Marcos Burial: The Press as a Moral Compass
STAYING TRUE to his campaign promise, President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed on Aug. 7 the burial of deposed strongman Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Prior to this confirmation, the issue had been making the rounds in the media, since Duterte had not been shy about mentioning this possibility during both the campaign period and upon his assumption to the presidency.
Marcos remains a hot-button issue among Filipinos, especially because there has been no accountability for the excesses and abuses that occurred during the regime of the late dictator and also because, of late, there has been a conscious and consistent attempt by the Marcos family not only to rehabilitate the Marcos name but also to revise history.
This then should have prompted the press covering the Libingan brouhaha not only to ask tougher questions but to frame the whole debate around the issues of accountability and historical truthfulness. Unfortunately, the press, while it did try hard to present all possible sides of the argument, failed yet again to adequately inform and educate the public — who are by now already bombarded with misinformation — about the Marcoses, their transgressions and their place in history.
Various groups denounced Duterte’s decision, arguing that it could have consequences on the country and on the thousands of people arrested, detained and tortured during the martial law years. But Duterte did not budge, countering that the law says Marcos, as a former president and soldier, deserves burial in the Libingan.
Slanted Against Burial
CMFR reviewed media’s coverage from Aug. 8 until Aug. 16 in the daily broadsheets Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin, The Manila Times, Daily Tribune and Manila Standard, and primetime newscasts ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s Aksyon and CNN Philippines’ Network News, and looked at how the media covered the controversy.
CMFR found that the top three daily broadsheets ran a total of 36 stories on the issue, 23 of which were critical of the burial at the Libingan. The Times, the Tribune and the Standard, which published a total of 19 stories, had five reports which were critical of the burial (see figure below). In the reports by the top three dailies, sources against the burial outnumbered those in favor (23 against, 12 in favor), while it was the opposite for the other three (5 against, 12 in favor).
Primetime news also covered the issue, although not as prominently, with reports mostly located in the second half of the program.
The media’s effort to seek all possible sides was evident in the coverage. With the president confirming what he had promised, reports sought opposing views wherever they could be found. Aside from those of the administration, media also reported the opinions of those opposing the Libingan interment, among them victims of human rights violations during martial law, the political opposition, and even some allies of the president, as well as groups and organizations such as the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation and the Coalition Against the Marcos Burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The press also sought the opinion some residents and of tourists visiting the Ferdinand E. Marcos Presidential Center in Batac, Ilocos Norte, where the dictator’s remains lie in the family mausoleum.
Tangled in Legality
The reports did not fail to cite the Armed Forces of the Philippines Regulation 161-375 that described those persons enumerated who may be buried in the cemetery. The press also referred to the 1992 agreement between the Marcos family and the administration of former president Fidel V. Ramos, which provided for the burial of Marcos in Ilocos Norte, although it was erroneously referred to as a 1993 agreement in several reports.
Supporters of Duterte mentioned Republic Act 289 (An Act Providing for the Construction of a National Pantheon for Presidents of the Philippines, National Heroes and Patriots of the Country) to justify the burial while those assailing it cited Republic Act 10368 (Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013), saying the burial would violate the spirit of the law.
Whether the burial in the Libingan will be allowed or not has been thrown to the Supreme Court (SC), after victims of human rights violations and other groups filed several petitions to nullify Duterte’s order allowing the burial. The SC has ordered the respondents in one petition – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the Armed Forces of the Philippines as well as former First Lady Imelda Marcos – to respond and has set the oral arguments for Aug. 24.
It’s easy to lose the point whenever agreements and laws are thrown in the mix. The media’s relentless coverage of the claims and counter claims without going deeper does not make things easy to understand. Media, especially a media that bore the brunt of the Marcos regime and came out stronger and more aware of the value of press freedom, is also responsible for acting as the public’s moral compass during controversies like this, rather than simply citing legalities on the matter.
Some did try to go deeper and, as a result, stood out for exerting efforts in running stories that broke from the trend. Network News and TV Patrol had stories that looked at the difference between providing a state funeral and military honors, Marcos’ military records, and the profiles of those buried in the Libingan.
“Army: Full military honors for Marcos,” Network News, Aug. 12
“US Army: Marcos, nag-imbento lang ng pekeng kwento,” TV Patrol, Aug. 12
“Army: Hindi bayani lahat ng nakahimlay sa Libingan ng mga Bayani,” TV Patrol, Aug. 15
CMFR has already noted in a previous monitor that “The press obviously plays a large part in perpetrating ignorance or willful lies about the past,” (“EDSA People Power: Inadequate Challenge to Marcos Revisionism,” Mar. 10). With their resources to conduct research, the media have the capacity to produce meaningful stories that could elevate discourse on the matter and correct revisionist views and accounts of one of the darkest periods in Philippine history. It’s never too late to do that, even if Marcos ended up buried in a ground reserved for a few good men.