There were millions at Edsa those fateful days of February. I was there too, calling for Marcos to leave Malacañang and for Cory to take over. It has been decades now but I had a front-row view of all that happened. I know of what I speak and write. And I know that Ferdinand Marcos was not dishonorably ousted from office.
I saw on TV Gen. Fabian Ver prodding him to direct drastic military action against the crowds. I saw President Marcos silence his cousin, Ver. The crowds would certainly would have dispersed, although, without a doubt, a few hardy souls would have stayed on and there would have been bullet-riddled bodies. But that did not come to pass, because Marcos never gave Ver the clearance to fire on the crowds. That does not make Marcos a hero, but that should be reckoned with when his burial at the Libingan is opposed by those who picture him as the incarnation of all evil.
Unlike President Erap who formally declared that he was leaving Malacañang so that the process of national healing could start, Marcos made no such announcement. The Americans though, unwilling to risk instability in the Philippines, took him on board a helicopter and then flew him off to Hawaii. It is not clear now whether he consented or not. It is known that he was very sick at the time. The massed throng at Edsa never made it into Malacañang while Marcos was in. His “loyalist” soldiers stood by their embattled commander-in-chief. It was only later that the mob entered—and went into a frenzy of pillage and destruction. One thing is certain: Once in Hawaii, he made clear his intention to return.
As for the crowds at Edsa, the audiences at the Papal Masses of St. John Paul II and Pope Francis far exceeded the throng that made of Edsa one lengthy carnival ground. And just what percent of the Filipino people did they represent? How fair a representation of the Filipino population was the assembly? To be sure, a considerable part of Northern Luzon delivered a “no” vote in the plebiscite on the Constitution of 1987—meaning that, no doubt, to be a repudiation of Cory’s assumption to office.
No, I do not think he was dishonorably ousted from office. Many military officers joined the ranks of Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile, but many remained loyal to President Marcos. It is not a certainty that he had lost command of the armed forces of the Philippines. And if defections were the measure of legitimacy, would we not be encouraging those switches in loyalty that make of the military the ultimate arbiters of the politics of a country? And it is not like the military withdrew its loyalty from Marcos to transfer it to Cory, for never was a president ever so besieged by coup attempts than was Cory: proof that she did not have command of the military at all times!
Even the Supreme Court itself recognized Cory’s take over as “extra-constitutional”, tacitly recognizing that Marcos was the constitutional—the legitimate—president of the country at the time of Cory’s takeover. If he had the legal authority, and Cory came to power extra-constitutionally, then his ouster (if it was one) was not constitutional, not legal. It was a spirited effort, emotionally charged and determined effort on the part of the Edsa assembly to boot him out of office, but that does not mean that it succeeded. When the Supreme Court, through Madame Justice Irene Cortes, held that it was one of the “residual powers” of the presidency to disallow the return even of a citizen—who under international law has every right to return home—was it not in fact acknowledging that he maintained a considerable following in the Philippines sufficient to constitute a real and present danger to the nascent administration that had come into power “extra-constitutionally”?
It cannot be doubted that some were killed and hurt because Martial Law as in place—but there are many killed and hurt now, without martial law, as there were in administrations past. There are some stringent requirements to be able to impute fault on the basis of “command responsibility”. That delicate doctrine cannot and should not be used as a battering ram for one’s prejudices. How does that factor into the decision about whether or not there is a constitutional obstacle to laying Marcos’ remains to rest in a cemetery that reserves its plots for fallen soldiers and former presidents? And by what standard of reckoning can one say, with the certitude that the law requires, that the evil attributed to him cancels out that good that he achieved? And is it not settled doctrine in constitutional law that when there are no judicial standards to go by, there is no justiciable issue?