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It was an overcast, drizzling Saturday afternoon when my parents and I decided to go to the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB) to visit the grave of my brother, 2nd Lieutenant Julian Omar V. Advincula of the Philippine Navy (Marines).
This was exactly a day after the surprise, nay, stealth burial of former president Marcos at the LNMB.
Omar graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1991, and was killed in action in Basilan on February 9, 1993. He and members of his company were among the first casualties of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Since then, we – most especially my parents – have been religiously visiting LNMB at least 3 times a week. We never had any problems gaining access to LNMB until last Saturday.
As our car approached the cemetery gate, two Army guards stopped us and asked for our identification and our business in going to the LNMB. As a retired captain with more than 30 years of service with the Philippine Navy, my father handed the guard his identification guard with an explanation that we are visiting my brother’s grave.
The guard went inside the LNMB compound, presumably, to ask guidance on his next course of action from a more senior officer. After a few minutes of waiting, the guard came back to inform us that we can enter the compound, provided that we leave the car outside the LNMB compound. We were given the option to either walk or take their shuttle to my brother’s grave.
There was only one shuttle going around LNMB. A quick observation indicated that no fixed route was being followed. This meant that we can only take the same shuttle back if there happened to be other people visiting the vicinity of my brother’s grave. If there were none, we, including my septuagenarian parents, had to walk the distance to the LNMB’s main gate.
Given that there was a drizzle, and the advanced age of my parents, these suggestions were unacceptable for a couple who already sacrificed one of their children for the country. We insisted that we be allowed entry to do our regular visit to my brother.
While ours is seemingly a very personal, or at most a family trouble, on hindsight, it is actually a reflection of a much wider outcry of thousands of Filipinos who felt betrayed by the surprise burial of the late dictator at the LNMB.
My family and I were able to gain entrance to the LNMB because we felt empowered enough to argue on the impracticality of the guards’ proposed solutions. But what about the other countless and nameless visitors easily intimidated by the sight of an Army guard wielding an M-16 machine gun?
As a public cemetery, LNMB visitors should not be penalized for the decision of the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to accommodate the requests of the Marcos family. At the very least, an arrangement should have been put in place to secure and cordon off the controversial plot at the cemetery without unduly affecting the ingress and egress of ordinary visitors.
Many of these visitors do not have the luxury of private transportation and can only make the trip once or twice a year. To turn them away when they are already at the gates of LNMB is the height of heartlessness.
The unfolding events are not simply about the recognition (or lack of them) of the sacrifices made by a relative, but rather, an illustration of the sheer callousness of this administration to continuously penalize members of the bereaved families who reason with them.
In its struggle to deal with the repercussions of its highly questionable political decision, this administration is placing the burden of the sacrifices on the weakest individuals and families who had nothing to do with the decision in the first place. This is reminiscent of the Martial Law days when the most powerful – those with guns – called the shots.
As a security organization, the DND and the AFP should have foreseen the security implications when they pushed through with the questionable burial of former president Marcos at the LNMB, and they should have prepared for this contingency without sacrificing the welfare of other visitors of LNMB. The responsible officers cannot feign ignorance of the plans because the logistical preparations and coordination were very obvious in the well-orchestrated burial last Friday. (READ: FVR: Investigate AFP, PNP officers behind Marcos burial)
While the fallen heroes of LNMB died with dignity, the humiliating things that the command is imposing on those who were left behind are actually robbing these people of dignity and self-respect. It is cowardice to hide behind the cloak of the overly used phrase that “we are just following orders.”
Even the most structured and hierarchical organizations such as the military, actually provide spaces for individual agents, especially powerful military leaders, to make sense of how to use the existing rules and resources of the very same organization. In this case, these government and military leaders are influential enough to come up with ways on how to deal more compassionately with the “other” visitors at LNMB.
Authoritarian heritage of the AFP
While more than 30 years have already passed, the wounds left by the Martial Law years are still fresh in the minds of the victims. For those who have never recovered the bodies of their loved ones, or were never given a chance to have their day in court, memories of a very powerful military cannot be easily erased (Pion-Berlin, 2005).
The continuing role of this government and the military, to honor the memory of a former dictator who allowed, even consciously orchestrated, the systematic elimination of all his opponents open the floodgates of very painful memories. (READ: Martial Law, the dark chapter in Philippine history)
The major role played by the military, then and now, illustrates the continuing importance of monitoring the political roles of the military. While not fully determinant of their position, the organizational trajectory being pursued by the military reflects its authoritarian heritage. As a complex organization, the military would always seek to advance its institutional prerogatives, and these are strongly influenced by its partnership with a former authoritarian regime (Aguero, 2001).
In the case of the Philippines, Marcos made sure that his declaration of Martial Law would be successful by forging a very strong partnership with the AFP.
Meanwhile, an interesting comparison can be had with many of the soldiers buried at the LNMB and the victims of Martial Law. In a country with one of the longest-running insurgency problems in the world, many of the soldiers interred at the LNMB died fighting for the country. They were fully aware of the dangers that they were facing when they signed up for military service.
While nothing can ever erase the pain of the death of a loved one, the families of these soldiers were better off because they, at least, have a body to grieve over. Sadly, such was not the case for many Martial Law victims. Many individuals who were brave enough to speak against the abuses and atrocities of the Marcos administration simply disappeared. Thousands were emotionally, physically, and worse, sexually abused. Thus, to tell these victims, and their families to move on is the height of insensitivity.
State and society disconnect
Healthy civil-military relations require a vibrant partnership between the representatives of the State, the military, and society (Barany, 2012). However, the palpable sense of betrayal felt by many over the surprise burial of Marcos at LNMB reflects the emerging fissure in these relations. On the contrary, a vibrant civil-military relation should never undermine public opinion in the practice of national politics.
President Ramon Magsaysay changed the name of the Republic Memorial Cemetery to Libingan ng mga Bayani to highlight the symbolic importance of the cause for which the country’s soldiers died, and to express the nation’s reverence and esteem for her war dead (Proclamation No. 86, s. 1954). In burying former president Marcos at the LNMB, the country, in effect, is memorializing, even honoring, the collective horrors and trauma caused by a former dictator.
The seeming lack of commitment of the State (at least its representatives) to play by the rules, and the absence of oversight functions to temper these transgressions resurrect the dormant fear of many Filipinos of the horrors of an authoritarian regime of not so long ago.
For Hite and Cesarini (2004), this fear is enough motivation for people to act collectively so as not to repeat the errors of the past. As indicated by the spontaneous negative reactions, the street protests of many Filipinos to express their dismay last Friday, this fear is all too real.
For many, the administration of President Duterte contributed immensely to the continued misery of thousands of Martial Law victims. What is more worrisome, however, is the quick acquiescence of the military, and certain parts of the judiciary and legislative branches of the government. This is like a slap on everybody’s faces who, up until Friday, had faith in the checks and balance of the democratic institutions of the country.
Could this be now a prelude to a resurgent authoritarian regime? In the end, is the palpable sense of fear and betrayal felt by many Filipinos really justified? – Rappler.com
Leslie V. Advincula-Lopez is a research associate at the Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University. She just finished her ASEAN-Fulbright (University of Maryland) research grant on the gains and challenges of the Philippines and the US defense cooperation and is currently working on her PhD dissertation at the Department of Sociology, University of the Philippines in Diliman.