President Rodrigo Duterte is in Peru, attending a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. When he left, the issues at the top of mind of Filipinos were the war on illegal drugs here at home and what jarring—embarrassing—pronouncements he might make again on the international stage.
But news came Friday morning that the remains of the late President Ferdinand Marcos would be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani at noon that same day, unleashing a wave of protests across social media and on to some streets in Metro Manila. The move was derided by the public as a sneaky act despite the fact that the Supreme Court had already ruled, 9-5-1, in favor of the burial. Many did not believe that the ruling was immediately executory because there had yet to be a decision on the appeal.
The Marcos family, meanwhile, prepared for the burial in tandem with the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police, bringing their patriarch to his final resting place 27 years after his death. At the outset, the family has made no secret of its desire to inter the former president in the Libingan despite the more homogeneous reception they enjoy in their northern province of Ilocos Norte.
Amid the shock and indignation, people now ask: What was the extent of Mr. Duterte’s participation in the surprise burial?
It could not have been last minute. As early as the campaign season, Mr. Duterte had promised to put closure to the issue by ordering the burial—and he won, and by a significant plurality, anyway.
When he mentioned the burial again after being sworn into office, several groups took their petition to the Supreme Court, submitting themselves to its jurisdiction. When the court rendered, after deferring twice, a ruling, people complained but again recognized the High Court’s authority over the issue. They said they would ask the court to reconsider.
What makes the burial stealthy, suspicious and galling in the eyes of many is its timing. How convenient, then, for the President to be away at this time and to avoid the fallout of what had just happened.
And even now, his own officials cannot agree on whether he knew this was going to happen at all, or not. Typically themselves, they utter conflicting things: some are obviously trying to shield the President from what could be an underestimated reaction from the people by saying he did not know it would happen, while some, notably the chief of the police, Ronald dela Rosa, said Mr. Duterte knew about Friday’s surprise all along.
It’s either one of two things. If it is true Mr. Duterte was clueless, then he is a weak commander-in-chief, left in the dark by the people under his authority. Friday’s interment was not just a family event; it was a ceremony with personalities and protocol. Government resources, funded by taxpayers’ money, were used at every step.
But if he knew about what was going to happen Friday beforehand, then it was also sneaky on his part. There can never be any mistake as to the Marcos family’s loyalties and priorities. Mr. Duterte, however, is president of all Filipinos, whether or not they voted for him, whether or not they think the Libingan is an apt place for Marcos, and whether or not they think he should even be considered a hero.
We cannot help imagining then: Perhaps the date of the burial was specifically set for a time when the President was scheduled to be out of the country, so it would be easy to say that he had nothing to do with it.
A clear intent to deceive and mislead, or at best to feign innocence, is not encouraging from somebody who styles himself as a strong and decisive leader.