Deal: Marcos burial in Ilocos
THE 1992 agreement between the Ramos administration and the Marcos family providing for, among other things, the burial of President Ferdinand Marcos in Ilocos Norte province, remains binding, former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III said on Saturday.
Alunan is one of the signatories to the agreement.
The agreement could be invoked by opponents of the planned transfer of Marcos’ body to a grave at Libingan ng mga Bayani, although Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda), a group of survivors of martial law abuses, said it would ask the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter this week.
Alunan was tasked in 1992 by then President Fidel V. Ramos to “represent the government” in discussions with the Marcos family, led by former first lady Imelda Marcos and represented by former Rep. Roquito Ablan, of conditions for the return of the dictator’s remains to the Philippines from Hawaii.
Toppled from power in a popular uprising in 1986, Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989. President Corazon Aquino refused to allow the return of his body to the Philippines.
In a press conference with Ramos at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City yesterday, Alunan gave reporters a rundown of the conditions set by the government for the return of Marcos’ body.
The conditions were:
The body would be flown straight from Hawaii to Ilocos Norte province.
Marcos would be given honors befitting a major, his last rank in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Marcos’ body would not be paraded in Metro Manila. “At that time,” Alunan explained, “the wounds were still fresh in the minds of many people, and we could not afford bloodshed and instability [on] our watch.”
There would be no burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani. Alunan noted that Marcos had wanted to be buried beside the grave of his mother in Batac, Ilocos Norte.
“So those were the conditions, and we signed an agreement. I think the agreement is still in the archives of Malacañang, so if you wish to get a copy of the agreement that was signed between me and Congressman Ablan, please go ahead and secure a copy from Malacañang,” Alunan said.
The Marcos family flew the dictator’s body home on Sept. 7, 1993. From Hawaii, the body was flown to Guam then to Laoag, in Ilocos Norte.
Deal remains binding
Then Vice President Joseph Estrada, representing the government, was at Laoag International Airport to see the body.
But the Marcos family never buried the body, preserving it instead in a refrigerated crypt housed in a mausoleum beside the dictator’s ancestral home in Batac.
Asked if the agreement remained binding, Alunan said: “I would imagine so, because I was acting for and on behalf of the President of the Republic and the government.”
He added: “I would think that because the agreement is still in force, then both sides should honor it.”
The agreement was “never abrogated,” said Alunan, now senior adviser to Ramos, who has been appointed by President Duterte as special envoy to China.
“If President Duterte thinks otherwise, then that’s his prerogative. The Office of the President is very powerful,” Alunan said.
Asked if he or Ramos would ask the Marcos family to comply with the agreement, Alunan replied: “We’re civilians [now]. We are [no longer] in government.”
Ramos, saying Alunan was speaking with authorization from him, added: “That’s for the Duterte administration. We did our job during our time.”
The 1992 agreement, particularly the fourth condition, could be invoked by opponents of the burial of Marcos at Libingan ng mga Bayani.
President Duterte, a friend of the Marcos family, has said he will allow the burial of the dictator in the heroes’ cemetery.
Mr. Duterte has said Marcos deserves to be buried at Libingan because he was a soldier and a president, regardless of any misdeeds.
No definite date has been set for the burial, but the Marcos family is expected to do it sometime next month.
The plan has sparked outrage among survivors of martial law atrocities and human rights advocates.
Let the people decide
But Mr. Duterte, trying to fulfill a promise to the dictator’s son, ex-Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has refused to reconsider his decision.
At the Camp Aguinaldo news conference, Ramos suggested a way of breaking the standoff.
“In the [Arroyo, Aquino administrations] and now in the Duterte [administration], I’ve said it very clearly: Let the people decide,” he said.
“Who are the people? Our representatives and senators now sitting in Congress,” he said.
“Get a resolution and it must be a majority [so Marcos could be transferred to Libingan]. But if it’s not a majority, what is the will of the people? [Marcos remains in Ilocos],” he said.
Ramos said, however, that the matter was still for President Duterte to decide.
“Am I within my powers under the Constitution to do this thing, or do I need to get a resolution or a majority opinion from the representatives of the people, who are in the two houses of Congress?” Ramos said.
“This is such a divisive issue and therefore there’s the risk of eroding political capital, so being protective also of the new administration of President Duterte, it will not be wise to fight on so many fronts. He should choose his battles. And if this is an issue that is still emotional and divisive, perhaps he should just step back, consider some options,” Alunan said.
Alunan cited a suggestion by Sen. Richard Gordon to have a “Libingan ng mga Pangulo” (Presidents’ Cemetery) so there would no longer be any problem with the term “bayani” (hero).
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the best way to resolve the controversy was to challenge the burial plan in the Supreme Court.
Speaking in a radio interview yesterday, Pimentel said he was not aware of the 1992 agreement.
He said President Duterte was looking only at the legality of allowing Marcos to be buried at Libingan. Based on regulations, this is allowed, he said.
But since the action is based on regulation or law, it means it can be raised to the Supreme Court, he said.
That is exactly what Selda is going to do. Dionito Cabillas, spokesperson for Selda, said the group would bring a petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court this week.
Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, which will represent Selda, said the group would ask the Supreme Court to stop the burial of Marcos at Libingan because he was “not qualified [to be buried there], as his record of public service, especially rights violations, plunder and moral decadence, is not ‘worthy of inspiration or emulation for generations.’”
But President Duterte’s chief legal adviser, Salvador Panelo, said it was time the nation put closure to the question of burying Marcos at Libingan.
“Millions consider [Marcos] a hero. Whether we like or not, as president, he had also done great things for the country. [Being] a hero depends on perception,” Panelo told a news forum in Quezon City yesterday.
Panelo said he did not think the 1992 agreement could “supplant the regulation” allowing Marcos’ burial at Libingan.
He added that those claiming there was such an agreement “have not presented any document to support [their] claim.”
Panelo also criticized the martial law victims opposing the burial plan, saying they had “no right to complain” about what they went through under the Marcos regime, as it was acting on the instinct of “self-preservation.”
“You fought the government. You wanted to kill Marcos. Naturally he would fight back. So we have no right to complain if he imprisoned or killed [the enemies of his government],” Panelo, a former student activist, said.
He said everything was ready for Marcos’ burial at Libingan, unless the Supreme Court intervened.
Despite the bad weather, at least 2,000 opponents of the burial would proceed with a rally against the plan at Rizal Park this morning.
The rally, which runs till noon, is expected to be participated in by artists, survivors of martial law abuses, former and current government officials opposed to the burial of Marcos at Libingan and ordinary citizens.
Among the former and current lawmakers expected at the rally are former Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman. With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and Jovic Yee/TVJ
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