MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday, November 18, that he merely upheld the rule of law when he allowed a hero's burial for former president Ferdinand Marcos which took place that day.
"Let history judge but I will do what is legal and the Supreme Court has ruled that it is," Duterte said in a statement read out by Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, a few hours after the late strongman was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Duterte and his official delegation, including Abella, had just landed in Lima, Peru, for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Summit.
Duterte repeated the statement when he himself faced media in Lima.
"I was just being legalistic about it. President Marcos was a president for so long, and he was a soldier. So that's about it. Whether or not he performed worse or better, there is no study, there is no movie about it," said Duterte.
All accusations against the late dictator, he said, were merely "challenges and allegations of the other side which is not enough."
The burial does not mean victims of abuses during the Marcos regime have come to a dead end in seeking justice, said the President.
"For those detained so long and suffering we have this option to file the case against the late president Marcos," said Duterte.
He admitted that he himself had misgivings about his decision to bury the late strongman.
"You know, ang isip ko noon (what I thought before) when I decided. We have a divided nation although not that widespread," he said.
What about 'hurt Ilocanos'?
Duterte insisted that the decision was needed to heal the "hurt" that Ilocanos feel about the exclusion of their fellow Ilocano Marcos from the Heroes' Cemetery.
"But you can be very sure that all the Ilocano-speaking people are really hurt, they are dismayed and it’s been there floating like a flotsam, we have to decide once and for all," he said.
In his statement, Duterte expressed hope that supporters and critics of the burial would "come to terms" with Marcos' state interment.
"Hopefully, both sides will exercise maximum tolerance and come to terms with the burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos," he said.
The President also reiterated his objective in making the controversial decision, which is supposedly to forge national healing and unity.
"It seems to be a very raucous issue for the nation but I would like to pray that everybody would find a space in his heart for forgiveness," he said.
Malacañang said the exact date and manner of the burial was decided upon by the Marcos family, not the Duterte administration. (READ: Marcoses: 'We prayed, dreamed for 3 decades to see this day')
"The decision to bury the late President Ferdinand Marcos is a personal decision of the Marcos family. We respect their choice of date for the interment," the President said. (READ: Marcos family arranged for a private burial)
Duterte "fully understands" that some sectors fiercely oppose the stealth burial, conducted a mere hour after media got wind of it.
Abella said this is why Duterte "allowed any form of mass action as long as it is legal, peaceful and in accordance with the law."
Among those who had spoken against it is a Duterte Cabinet member, Vice President Leni Robredo, who had been vocal about her position on on the issue since the campaign period.
Abella said he informed Duterte of the development upon their arrival in Lima. The spokesman said, to his knowledge, Duterte did not know of the exact date for the burial.
"As for as I know, he was not sure about the exact date," said Abella.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier told Rappler that he had informed Duterte of the Marcos family's plans to bury the late strongman "not later than December 1." (READ: Live updates on protests and other Marcos burial-related activities)
Asked how the President could not have known about the exact plans given the bulk of preparation necessary for the burial, Abella said "there were other agencies that were attending to the matter" and that Duterte was focused on his Peru trip.
Abella denied the burial was arranged to take place on a day Duterte would be out of the country.
"It just so happened there are certain responsibilities as leader and [President Duterte] does it," he said.
Did the Palace agree to the opinions of some that the burial was arranged in a "sneaky" manner? (READ: Marcos a thief till the end, say senators)
"I doubt there was anything sneaky about the matter. In fact, it was part of his campaign promise...There was no intent to be sneaky," said Abella. (READ: Petitioners on stealth burial: We won't take this sitting down)
Duterte is set to participate at the APEC Leaders' Summit from November 19 to 20.
On November 8, the President gave the Marcos family the green light to bury their patriarch in the Heroes' Cemetery – just hours after the Supreme Court ruled that there were no legal obstacles to the burial. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.