'The word "hero" is a relative term....To millions others, he [Marcos] is a "hero." It depends on the perception,' says Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo
Even before any petition can be filed against a hero's burial for the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Chief Presidential Counsel Salvador Panelo has already dismissed the planned move as having no legal basis.
"It’s a democratic country. Everyone is entitled to file a petition in court. But I don't think there is a legal basis for that," Panelo said on Tuesday, August 9, during an interview with Malacañang reporters at their working area.
Lawmakers and citizens' groups are mulling the filing of cases with the Supreme Court to stop the burial set to happen on September 18.
Upon Duterte's orders, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has started to prepare for the burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes' Cemetery).
Panelo said Malacañang is prepared to oppose such cases for lack of legal basis.
He insisted that Marcos' burial in the Heroes' Cemetery complies with all the requirements of the AFP, which has jurisdiction over who is buried there. (READ: Marcos 'qualified' for hero's burial based on AFP rules – DND)
"The regulation issued by the AFP is very clear. Those who are entitled to be interred in the Libingan ng mga Bayani are, among others, soldiers and presidents, so on the basis of that, the late President Marcos is entitled to be buried there," said the lawyer.
But critics have pointed out another AFP guideline barring those who have been "dishonorably discharged from service, or personnel convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude" from being buried in the cemetery.
In response to this, Panelo said Marcos was never technically dishonorably discharged from service as a soldier or convicted for an offense involving moral turpitude.
But what is for certain, he said, is that Marcos was a soldier and at one point also fought the Japanese during World War II.
"Fact is, President Marcos was a soldier. He fought the Japanese, created a Maharlika group and we cannot dispute that," said Panelo.
But the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) has pointed out that Marcos' supposed guerrilla unit, Ang Mga Maharlika, was "never officially recognized and neither was his leadership of it."
US officials, added the NHCP, "did not recognize Mr Marcos' rank promotion," from major in 1944 to lieutenant colonel by 1947.
The former president's actions as a soldier during WWII were likewise "officially called into question" by the US military.
Told that people have taken issue with how the burial will confer the status of "hero" to the late dictator, Panelo said the term is relative.
"The word 'hero' is a relative term....To millions others, he [Marcos] is a 'hero.' It depends on the perception," he said.
Senators Leila de Lima and Francis Pangilinan believe a law ordering the compensation for victims of the Marcos regime can be used as legal basis.
The law, recognizing there were abuses during the Marcos dictatorship, may provide the legal argument that the victims should have a say on recognition given to Marcos.