The Marcos Burial
The clandestine burial of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the country’s Cemetery of Heroes has provoked public protests. The burial was viewed as an insult to the thousands of persons who suffered human rights violations during Marcos’ martial law regime. Questions of legality and closure have been raised. Marcos supporters argued that there was no legal prohibition against the burial and that the country needs to move on from the memories of martial law. Opponents of the burial point to the lack of any remorse, apology or restitution from the Marcos family as serious obstacles to any authentic closure for the victims of martial law. They claim that Marcos does not deserve a hero’s burial even if the law permits it.
Questions of mercy and justice have also been raised. Can there be mercy without repentance? Are mercy and justice incompatible? Pope Benedict states in Caritas in Veritate, “justice is the primary way of charity; it is the minimum measure of charity.” While mercy is a fruit of charity, justice remains a basic requirement of charity. Simply forgiving and forgetting past crimes without acknowledgement of responsibility will only reinforce a culture of impunity and allow a repetition of abuses. It is not a lack of mercy or hard-heartedness that drives the protests against the Marcos burial but rather a strong conviction that true charity requires justice for all.
While the Marcos burial has caused much anxiety and anger, it has also provided an opportunity for courageous expressions of resistance against threats to human rights. There are emerging signs of hope that the lessons of the Marcos dictatorship are not forgotten. One sign of hope is the participation of many young Filipinos in protests against the rehabilitation of Marcos as a hero. Although most of these young people were born after the people power revolution that toppled the Marcos regime, they have taken on the unfinished task of seeking justice for the victims of martial law. Another sign of hope is the gradual recovery of the Church’s prophetic voice which had become muted and confused after past debates on reproductive health. Catholic leaders and institutions have begun to issue strong statements against attempts to whitewash the abuses of martial law. A third sign of hope is a growing number of voices raised against the current government’s campaign against drug offenders that has directly and indirectly caused many violent deaths. People have begun to ask how the current government administration can urge forgiveness for Marcos while being harshly punitive toward drug users. How can the government support an honorable burial for a dictator while the unclaimed victims of the war against drugs are simply buried in common graves? As the country continues to deal with the consequences of the Marcos burial, we hope that a deeper commitment to the protection of human rights and a greater understanding of the inseparable link between charity and justice will grow in the hearts and minds of our citizens and leaders.