'Who is a hero? Who determines heroes? Isn't Duterte's victory the voice of the people?'
MANILA – Those opposing the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes' Cemetery) were confronted with tough questions to their petitions by some justices of Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday.
The absence of any clear and legal definition and guidelines on who should be considered a "hero," the absence of an identified body or agency which determines who "heroes" are, as well as questions on which law served as basis for the creation of the Libingan ng mga Bayani are only some of these.
During Wednesday's oral arguments on six consolidated petitions that urge the high court to thumb down President Rodrigo Duterte's order to bury the late strongman at the Libingan, at least two SC magistrates posed a challenge to petitioners' position that Marcos, a former soldier, must not be buried at the Libingan because he is "no hero" and "not worthy of emulation and inspiration."
DEFINITION OF 'HERO'
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro questioned petitioner Atty. Neri Colmenares on the reason the cemetery is called the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
What is a "bayani" based on existing rules, laws and regulations, she asked, as there seems to be no established guidelines on who heroes are, and who are disqualified from being buried in the Libingan.
"Even spouses of secretaries of National Defense are allowed to be buried there. Are they heroes?" she asked Colmenares.
She also asked if the petitioners expect the high court to determine who deserve to be called heroes.
"Can we say there are guidelines? There's not even a body which will determine who are heroes, [and] who should avail of this privilege to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani."
MEMORIAL FOR HEROES
De Castro further pointed out that petitioners must clearly establish that Republic Act No. 289, "An Act Providing for the Construction of a National Pantheon for Presidents of the Philippines, National Heroes and Patriots of the Country," is the law that served as basis for the creation of the Libingan.
"Go back to the fundamental question: is that (Libingan ng mga Bayani) the national pantheon or not? I'd like to find out if really the pantheon is really the Libingan ng mga Bayani and is it for heroes only or is it just a war memorial for which it was originally created?" De Castro told petitioners.
Associate Justice Jose Perez, for his part, pointed out the lack of specific standards for persons described in Republic Act (RA) No. 289 as those "worthy of public emulation and inspiration," and further pressed petitioners whether it is their position that it is the SC's role to rule "that Marcos is not deserving of national esteem or that he is not publicly esteemed" and therefore not worthy of burial at the Libingan.
Perez asked petitioners, is it not the people themselves who determine who heroes are, in the absence of clear guidelines on the matter?
"We cannot disregard the fact that the sovereign people ratified the Constitution. Not an edict or fiat by the SC can say whether this person is a hero or not, it is the general public, with a general acceptance that one is hero, determines that one is a hero," he said.
Perez also quizzed petitioners on an argument they raised in their petitions that Marcos' burial at the Libingan is a campaign promise which Duterte now intends to fulfill. Perez asked petitioners if they did not consider Duterte's 16-million vote win a ratification of his position on the issue.
"Is that not a decision of the sovereign people themselves? And what the electorate voted in favor of we will now nullify? Can you not say that it was the electorate, the sovereign people, who favor the burial [at the Libingan]?" Perez said.
TORMENTOR, NOT HERO
Former lawmaker Satur Ocampo and his co-petitioners, meantime, reiterated the arguments they earlier raised in separate petitions.
Marcos was "far from being a hero," they said, as he oppressed Filipinos during Martial Law. This, they said, makes him "grossly unfit" to be buried at a cemetery for heroes.
"Marcos was not the protector of the Filipino people, he was their tormentor until the EDSA People Power revolution ousted him," Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said.
Atty. Ibarra Gutierrez III said that Duterte's discretion on Marcos' burial is "neither free nor absolute."
"The Solicitor General himself accepts the fact of limited discretion," said Gutierrez.
Colmenares said, "a dictator responsible for countless human rights violations does not deserve a place in the pantheon. The dishonored cannot join the honored; Marcos is not worthy of emulation and inspiration."
Atty. Reody Anthony Balisi stressed that Marcos and his cronies used public funds for personal uses. "The vast resources of the government had been amassed by Marcos and his cronies. All these facts—both historical and legislative—lead to the conclusion that President Marcos is not worthy of the emulation of the Filipino people," he said.
The state cannot provide military honors for Marcos, said Atty. Algamar Latiph, because "it is contrary to the policy of the state to restore honor to the victims of human rights violations during Martial Law."
Human rights victims during Martial Law and other concerned parties have filed petitions with the high court urging the setting aside of an order by Malacanang for Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which is dedicated for war heroes, soldiers, former Philippine presidents, and National Artists.
Marcos is set to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on September 18. However, the SC issued a 20-day halt order on August 23 to allow for preparations for oral arguments on petitions against the burial.