SC orals: How justices pursued issues on Marcos burial

MANILA, Philippines – Four major issues stood out during the Supreme Court oral arguments on Wednesday, August 31, over the burial of the late president Ferdinand Marcos. 

Earlier, we listed 6 points raised by petitioners in the cases filed against the interment for Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. (READ: SC orals on Marcos burial: Issues and answers)

Of the issues, the justices gave significant attention to human rights, the law creating the national pantheon (RA 289), the rules governing the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and Marcos' record as a soldier.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno pursued the petitioner's primary argument that Marcos' burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani negates the state's obligation to provide full reparation for Martial Law victims through monetary compensation and memorialization of their sacrifices under Republic Act 10368 (READ: What gov't still owes Martial Law victims)

Her interpellation tried to resolve whether "money is equivalent to the restoration and dignity" of the victims and the status of the government's implementation of RA 10368, which includes the complete distribution of compensation and the establishment of museums for the victims.

She also asked if the law holds Marcos accountable for the criminal acts committed by his state agents. Justice Marvic Leonen asked why the petitioners are linking the crimes to the late president when he was not the one who directly did or ordered the torture methods.

Sereno gave the victims, who were also petitioners of the case, the chance to  narrate the human rights violations they experienced under the Marcos regime. She also called for the Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon and Human Rights Victims Claims Board Chairperson Lina Sarmiento to detail how the victims have been compensated so far. (WATCH: Highlights: 1st day of SC orals on Marcos burial)

Justices' questions on RA 289 intended to settle whether or not the "national pantheon" referred to in the law is the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Justice-in-charge Alfredo Caguioa raised the Solicitor General's argument that the site in RA 289 is distinct from the national shrine in Fort Bonifacio.

He asked counsel Albay First District Representative Edcel Lagman to cite specific laws or issuances that link RA 289 to the Libingan. Lagman said that the hero's shrine is the "factual and logical" realization of the memorial envisioned in the law.

Meanwhile, Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr said the law enacted on June 16, 1948 seems to be a "dead law" after its provisions failed to be implemented 68 years after it became state policy. There have been no public burial grounds built on East Avenue in Quezon City; a Board on National Pantheon has also not been organized, as provided by law.

Justice Diosdado Peralta, for his part, said that if RA 289 refers to the Libingan, "shouldn't Congress have stated such?"

Justice Teresita de Castro asked the counsels to convince them that, indeed, only heroes are interred at the Libingan. She stressed that all controversies arise from the name that denotes the cemetery is solely intended for heroes.

De Castro pointed out that the shrine has a military nature because it is under the management of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under Marcos' Proclamation 208.

She said that the basic purpose of the cemetery is to honor "those who served [the country] in war and in peace time." But later, deceased persons such as national artists, statesmen and widows of presidents, were allowed to be buried there.

Identifying who is a hero and who is not is also challenging for the court, said Peralta, as there is "no system of determination who are heroes and [who] are not."

Leonen, on the other hand, ordered counsel Ibarra Gutierrez III to include in their pleading the validity of the AFP memorandum issued by defense chief Delfin Lorenza that cites "verbal orders" from the President allowing the burial.  (READ: Who can be buried at Heroes' Cemetery? AFP explains rules

Justice Estela Bernabe asked Gutierrez a direct question: Has Marcos been dishonorably discharged? 

"Not literally, but in essence, the 1986 EDSA Revolution and the numerous decisions of the court to plunder charges are akin to being dishonorably discharged," answered Gutierez.

Meanwhile, Peralta said that Marcos did not go through an administrative process that dishonorably discharged him from the service. He said that he was "not separated from the service in the sense that there was a finding that he violated a [rule] that would discharge him."

But Justice Antonio Carpio argued that as president, Marcos also acted as the commander-in-chief – the highest official of the military. He also alluded to the petitioners' claim that the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, which ousted Marcos, is "higher than any act of a military tribunal or civilian administrative tribunal."

Justices did not challenge the National Historical Commission of the Philippines' (NHCP) study disputing Marcos' military records. But Caguioa said the report was incomplete since the NHCP failed to mention that the late dictator was awarded a medal of valor – one of the requirements for a state burial based on AFP regulations. (READ: Marcos' World War II 'medals' explained

The oral arguments will resume on Wednesday, September 7, where other issues such as the Marcos family's agreement with former president Fidel Ramos will be tackled.

Towards the end of the hearing, Sereno ordered the petitioners, respondents, and resource persons to file the memoranda and documents requested by the justices. These include former interior secretary Rafael Alunan III's copy of the Ramos deal with the Marcoses and research documents from the NHCP. – 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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