DESPITE Friday’s protests, President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday refused to back down on his decision to allow the burial of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, insisting that he was only following the law.
He instead blamed the previous two Aquino presidents for failing to pass a measure barring the interment at the “heroes’ cemetery” in Taguig.
In Zamboanga City, Duterte told reporters former president Benigno Aquino 3rd and his mother, the late Corazon “Cory” Aquino, ruled for “12 golden years” but did not amend the law and regulations allowing former presidents to be buried at the military-run cemetery.
“Abogado ako [I’m a lawyer]. I am trained to follow simply the law. It was a simple matter of amending the law, and they had about, `yung nanay pati `yung anak [the mother and her son], six, six, [equals], 12 golden years to do it,” the President, referring to Republic Act 289, which allows past presidents, together with national heroes and patriots, to be buried at the Libingan.
Duterte described as “just a private contract” the deal struck between the Marcos heirs and Cory’s successor, then president Fidel Ramos, allowing the Marcoses to bring home the former strongman’s remains from Hawaii on condition that they bury him in his hometown of Batac, Ilocos Norte.
He said he had no choice but to follow what the law says, as affirmed by the Supreme Court’s November 8 decision rejecting seven petitions to stop the transfer of Marcos’ remains from Batac to the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
“Maski anong gawin ko [Whatever I do], I could not renege on my promise and the mandate of the law,” Duterte said, referring to his campaign pledge to allow the Marcos burial.
The Marcoses, he claimed, could have sued him for violating the law. “Saan ako pupunta [Where do I go]?”
Duterte said the presidents before him did not want to take the risk of putting an end to the divisive issue.
“Because they were really afraid of what, the dissent and the crowd that would gather for it,” he said.
Duterte claimed “98 percent” of the Ilocano-speaking regions held a grudge over the way the man they deemed a hero was treated.
If Marcos was denied the Libingan burial, thousands of Ilocanos could go down to Manila and face off with anti-Marcos groups.
While he disagrees with the views of anti-Marcos protesters who gathered in Manila on Friday, Duterte said he would defend their right to speak.
“I share their right,” and paraphrased the quote on free speech by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, the English writer and biographer of Voltaire: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.”
Marcos was hurriedly buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on Friday last week, in ceremonies closed to the public.
The “surprise” burial, of which Duterte has denied any concrete knowledge, was met with protests from victims of Martial Law and their supporters.