I could clearly remember the time when the country hoisted the national flag at half-mast. Former president Ferdinand Marcos died at a time when Corazon Aquino was already the president of the Republic. The death of the former president in exile, was met with mixed and most of the time contradictory opinions with regard to giving honor to a deposed leader. It would take almost 30 years before his remains were finally buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani under the “cover of night”. I was still in elementary at the time of Marcos’ death and I was wondering why our flag at school was not hoisted all the way to the top as usual. It was then that we were told by our teachers that hoisting the flag at half mast is a way of honoring the deposed president who just died. Perhaps it was difficult for us to understand then, how a deposed president could still be honored in a country where he was vilified for being a dictator and accused of other crimes such as corruption, the imprisonment and disappearance of his critics. The death of former president Corazon Aquino was in sharp contrast with the one she deposed. The nation was almost unanimous in mourning the death of the “icon of democracy” which culminated in a televised funeral procession attended by millions. Her death shook the political landscape at that time since most political analyst credit the same as the factor that made then Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino the winnable candidate for the presidency. He won. Just recently, former president Noynoy suddenly passed away and the country is in mourning, but no longer unanimous. His supporters paid tribute to him saying he did much for the country while some on the other side of the political fence even suggested the sudden death of Noynoy was intended or even planned by the “yellows” (dilawan) to overthrow the present government. Unimaginable!
Flag at Half Mast
Without waiting for any orders, flags all over the country were almost instantly lowered after the news broke on the death of the former president. This of course is mandated not just by tradition but by law which is the Heraldic Code of the Philippines. Section 23 of said law provides: “The flag shall be flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning on all buildings and places where it is displayed, as provided for in this Act, on the day of official announcement of the death of any of the following officials: a. The President or a former President, for ten (10) days;” Honoring a former president in this manner is already beyond question. There is no longer the question of whether it is proper to honor him or not. It is now mandated by law. Then there is the tradition of draping the coffin of deceased government officials. Is this proper? Section 24 of the Heraldic Code states: “The flag may be used to cover the caskets of the honored dead of the military, veterans of previous wars, national artists, and of civilians who have rendered distinguished service to the nation, as maybe determined by the local government unit concerned.” The determination of whether our flag may be draped on the coffin of a deceased civilian rests upon the local government units. The issue however, is the determination of what “distinguished service to the nation” constitutes. Is mere election to public office sufficient? If we strictly adhere to the provisions of law, the flag may only be draped over the coffin of deceased officials if he is qualified under the ordinance of the local government unit. But tradition has overrun this provision of law. It would now actually be highly controversial if a public official’s coffin is not covered by our flag because tradition dictates that it should be. In my opinion, it would not hurt if this practise is allowed to go on since it is quite difficult really to determine what “distinguished service to the nation” might be.