My apologies to former President Joseph Estrada, and knock on wood. But there isn’t any other case I can use in order to objectively and logically analyze an issue hogging the headlines in recent weeks: former strongman – and president — Ferdinand Marcos’ burial at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) official cemetery, called the Libingan ng mga Bayani. President Duterte has allowed the burial set for September 18, defying the objection of even his allies.
Estrada was a President of the Republic and, therefore, certainly complies with the AFP’s guidelines that those who can be buried there are “former presidents, secretaries of defense, dignitaries, statesmen, national artists, widows of former presidents, secretaries of national defense and chief of staff.”
Legally, however, Estrada could be barred from the cemetery as the AFP guidelines stipulate that “those who have been dishonorably discharged from service, or personnel convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, do not qualify for interment at the cemetery.” Estrada was convicted September 12, 2007 of that crime “plunder” (large-scale graft) and sentenced to reclusion perpetua, together with the penalties of perpetual disqualification from public office and forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth.
President Gloria Arroyo’s executive clemency for Estrada does not erase that court of justice’s findings that he committed a crime. It was purely a humanitarian act by a President, as authorized by the Constitution. In contrast, Marcos hasn’t been convicted of any crime, although Ma. Serena Diokno, daughter of Ninoy’s cellmate Jose Diokno, through the National Historical Commission (NHC) she heads, tried to go around this by claiming preposterously that Marcos was in effect convicted by the “collective action of the people” who undertook EDSA I.
Would there be as much virulent opposition if some future President allowed Erap’s burial at the Libingan? Would Senator Alan Cayetano try to be irritatingly witty and demand that the cemetery be renamed Libingan ng mga Bayani at isang Mandarambong?
Would the NHC undertake a pseudo-historical investigation to find out what Estrada was doing during the Japanese occupation, since he wasn’t a guerilla? Would Vice President Leni Robredo be as brash as when she condemned Marcos for human rights abuses, by raising the questions whether Estrada was involved in the killing of publicist Bubby Dacer and the disappearance of Edgar Bentain, who allegedly leaked videos of Estrada gambling at a Pagcor casino? Would the Left and the Makabayan bloc in Congress mount demonstrations to stop the burial?
Certainly not. I bet Cayetano and the Makabayan bloc leaders would even volunteer to serve as pallbearers for Erap’s coffin.
The reason is not just because Erap was just in power for only three years, and didn’t impose Martial Law. The reason is that Marcos had been demonized so much since 1983 after Ninoy’s assassination. This was really the US propaganda strategy Cory adopted in the 1986 snap elections — which was to portray him as evil incarnate. History, of course, is written by the victors, in our case helped especially by the ABS-CBN Network whose owners, the Lopezes, were nearly decimated by Marcos as oligarchs, and by the newspapers run by editors and columnists who lost their jobs and high social standing after Martial Law was imposed.
In contrast, after his conviction, the elite and the Yellow Cult didn’t bother to demonize Erap — so that he easily recovered his popularity and managed to land second in the 2010 elections, and even got to be mayor of Manila starting 2013.
But is the Yellow narrative accurate? We just don’t know.
Most of the accounts of Martial Law were written by obviously biased partisan writers or by that kind of American authors who take advantage of flavor-of-the-month issues to churn out lucrative best-selling paperbacks. There have been many deceptions disseminated. For instance I had exposed in a column last April that the number of extrajudicial killings during the Marcos regime that have been so frequently cited to this day — 3,257 — which that respected scholar on the Philippines Alfred McCoy had popularized, was based on another writer’s data, which was in turn based on figures churned out by a group controlled by the Left, and were even obviously flawed. Worse, the writer who initially came up with that figure had concluded that there were more incidents of extrajudicial killings during Cory’s watch.
What’s sickening is that many of those so angry with Marcos are those who have the means to do historical research on that era so that history books could finally have an objective account of the Martial Law years, yet do not do so. Instead, they have preferred to take the Yellow narratives as articles of faith.
The Ateneo faculty, for instance, had issued manifestos against Marcos Jr.’s bid for the vice presidency and more recently against the dictator’s burial at the Libingan. Yet that supposed community of scholars has done nothing to undertake historical research on the Marcos years. An indication of this are obscure subjects of its publications such as “A Collision of Masculinities: Men, Modernity and Urban Transportation in American-Colonial Manila,” and “Engkuwentro: Kayaw kontra Digmang-Galera, 1565–1567.” Is finding out what Rizal had for breakfast, or how much he won in a lottery in Spain, more important than finding out whether the Jabidah massacre was just propaganda fiction or whether the Communist Party really ordered the Plaza Miranda bombing?
Are they afraid to find out for themselves, through historical research, if the Yellow narrative of the Martial Law era is accurate?
One Vicente Rafael, a scholar based in the US, posted a 1,000-word rant against the burial, even seeing a conspiracy, in which Duterte is a willing member of: “The Marcos burial should be seen as part of a long trajectory designed to return them to power…. Marcos is dead, more dead than ever. But in Duterte and in the Marcos family, his specter lives on to haunt us all.”
Rafael, however, is the epitome of Marcos bashers living comfortably abroad, filling Facebook with frequent posts, telling us what to think here in ‘Pinas. For all his seeming concern about the country, Rafael didn’t care at all about Martial Law when he was a history lecturer at the Ateneo from 1977 to 1979. After that, he spent his life climbing the academic ladder in the US, moving from one university to another, even from one college to another) Since 2003, he has been history professor at the University of Seattle.
With history as his field, shouldn’t he have done historical research on Marcos and the Martial Law years, which have been so important to the nation, the different assessments of which still divide us? Apparently not. Rafael’s publications have such titles as “White Love and Other Events in Filipino History and Contracting Colonialism” and “Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society Under Early Spanish Rule.” Perhaps he thinks he’ll never get tenure if he works on the real history of Martial Law.
Perhaps we should just approach the issue pragmatically. Erap, despite his conviction, will certainly be buried, if he or his family wants to, at the Libingan when he passes away. He is just too loved by the masses for the Cayetanos and Robredos to curse. A bit more than half the country want Marcos buried at the Libingan. The SWS surveys in July 1998, March 2011, June 2011 showed that at least 52 percent of respondents agreed Marcos should be buried at the Libingan, with 30 percent in the 2011 survey saying that he should even be given honors. (Strangely or not, SWS had not undertaken any survey on the issue after that.)
Let’s just give half the country what they want, and hope the nation becomes more united.