EDSA is the hollowed ground of free expression—and those protesting the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani atbp have every right to be there. Burning effigies and bearing placards no matter that the language may be crude and unseemly are all within the pale of constitutionally protected free expression.
It is not the crowds that frighten me, because, truth to tell, they do not make that remarkable a throng. It is not even the possibility of an upheaval that may send the government packing that worries me—first, because I have no particular stake in the government of President Digong, although I do, in the Rule of Law, and second, because the Duterte government is far too popular to be really in danger from those who now rage and foam over the Libingan incident. The protest is not even national. I have asked priest-friends all over the country how things go where they are—and there does not really seem to be an echo of the clanging and the booing, the cursing and the hissing in some parts of Manila anywhere else in the country. There is another factor to consider: There is a considerable Marcos following too. Bongbong came very close to being Vice-President and some believe that the numbers were really in his favor.
What I am frightened about is the virulence of the rage that the protests have made manifest. It is one thing to deliver a very strong speech, articulating one’s arguments against the burial—but it is really quite another thing to incite the desecration of a grave, or even to move for the exhumation of the remains of one already buried.
The burial was legal. The Supreme Court lifted the remaining legal obstacle—its own status ante order, and its judgment that there was no legal impediment to the late President’s burial. We have been told that Ted Te, the spokesperson of the Court, admitted that no Motion for Reconsideration had yet been filed and that none was pending. There was no standing temporary restraining order, no writ of preliminary injunction standing in the way. So the legality of the Marcos burial is beyond cavil.
Was it moral for him to be buried there? On that point, we can argue till kingdom come. Such is the problematic character of moral judgments, especially one like this that involves historical evaluation. I can grant without compunction that the opponents of the Marcos burial have reasons to argue that it is not moral but it is certainly not correct for them to exclude a priori as irrational and unworthy of consideration the arguments of those in its favor. Intolerance of this kind is unacceptable in a free society.
And that takes us all back to the point about what makes some think that giving him a plot at the Libingan is so outrageous. For declaring Martial Law? I will repeat what I wrote earlier: The Constitution of 1935 allowed him to and, unlike the Constitution of 1987, did not lay down parameters for the execution of martial law. In fact, it is not correct to say “never again”, for where circumstances demand it, the President must use the powers given him by the Constitution to defend the Republic. Were there military abuses, victims of torture, salvaging even? One American court found that there were—and I am not ready to brush aside a judicial determination of facts. And I grant that those who say they were tortured were really tortured, and those who mourn over the loss of loved ones really suffered a death in the family. But it is quite another thing to say that Marcos is the culprit behind every summary execution, every act of torture, every incident of unlawful disappearance. To sustain that indictment one needs so many facts that we just do not seem to have. As for acts of graft, plunder even, Teddy Boy Locsin was so right when, in one of his Teditorials, he wryly remarked that government officials were plundering before Marcos as they have been after. He did not mean to de-criminalize thievery of course, only to say that it was not too convincing to argue that Marcos dipped his hands into the cookie jar with more culpability than did others.
Why the secrecy? Families are entitled to determine the manner their loved ones are interred, are they not? Of course announcing the funeral ahead of time would have given Marcos opponents ample time to plan and strategize the sabotaging of the event—much like an irate Roman mob threw the body of Pope Pius IX into the Tiber during the Funeral Procession. Marcos haters would have wanted that. Quite expectedly—and with every reason on their side—the Marcos family did not! Had they opted for a public funeral with a procession to which the Marcos “loyalists” were invited—and which they certainly would have attended in considerable numbers—would that not have been more a slight to those who oppose the funeral? There is really more than one way of interpreting events and it will not do to assume the stance of the oracle who alone utters the truth! Is that probably what angers the protesters so much—that they were denied the chance insult the Marcos family by wrecking havoc on the burial rites? And was it not the right of the Marcos family to protect itself from such a prospect?
That kind of anger that does not flinch at conscripting school children to mouth invectives to which they utterly cannot relate, or that passes to millennials one version of the story as the authorized and canonical version, or that condemns to the fires of damnation when one should be praying for the salvation of all—that is the anger that frightens me because it corrodes the spirit of the nation. Not the Marcos burial then is to be blamed for this affliction of national spirit, but the rage and the bile that have issued forth from that sector of society that has opposed it. Not even the opposition is what I regret, but the virulence of the rage that is intolerant of contradiction!