Supreme Court of the Philippines

5 years since ‘hero’s burial,’ a Marcos case set to return to Supreme Court

Lian Buan

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5 years since ‘hero’s burial,’ a Marcos case set to return to Supreme Court

PROTEST. Various organizations led by Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law protest outside the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City on November 18, 202, to assert that the late president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos is not a hero, on the 5th anniversary of the secretive burial at the heroes cemetery.


'There were factors at play then. This time around we hope those factors do not come into the picture,' says prominent activist Satur Ocampo

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was buried secretly at the Libingan ng mga Bayani five years ago on Thursday – on November 18, 2016 – and the petitions against the candidacy of his son are set to return to the battlefield that the family knows all too well: the Supreme Court.

Marcos’ hero’s burial was allowed by the Philippine Supreme Court in 2016, in Ocampo vs Enriquez, named after the first recorded petitioner Satur Ocampo who was a political detainee under Marcos’ Martial Law.

This time around, Ocampo is bringing presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr to a legal battle following the disqualification case that he and other ex-detainees filed against the dictator’s son before the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Whatever the Comelec decides, the case is likely to reach the Supreme Court.

Marcos’ lawyer in the Comelec petitions that could go up to the High Court is the dictator’s solicitor general, Estelito Mendoza, whose record wins in the Supreme Court include the acquittal of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of plunder and the bail of Juan Ponce Enrile despite plunder charges against him.

“I think whoever would be unsatisfied by the decision would go up to the Supreme Court,” said Howard Calleja, lawyer for Ocampo’s group and another group that filed a separate petition with the poll body to cancel Marcos’ certificate of candidacy (COC).

If this happens, this would not be the first time for the High Tribunal to be deciding on a contentious election issue.

In 2016, a disqualification case against then-presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe on account of her citizenship reached the Supreme Court. The justices decided in her favor two months before the May presidential elections that year. She lost to Rodrigo Duterte.

Ocampo filed the latest disqualification case against Marcos alongside other Martial Law victims who make up the group CARMMA or the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law.

In their decision on Marcos’ burial – 9-5 in favor of the Marcoses – the Supreme Court upheld the political discretion of President Duterte to utilize the public property of Libingan ng Mga Bayani, even if it was to recognize as hero the dictator under whose term 3,240 people died, 34,000 tortured and 70,000 detained.

5 years since ‘hero’s burial,’ a Marcos case set to return to Supreme Court

“[In] the previous instances where there were disappointing rulings as in the burial of Marcos, there were factors at play. This time around, we hope those factors [do] not come into the picture, but [they should] take into account the people’s interests,” said Ocampo.

Artist Bonifacio Ilagan, another Martial Law victim and Ocampo’s co-petitioner in the disqualification case against Marcos, said the Supreme Court’s grant of a hero’s burial helped “in a very big way” to propel the son to where he is now – leading recent surveys on presidential candidates.

“Ang paglilibing sa mga labi ni Marcos na prinoseso at pinayagan ni Duterte ay nakatulong in a very big way upang lalong mapabilis ang plano ng mga Marcos na bumalik sa kapangyarihan,” said Ilagan.

(The hero’s burial of Marcos processed and enabled by Duterte helped in a very big way to speed up the plan of Marcoses to return to power.)

There are several scheduled events on Thursday to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the burial, with condemnation rallies by different groups.

Of the nine justices who voted in favor of the hero’s burial, eight have retired, including the ponente former chief justice Diosdado Peralta, who, like Marcos, is from Ilocos Norte.

Even the three Duterte appointees who voted in favor of the burial in the appeal rounds have also retired. Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe is the only one among those who voted in favor who’s still on the bench.

In the 15-person bench, only Bernabe, Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Benjamin Caguioa are non-Duterte appointees.

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‘Civic responsibility’

For Calleja and the petitioners, the Supreme Court doesn’t have much to resolve when the case reaches them.

Their premise is that when Marcos was convicted by final judgment in 1997 for failure to file income tax returns (ITRs), the tax code imposed upon him perpetual disqualification from office.

Two legal questions arise from the petition: Was perpetual disqualification really the penalty when the Court of Appeals did not spell it out in its judgment against Marcos? How come Marcos has been able to run, win and serve since 1997 in various public positions?

The petitions argued, citing Supreme Court decisions, that when it comes to accessory penalties provided for by laws, decisions need not spell them out. On the second point, the petition said the State is not subject to estoppel,  or in this case, the State is not bound by its prior wrong decisions that allowed Marcos to run.

The Marcos camp has called the petitions nuisance and the doing of “yellow wannabe political assassins.”

“Mulat na ang taong bayan at hindi na tinatanggap at isinusuka na yung (the people have awakened and are now rejecting the) old yellow political narrative that is why we maintain the marching order of presidential aspirant bongbong marcos not to engage in any gutter politics,” Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez said in an earlier interview.

Comelec has required Marcos to answer the first petition to cancel the COC, but his lawyers asked to extend the five-day deadline, something the petitioners are opposing citing Comelec rules that “failure to file answer within the reglementary period shall bar the respondent from submitting controverting evidence or filing his memorandum.”

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.