Reconciliation with justice

The Supreme Court, voting 9-5, allowed a hero’s burial for the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, ruling that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte did not commit grave abuse of discretion in ordering Marcos’ interment at the heroes’ cemetery. In doing so, the Supreme Court dismissed all petitions against Duterte’s directive maintaining essentially that no law prohibits Marcos’ burial at Libingan, and that President Duterte “acted within the bounds of law and jurisprudence.”

Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta said in his ponente that “…(there is ) no clear constitutional or legal basis to hold that there was grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction which would justify the Court to interpose its authority to check and override an act entrusted to the judgment of another branch. Truly, the President’s discretion is not totally unfettered. ‘Discretion is not a free-spirited stallion that runs and roams wherever it pleases but is reined in to keep it from straying. In its classic formulation, “discretion is not unconfined and vagrant” but “canalized within banks that keep it from overflowing.”

According to Peralta: “There are certain things that are better left for history—not this Court—to adjudge. The Court could only do so much in accordance with the clearly established rules and principles. Beyond that, it is ultimately for the people themselves, as the sovereign, to decide, a task that may require the better perspective that the passage of time provides. In the meantime, the country must move on and let this issue rest.”

The High Court ruled that the President’s decision was done in the exercise of his mandate under Article VII, section 17 of the 1987 Constitution to ensure the faithful execution of all laws and there is no law that prohibits the burial of the Marcos remains at the LNMB. Moreover, the President’s power of control over the Executive Branch is a self-executing provision not requiring legislative implementation, and the President is not bound by the 1992 Agreement entered into between former President Fidel V. Ramos and the Marcos family to have the remains interred in Batac, Ilocos Norte. As the incumbent, President Duterte is free to amend, revoke, or rescind political agreements entered into by his predecessors, and to determine policies which he considers, based on informed judgment and presumed wisdom, will be most effective in carrying out his mandate. According to the majority opinion. while it is undeniable that former President Marcos was forced out of office by the people through the so-called EDSA Revolution, such political act of the people should not be automatically given a particular legal meaning other than its obvious political consequence—that of ousting him as president.

In what will be quoted again and again in the years and decades to come, and not in a complimentary manner but in a notorious way, Justice Peralta justifies the record of President Marcos: “While he was not all good, he was not pure evil either. Certainly, just a human who erred like us.”

As always, I will leave it to and respect the Supreme Court to decide the legality of actions of the executive or legislative branches of government. Personally, I am always for forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation. There is too much anger in the world and I favor all actions that would stop vicious cycles of hatred. As a collaborator of the Society of Jesus (I now head the Manila Observatory, a Jesuit scientific research institution), I am inspired by the words of Father Arturo Sosa, recently elected as the Jesuit superior general, that the top priority of the Jesuits today is to promote reconciliation and dialogue in a divided and wounded world. According to Fr. Sosa, who is from Venezuela and not a stranger to conflict,  “We have to strive for reconciliation between human beings, reconciliation with God and reconciliation with the created world.”

Reconciliation with justice is definitely the right way forward. All persons of good will must contribute to this and explore ways to achieve it. But in the case of the Marcos legacy, there must be some other way as this burial does not certainly result in reconciliation. While reiterating my respect for the Supreme Court and refusing to be judgmental about the Justices in the majority, it is important to convey to the Court the hurt and the pain that it has caused particularly to those who suffered because of martial law. In a poignant Facebook post of a friend, whose family was a direct victim of martial law: “Nope, not moving on. You haunt my waking hours. I can never forget.”

As Ateneo de Manila University President Fr. Jett Villarin has pointed out: “Ferdinand Marcos did not just err like us. Decisions that were made during his regime were marked by atrocity and impunity. People were imprisoned, tortured, and killed just for harboring different beliefs and convictions. Those years were deliberately disruptive of democracy and freedom. Martial Law wasn’t just a stumble in the dark. It was a careful orchestration of violence and power conducted in the name of order and an artificial peace.”

Fr. Jett called upon our community “to continue to protest and express our indignation, to discern what true closure might mean concretely in this case, to create openings for our voice to be heard authentically, to protect the democratic space and engage in meaningful dialogue with our fellow Filipinos.”

If the protests are loud enough, the Supreme Court might reconsider it’s ruling. In the meantime, it is also within the right of citizens to petition the President to change his mind. If both the appeal to the Supreme Court and the President does not succeed, we must think of other peaceful ways to achieve reconciliation with justice, including reaching out to the Marcoses and their supporters. They need to know that souls will not rest and have peace, including their patriarch’s, with this burial. In fact, the conflict will intensify and will manifest everyday in individual and collective protests.

In the spirit of Fr. Sosa’s challenge to work for reconciliation, Fr. Jett warns and exhorts: “It is easy to think of the other as enemy but we will not yield to the sinister forces that want to divide us now as a people. The only way to get to the true path of peace, justice and reconciliation is to engage in the process of listening to each other.“

In my view, the Supreme Court missed an opportunity here. As they had the chance to listen to everyone and to each other, the Justices could have explored alternative and creative means to facilitate consensus and point our society to reconciliation with justice. In coming out with a zero-sum decision, by upholding a narrow view of its role as the ultimate dispute resolver in our society, the Court was remiss. Hopefully, in hearing and resolving the motions for reconsideration, it may still become a vehicle for reconciliation.

Yes, reconciliation with justice is possible, but we must listen to each other. We can do this. There is no other way.


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