) was to heal, I don’t think anyone would son forgive or forget.
So who’s to blame?
A family who would want its patriarch to be remembered as a hero? A president who campaigned on this issue and promised that he would push for said burial? The Legislature and former presidents who wrote the laws the administrative regulations that allowed the same? The (in)famous former President? The 14 men and women in black who were duty-bound to rue upon the issue before them? Or, we, the sovereign Filipino people?
Let’s examine the role of the institutions involved here.
The Legislative branch makes the laws, the Executive implements them, and the Judiciary resolves issues and controversies before it.
In 1948, President Elpidio Quirino signed “An Act Providing for the Construction of a National Pantheon for Presidents of the Philippines, National Heroes, and Patriots of the Country.” In 1954, the Pantheon not yet existing was renamed Libingan ng mga Bayani. In 1967, President Marcos reserved 142 hectares of land within Fort Bonifacio, the current site of the Libingan. In 1986, Edsa happened, former President Aquino rose to power. In 1993, then-President Corazon Aquino, with then AFP Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos, issued Armed Forces regulation G 161-373.
In September 1989, Marcos, while on his deathbed, wanted to go home to the Philippines. This was not allowed by then-President Corazon Aquino. The Supreme Court upheld this with a vote of 8-7. The Honorable Supreme Court said: “This case is unique. It should not create a precedent, for the case of a dictator forced out of office and into exile after causing twenty years of political, economic and social havoc in the country and who within the short space of three years seeks to return, is in a class by itself.”
In 1992, then-President Fidel V. Ramos entered into an agreement with the family of former President Marcos that his remains could be brought home to the Philippines, provided that the remains be flown straight to Ilocos. He would be given military honors befitting a major in our Armed Forces, but he would not be allowed to be paraded in Manila, and that the burial would be done in Ilocos, not in the Libingan.
Something all lawyers and law students know very well: for every rule, there is always an exception. Worse, sometimes the rule and/or the exceptions are struck down, usually for violating the equal-protection clause. More on this a bit later.
The Supreme Court said he had the qualifications and none of the disqualifications. So where are these qualifications and disqualifications found? Where should they be found? Answers: In the law(s) and regulations providing for the Libingan.
So should former President Marcos be disqualified? A lot of Filipinos definitely think not. The rules say he’s entitled, but so many people feel against it.
It would be a bit too late if this issue would have changed your mind on whom to vote for president. What is not too late is acting through our representatives in both Houses of Congress—an entire branch of government. If there’s something wrong with laws, it is our representatives’ job to fix them.
But what if the representatives agree, wouldn’t this go back to the President for his approval or veto? Two words: Veto override. It requires two thirds of the members of each house, but if people feel that strongly about it, and their representatives represent their constituents, then it is an available remedy.
And if the representatives refuse to listen—two magic numbers—10 and 3 (and majority). (Twelve and 3 if Constitution, but since it’s just a law, 10 and 3). Ten percent of all registered voters with at least 3 percent of every legislative district can petition an initiative to amend the law (an exception can be added). This will then be submitted for a referendum where a majority vote would be required.
These options of course take time, money and resources. So what now?
The big I.
While the president has a lot of latitude in the exercise of his or her power to execute the laws, this power is not absolute. In fact, by mere “betrayal of public trust,” a president can be removed from office.
One final legal point—equal protection. As mentioned earlier, one of the most fundamental rights of any person, not just here in the Philippines, is that the law should treat all persons equally, absent any substantial classification that is germane to the purpose of law.
So what is the point of discussing all this legal gobbledygook?
Most, if not all key points made here, are supported by the Constitution. Yes, it is long, difficult to understand, and practically impossible to memorize in its entirety. Nonetheless, it is something that every Filipino should have read and understood.
Second, we must remember we each have a role to play. The branches of government, the constitutional bodies, the bill of rights, are all well and good, but those institutions alone don’t mean anything without the very citizens in the country. This means a few things: Making your stand known to your representatives (barangay all the way up to the president), and voting wisely. Speaking your mind, being vigilant of your rights, but at the same time protecting and respecting the rights of others.
We can also make sure that our representatives are in line with us, and if they are not, we can make sure that they know we will do what we can to make them accountable. Simply: continue to show up and participate. Decisions are made by those who show up.
Third, the nature of a democracy will always lead to disagreement and discontent. I am honestly shocked at how some people bash certain entities for, well, doing their job and/or doing exactly what they promised. This of course is part and parcel of any democracy, that there be free exchange of ideas. But point is that there will always be disappointment and we will not always get our way. It is my belief that it is what happens in these situations that would define us.
In 1987, we the sovereign Filipino people authored the 1987 Constitution. We ensured that no person or office is supreme, and that there is always a check and balance. Everyone is accountable not just to other co-equal branches and to other constitutional bodies, but to we, the people.
In this day and age, voting alone is nowhere near enough. However, equally important as our active participation is understanding the system and the direction of that participation.
So what’s the next move?
Kevin Timothy T. San Agustin has been studying law for the past 11 years.