Marcos Burial: Caught Off-guard, Media Catches Up with History
A burial is usually held on schedule, following prescribed funeral rites and rituals. It is publicly announced to allow those who wish to be present on the occasion.
But the family of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos did not bother to let too many people in on their plan for the long awaited event; as they were not willing to wait for the legal process to be completed that would officially permit them to transfer his remains from Batac to the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB).
Only ten days after the Supreme Court decision which voted 9-5 to reject the petitions against giving Marcos a place in the LNMB, the family caught the media and the public off-guard, slipping into the heavily guarded memorial grounds for this ultimate farewell ceremonies. While rushed, everything was done with, including a brief news conference before noon of Friday, Nov. 18.
Rumors about the holding of the burial circulated first in social media on Friday morning. Within a few hours, all the talk was proven true. TV picked up on the event, reporting public reaction and covering the crowds which gathered outside the Libingan gates live. TV showed a video of the arrival of the two military helicopters, one carrying the coffin at the site and another serving as escort, the procession, the horse drawn hearse, the military honors and 21-gun salute – all picked up from the Facebook post of Imee Marcos, the eldest daughter and governor of Ilocos Norte.
The media did not lack visuals in covering the protests which erupted in several locations through the day: Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City where students from UP, Miriam and the Ateneo gathered outside their gates; the People Power Monument along Edsa as well as other parts of the country such as Cebu City, Davao City and Zamboanga City. The battle cry “Marcos is no hero!” was posted on paper, T-shirts and, of course, the social media.
In general, the press did well in covering the activities in the different sites, doing interviews, following the participants as the demonstrations continued through the night until early morning the following day.
CMFR reviewed primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s Aksyon, and CNN Philippines’ Network News) as well as the three major broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Bulletin, The Philippine Star) to assess how media covered the surprise burial.
Most of the coverage noted salient points. Protesters were quick to point to the role of President Rodrigo Duterte as the media unpacked the president’s involvement — from the campaign promise and several public statements as president expressing his view that the burial was legal and would help the nation move forward.
Reports also included the sentiments of protesters, with some critics pointing to Duterte himself as the one who specifically ordered holding the burial on the day when he would be out of the country. Duterte had been vocal about his admiration for the late president and had stated during the campaign that he would allow the burial in Libingan because Marcos was a soldier. In August, a month after the elections, petitioners filed their complaints to stop the burial in the Supreme Court.
Media also established the conflicting statements made by public officials about whether the president had known about the plan and its timing, with his trip to attend the APEC meeting in Lima, Peru.
It was National Capital Region Police Office Acting Regional Director Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde who confirmed before noon that the burial was taking place on the same day and that the Marcos family requested for it to be a private ceremony. The Presidential Communications Operations Office said they knew nothing about the burial. Philippine National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa said most likely Duterte knew about it. Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella, speaking from Peru where the APEC Summit was being held, said he was not sure if the president was aware.
Aside from the blow-by-blow reporting, getting the sides of the pro and anti groups, supplementary reports also helped provide context.
The Inquirer’s timeline chronicled Marcos’ rise and fall, including the updates on the petitions filed with the SC. TV Patrol’s report recounted the awards that Marcos had supposedly gotten but turned out to be fake. Network News held a roundtable discussion on the matter with Albayalde, one of the drafters of the 1986 Philippine Constitution and political science professor Ed Garcia, and House Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro. 24 Oras ran a report that juxtaposed the so-called “golden years” and the darkest period of the country under the Marcos regime. In TV5’s Reaksyon, Luchi Cruz Valdez interviewed former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares who noted Duterte’s culpability in the burial, saying it was a “political promise.”
Media reports have been described as the first draft of history, recognizing the pressure of news deadlines that cause journalists to miss the meaning of the story. There are times when the significance of the news can be understood only in the light of the past, when the news actually become part of the unfolding of a nation’s history.
The media found themselves in such a moment last week. CMFR cheers how meaningfully some of them interpreted current events, drawing out the lessons that we must learn so that Filipinos can move on.