AMID its preparations for the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the Philippine Army said not everyone buried there deserves to be called a hero.
But until guidelines are changed, said Colonel Benjamin Hao, spokesman of the Philippine Army which manages the 103-hectare property, the command has no choice but to comply with orders.
"Who is a hero? Someone who sacrificed his life for this country," said Hao in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
He said the guidelines are clear that anyone can be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani as long as the President, Secretary of National Defense, or Congress says so.
"Even the widows of presidents, secretaries of national defense, and chiefs of staff can be buried there. They are not heroes but based on the rules, they are authorized," he said.
State funeral for Marcos
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered defense and military officials to bury Marcos at the Libingan on grounds that he was a former president, amid widespread criticism that the late strongman deposed during a people-backed February 1986 revolution, was no hero. Marcos died in Hawaii on September 28, 1989. His body has since been returned and kept in a crypt in his hometown in Ilocos Norte.
No room for governors, mayor?
Under existing regulations, presidents, secretaries of national defense, chiefs of staff, war veterans and qualified officers and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines may be buried at the Hero's Cemetery, even if they had never received any medals or fought in the battlefield.
National artists and scientists, statesmen, and other government dignitaries are also among 49,450 who have been interred at the cemetery since 1952.
Elected officials from the Senate and Congress are qualified, but "local officials like governors and mayors are not entitled," Hao said.
Unless they become exceptions to the rule.
SC orders oral arguments on Marcos burial
In the case of 17-year-old Oscar Alcaraz, it was President Marcos who intervened to have him given a special place in history in 1970.
Alcaraz was neither a soldier nor a man of stature.
He was a boy scout, and possibly the youngest to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
A book published by the Boy Scouts of the Philippines said Alcaraz was one of 22 scouts who gathered at the La Mesa Dam for a tree planting activity on August 30, 1970.
When a dam official slipped and fell into the water, Alcaraz plunged into the lake to rescue him, but got caught in the muck and drowned. Eleven days later, he was posthumously conferred the Presidential Medal of Merit.
A dog named Shadow
But was a K9 bomb sniffer who served under President Corazon Aquino's administration ever really buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani?
The story has been circulating for years and recently found its way on the internet, even shared on social media by one celebrity.
Some Marcos loyalists said if a dog was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, so must a former president of this country.
But the Philippine Army debunked the story, calling it a myth.
"Based on our investigation,” said Hao, “only humans are buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. There is no record of any dog ever being buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani."
A news report by international news agency Reuters published in Malaysia's New Straits Times on March 21, 1992 jibed with the Army's findings.
The report said the Labrador retriever, whose name was Shadow, was buried in Malacanang Park, headquarters of the Presidential Security Group, and not at the Hero's Cemetery.
"Shadow...was buried on Tuesday with military honors and drum roll in the park of the Presidential palace, the coffin draped in the Philippine flag," the report said.
Deedee Siytangco, Mrs. Aquino’s former spokesperson, said burying a PSG dog was customary.
"K9 dogs who served the president are usually buried in a plot at the PSG," said Siytangco.
"They may be given honors for a soldier. I don't remember any K9 dog, especially of Tita Cory, being buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani."
Plots as big as a condo
There are still vacant lots at the Libingan.
Forty-six more Philippine Presidents can be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in the years to come. Each plot reserved for a president is 100-square meters, roughly the size of a three-bedroom condominium.
Ninety-four more plots are available for the interment of secretaries of national defense, government dignitaries, and statesmen.
Over 8,000 plots are still available for qualified AFP personnel and veterans. These plots are much smaller at only 5.25 square meters.
Anticipating congestion, the Army is considering the development of a Hero's Cemetery in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Cemeteries won't make a hero
But some protesters who attended a rally on Sunday to object to Marcos' burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani said the cemetery must be reserved for those who truly deserve to be called heroes.
"Maraming naghirap, maraming na-torture, maraming ninakaw sa ating bayan," said Perla Figueras, one of the protesters who hails from the same province as the late president. "Hindi dapat ganun ang ililibing sa (Libingan ng mga) Bayani."
Not everybody saw it that way.
What makes a hero?
The family of 2nd Lt. JD Khe is unperturbed about the forthcoming burial of the late strongman.
JD was one of 19 soldiers who perished in a clash with Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in Al Barka, Basilan five years ago.
Erren Khe, JD's brother, said one does not become a hero by being buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. "JD was already a hero long before he was buried there," Erren said.
Clothes don't make a man, and a cemetery won't make a hero.