Marcos and military honors

The civilian Ferdinand Marcos abused, exploited, and brought out the worst in the military. The institution up until now reels from the intractable problems that the Marcos years caused. To give the man military honors is to miss the depths of how he maltreated the armed forces and distorted its values.

I’m not even sure why, 25 years after we ousted him, we are still debating this. And under a government led by the son of a senator killed by the Marcos regime! What does this nation get for not properly burying the dictator, bad luck? We’ve had a string of that not because we have not buried him but because we have buried our standards for good leadership.

The family can bury him any place, any time. My fellow Ilocanos can bury him anywhere—the sand dunes of Fort Ilocandia, or near the Sarrat church that taxpayers spruced up for Irene’s Royal Wedding, or at the Malacanang ti Amianan (that sprawling publicly- funded mansion and compound at the outskirts of Laoag), or at the Marcos Museum in Batac. The choices are plenty.

But the proposal that has been sent to President Aquino is for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to give Marcos military honors during his burial in Ilocos Norte. It looks like a win-win solution: no hero’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, only full (or half, who knows?) honors from the military.

One lawyer I respect described it on his Facebook account as a “Solomonic” decision. A friend and colleague noted that even Osama bin Laden was given military honors, to which I responded that the military prayer and salute were within the context of a Navy ship, on deadline, giving the terrorist Islamic burial rites.

The proposal assumes three things. One, that majority of the Filipinos would mind and resent a hero’s burial for Marcos. Two, that the military would not mind giving him honors. Three, that Filipinos would not mind the military giving Marcos full honors.

But there’s a more dangerous assumption here: that there is a divide between what the nation wants and what the military should do, or that there is a convenient wall as far as how we—civilians and the military—should separately treat Marcos and his legacy.

It betrays our inherently utilitarian view of the armed forces.

The military wouldn’t mind giving him honors because it’s not in its DNA to mind. As long as the regulations say it, the soldiers will follow. Marcos the former commander in chief knew that. When he ordered them to fight, they did. When he ordered them to spend government money without care for auditing rules, they did. When he ordered them to kill in the name of democracy, they did.

He was so intoxicated by the power and reach of the armed forces that he wanted to be the sole civilian authority over the troops. Thus he divided a once-unified defense budget into two, allowing the military to craft its own and the defense department to make its separate budget pitch. This made the military accountable only to him, weakening civilian oversight over spending that a defense department was supposed to wield.

I don’t know this fact off the top of my head.  We got reminded of this during our research for an upcoming Newsbreak book on military corruption. I honestly thought I would not have to blame Marcos again for the corruption that has been systemic in the armed forces. Well, there is no escaping the man.

How tragic it would be then for a battered institution that is trying to recover from the Garcias and Rabusas of the world to be asked by their new commander-in-chief (himself a victim of martial law) to give full military honors to Marcos. How ironic it would be then for an institution that helped oust him—and fought all succeeding attempts to bring him back to power—to now grant him full honors.

Of course the military will heed orders from civilian leaders, who often consider the armed forces a tool, not an institution. A stickler for ritual and regulation, the military won’t debate the “fact” that Marcos is in their roster of colonels or that he was once their commander in chief.

It doesn’t help that one of the officers who plotted to oust him, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, is in favor not just of full military honors for the late dictator but a burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Not far behind is Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, leader of the botched Oakwood mutiny, who said in so many words that if the military could in conscience bury Angelo Reyes at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, it might as well bury Marcos there. Ah, Reyes and Marcos—there’s a sea of dead bodies that separates them, senator.

I think we miss the point when we compare Marcos to other dead men, or when we grope for a win-win solution here. There is none, if we are true to the values we hold dear as a nation.

Mr. President, we collectively buried Marcos in 1986. To physically do so is no longer our burden to carry.