Supreme Court: Marcos was not pure evil

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Nearly 3 decades after he died, former president Ferdinand Marcos will finally be laid to rest – not just in any grave – but at the revered Heroes' Cemetery. 

The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, November 8, decided to allow the burial of Marcos' remains at the national shrine for heroes located in Taguig City. 

Nine of the 14 magistrates who voted, opted to junk the petitions that opposed the interment and which argued that the late dictator was no hero because of the human rights violations under his regime. Justice Jose Reyes, President Rodrigo Duterte's law fraternity brother, who also swore him into office, inhibited from the voting.

Justice Diosdado Peralta wrote the decision, which was concurred in by Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, and Estela Perlas-Bernabe. 

The justices ruled on the issue, saying they viewed and judged Marcos "in his totality as a person." 

"While he was not all good, he was not pure evil either. Certainly, just a human who erred like us," the Court said. 

The High Court said that Marcos has the right to be acknowledged for his service as former president, defense secretary, soldier, war veteran, and a Medal of Valor awardee – among the qualifications for state interment under the regulations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

It also refuted claims by the petitioners who said that Marcos was guilty of moral turpitude, given the human rights complaints against him. 

"The various cases cited by petitioners, which were decided with finality by courts here and abroad, have no bearing in this case since they were merely civil in nature [and] do not establish moral turpitude," said the majority decision. 

There were 5 dissenters to the majority decision: Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza, and Alfredo Caguioa. 

Technicality 

Court spokesperson Theodore Te said that most of the justices conceded that Duterte did not exercise grave abuse of discretion in ordering a hero's burial for Marcos.

According to the decision, the President has the discretion to identify how public lands – such as the intended burial site for Marcos – will be used, under the Administrative Code. 

There is also no specific law barring the interment. Duterte is not bound by the Marcos family's agreement with former president Fidel Ramos in 1992, which allowed the return of their patriarch's remains on condition that Marcos would be buried directly in Batac, Ilocos Norte. 

The High Tribunal said that as incumbent president, Duterte is "free to amend, revoke, or rescind political agreements entered into by his predecessors, and to determine policies which he considers, based on informed judgment and presumed wisdom, will be most effective in carrying out his mandate."

The Court also disagreed with the petitioners' claim that the late dictator was "dishonorably discharged" through the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution since this provision applies only to military men under the Articles of War, more specifically to those in "active service".  

The decision also said that Marcos was "honorably discharged from the military service with the Philippine Veteran Affairs Office expressly recognizing him as a retired veteran." 

Te said the ruling effectively lifts the status quo ante order on the planned interment originally set for September. The Court did not explicitly say if the decision is immediately executory.

Concurring opinions 

Three magistrates – Arturo Brion, Jose Portugal Perez, and Jose Mendoza – issued separate, concurring opinions to the majority ruling. All 3 said the issue is political and the Court must not take part in resolving it. 

Judicial review, according to Brion, does not empower the Supreme Court to review allegations involving violations of statutes. "The faithful execution clause cannot be made basis for questioning the manner by which the Executive implements the law," said Brion who reasoned that there is no specific "treaty obligation" barring the burial. 

While he acknowledged that the Constitution was founded on the "ashes of the Marcos administration", "it should not be interpreted as to prevent reconciliation and moving forward in the name of national unity." 

He also said that Marcos' burial is a political question that "had been decided by the President, and not without support from the Filipino electorate."

Perez, meanwhile, said that the "substantial Marcos vote" during the last elections shows that there is no longer national damnation of President Ferdinand Marcos." He also said that a "Marcos vote came out of the elections, substantial enough to be a legitimate consideration in the executive policy formulation."

Despite opposition by the petitioners to Duterte's campaign promise of a Libingan burial for Marcos, Duterte was still elected president, Perez pointed out.

Mendoza expressed sympathy for the Martial Law victims, saying that the stigma left by the martial law regime "will never be forgotten by the Filipino people and the burial of President Marcos (at) the LNMB [Libingan ng mga Bayani] will not rewrite history."

He said the "Court is not passing judgment on whether President Marcos truly deserves to be buried in the [national shrine]" but is merely "exercising judicial restraint as the issues at hand are truly political in nature and, therefore, are best left to the discretion of the President."

Mendoza also said the High Court should not have a hand in resolving issues pertaining to what he described as a "truly political controversy". – Rappler.com  

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.

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