A day after the May 2016 elections, then Liberal Party vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo declared that if she won, she would not support President Rodrigo Duterte if he got involved in anything law-bending. “Kahit siya iyong aking Pangulo, kapag mali po ang ginagawa, hindi naman po ako magto-tolerate,” Robredo said.
With Robredo’s recent pronouncement that the interment of Marcos “will not bring unity to the country,” she is clearly saying that Duterte is wrong in his decision to allow the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of Heroes).
So if Robredo, indeed, cannot tolerate Duterte’s wrongdoing, then she should not only call out Duterte, she should also spearhead the battle against the interment of Marcos at the Libingan – not just in words but in deed, too – especially given her harsh denunciation of Marcos as a man “who [has]greatly committed crimes and moral turpitude to the Filipino people.” Robredo ought to walk the talk.
Doing so, however, will put her at loggerheads with Duterte – an awkward situation after she excitedly took on the Cabinet-level post of chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) offered by the President. Push too hard and she risks losing her job – or being tagged as an ingrate. If she doesn’t become more proactive, she will definitely look like she sold out – or that she’s clinging to her post. Either way, Robredo will be walking on eggshells.
Of course, there is always that possibility that Robredo, the lawyer, may yet be persuaded by the legal argument of her Commander-in-Chief, also a lawyer and former prosecutor.
For Duterte, it’s a simple argument: The law allows former soldiers and Presidents like Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
“I would like to say forget about the medals. Just focus on whether he is a Filipino. He fought for his country, and he’s once upon a time a President. That’s the law! We cannot go out of the law,” Duterte added.
Although not exactly a law, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Regulation 161-373, entitled, “The Allocation of Cemetery Plots at the LNMB,” is what Duterte appears to be referring to, which, ironically, was issued by President Cory Aquino, together with former AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, on April 9, 1986.
Paragraph 2 of the AFP regulation enumerates who are qualified to be interred in the cemetery, particularly, “the remains of the following deceased persons are qualified and therefore, authorized to be interred in the Libingan ng mga Bayani:” (1) Medal of Valor awardees; (2) Presidents or Commanders-in-Chief AFP; (3) Secretaries of national defense; (4) Chiefs of Staff, AFP; (5) General flag officers of the AFP; (6) Active and retired military personnel of the AFP; (7) Former AFP members who laterally joined the PNP and the PCG; (8) Veterans of Philippine Revolution 1896, WW1, WW2 and recognized guerillas; (9) Government dignitaries, statesmen, national artists and other deceased persons whose interment or re-interment has been approved by the Commander-in-Chief, Congress or the Secretary of National Defense; and (10) Former presidents, secretaries of defense, CSAFP, generals/flag officers, dignitaries, statesmen, national artists, widows of former presidents, secretaries of national defense and chiefs of staff.
The only ones disqualified from being interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani are “personnel who were dishonorably separated/reverted/discharged from the service” and “authorized personnel who were convicted by final judgment of an offense involving moral turpitude.”
The disqualification rules will not apply to Marcos since he was never “dishonorably separated/reverted/discharged from [military]service.” Moreover, former President Cory Aquino made sure Marcos would never be “convicted by final judgment of a [crime]involving moral turpitude.” Why? Because Cory and her allies barred Marcos from returning to the Philippines, despite the latter’s deathbed wish to come home to die. That also means Marcos cannot be tried in a criminal case because he cannot not be taken into custody as the Philippine law requires.
In fact, the Marcos family was forced to file a case before the Cory-appointed Supreme Court questioning the prohibition on their return. But the Supreme Court denied the plea of the Marcoses, coming up with the now precedent-setting (or infamous?) legal doctrine that “the right to return to one’s country is not among the rights specifically guaranteed by the bill of rights.” Which is another way of saying you can leave the Philippines but the government can stop you from coming back (aka forced exile).
So that leaves us with the qualifications, which most lawyers we’ve talked to say legally permit Marcos to be interred at the Fort Bonifacio national cemetery being a soldier, if not a former President.
The AFP regulation, being a mere military rule, could have been easily changed by any sitting President after Cory. But for the past 29 years, the rules remained unchanged. As Duterte puts it: “You know, if they had wanted it – and they were already in power at the time, the Yellows – they should have passed a law when Marcos was still in Guam that if he ever returned to the country dead, he could not be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani … But nothing has been done.”
The way it looks, Duterte is not about to go back on his decision to let Marcos be buried at the Libingan. We’re certain civil society organizations, human rights groups, leftists, as well as Robredo’s supporters, are all waiting to see the depth of her conviction.