NHCP chair on Marcos burial: Dealing with past part of moving on

Michael Bueza
There also seems to be an 'incongruence' with history in allowing the burial of ex-president Ferdinand Marcos at a heroes' cemetery, says chairperson Maria Serena Diokno

DUTY. NHCP chairperson Maria Serena Diokno says there may have been failures too on the part of those who lived through martial law, to share their experiences.

MANILA, Philippines – Supporters of the plan to bury former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani or Heroes’ Cemetery believe that it’s time to move on and just accept that it is about to take place.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself backs this move, on account of Marcos being a former soldier and president. (READ: Duterte: Marcos ‘not a hero’ but ‘law’ allows burial at Libingan)

But for the chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), it may not be that easy to do.

“That’s why history is important. You can move on after you have come to terms with the past. But if you bury the past – in this case, it would be, you literally bury it – I don’t see how you can come to terms with it,” Maria Serena Diokno told Rappler on Monday, August 15.

“But in this case, there seems to be even a refusal to come to terms with the facts of the past,” she added.

The NHCP had earlier objected to the transfer of the dictator’s remains to the Libingan from Ilocos Norte, citing “lies” and “factual inconsistencies” by Marcos about his time as a soldier during World War II. 

After conducting a study, the commission questioned Marcos’ supposed war medals and his alleged leadership of a guerrilla unit, Ang Mga Maharlika.

“How do you explain to young people, to students [that] well, you know, there were so many questions – in fact, he lied about the medals – but, anyway, he belongs to the cemetery of heroes. There seems to be an incongruence there,” Diokno said.

Symbolism

There was also the deal struck in 1992 between the Marcos family and then-president Fidel V. Ramos. This agreement allowed the return of Marcos’ remains to the Philippines from Hawaii, where he died in 1989, 3 years into his exile following the People Power Revolution. 

The terms of that deal were very clear, noted Diokno. “That he would have to be buried in Ilocos, and that he would be given honors commensurate to his rank at the time of the war.” 

“I’m not a lawyer, but I would think it should [bind the current administration], because he returned,” argued Diokno.

“I mean, you say, maaari siyang bumalik kung (he can return if)… Ngayon na ibinalik, anong gagawin? Nandito na eh. (Now that his body was returned, what now? It’s here already.) You got him back because of that [deal].”

Diokno also tackled the symbolism of burying the dead at the Libingan, a designated resting place for Filipino soldiers, war veterans, former presidents, and citizens considered heroes and martyrs. 

“I think in everyday life, we deal with realities, but symbols are equally important. They mean something. This is why people can get offended because of a symbolic remark…In this case, you have people whose elders and ancestors are buried in the Libingan, and I think quite a few of them are not comfortable with [the Marcos burial].”

Historical question 

Diokno explained that their study falls under the NHCP’s mandate to undertake and disseminate studies of history, to resolve historical controversies, and to advise the President and Congress on historical matters. 

She added that the commission relied on primary sources created during the period. These documents were from the US National Archives and Records Administration, which the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) sought permission from to access.

“PVAO put them up on their website. What we examined were two boxes of documents related (1) to the Ang Mga Maharlika and (2) the Allas Intelligence Unit, which was founded by guerrilla Cipriano Allas… and was claimed to be the intelligence arm of the Ang Mga Maharlika,” said Diokno.

For historians, Diokno said that the evidence for any claim must be unassailable, solid, and sound. “If it doesn’t possess these characteristics, then you withhold any such recognition until these questions or doubts are resolved.”

She also said that the NHCP avoided tackling other criticisms thrown against the Marcos regime, so that they wouldn’t be accused of politicizing the issue. 

“We can just keep quiet and let this pass. But then, we also asked ourselves, well, won’t, if not the President but future generations, say, ‘At this time in the history of the Philippines, what was the position of the NHCP?’ And if we remain silent, [they would ask,] ‘Bakit sila nanahimik? Takot ba iyang mga iyan? (Why did they stay silent? Were they afraid?)

She continued, “So we said, look, there’s a possibility that we might as well do a study.”

The NHCP chairperson is the daughter of former senator Jose W. Diokno, who was among the opposition stalwarts detained during Martial Law.

Ultimately, Diokno acknowledged that there may have been failures in “sharing our experiences” to younger generations and explaining “what the period in our national lives really meant.”

“But because we don’t really write to please anybody, especially people in power, the real audience is the public… Get the national conversation going. Get people started to even ask questions.” – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.