Filipino activists protest Duterte-approved burial of ousted dictator

Ferdinand Marcos was quickly laid to rest in a heroes' cemetery, opening old wounds

MANILA, Philippines—Thousands of Filipinos, including more than a dozen nude students, protested against the hasty burial of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a heroes’ cemetery, in a growing political storm that’s lashing the president who allowed the entombment.

A few thousand activists joined a “Black Friday” protest despite rainy weather at Manila’s seaside Rizal Park, where they carried Marcos’ effigy in a mock coffin.

While the anger was directed at Marcos and his family, President Rodrigo Duterte was also targeted for allowing the burial of the dictator, who was ousted in a largely peaceful “people power” revolt three decades ago.

Protesters held placards reading “Digong traitor, a lapdog of the dictator,” referring to Duterte by his nickname.

Dozens of students trooped outside the presidential palace in Manila in a separate protest and burned an effigy of Marcos in a mock coffin.

At the state-run University of the Philippines, a fraternity turned its annual recruitment ritual into a protest with naked student recruits running with placards that read, “Marcos dictator not a hero.”

“This run is a manifestation of our anger against what we see as the Marcoses trying to revise history, trying to revive their name because they have fallen from grace,” Alpha Phi Omega fraternity spokesman Toby Roca said. “We are angry that they are trying to ignore our painful history of human rights abuses under his term.”

Duterte, whose father served in Marcos’s Cabinet, allowed the burial on grounds that there was no law barring his interment at the Heroes’ Cemetery, where presidents, soldiers, statesmen and national artists are buried. It was a political risk in a country where democracy advocates still celebrate Marcos’s ouster each year.

Duterte’s decision was upheld earlier this month by the Supreme Court. Marcos opponents had 15 days to appeal the decision, but Marcos’s family, backed by Duterte’s defence and military officials, buried him in a secrecy-shrouded ceremony with military honours last week at the cemetery.

The stealthy burial enraged democracy advocates and sparked protests in Manila and other cities.

Protest leader Bonifacio Ilagan, a left-wing activist detained and tortured under Marcos, said many protesters are young Filipinos who did not experience the brutalities of the dictatorship but “got assaulted by the surreptitious burial.”

Ilagan said he was struck by the message on a placard carried by a college student in a recent rally that said, “If he was a true hero, why was he buried in secrecy?”

Human rights victims who suffered under Marcos’s rule asked the Supreme Court this week to order the exhumation of his remains and to hold his heirs and Duterte’s officials in contempt for their role in burying the body before the court heard final appeals.

Marcos’s rule was marked by massive rights violations and plunder. After being ousted in 1986, he flew to Hawaii, where he lived with his wife and children until he died in 1989.

Duterte has allowed the protests to proceed without permits but has stood by his decision to allow the burial. During a speech in southern Zamboanga city, he said he tried to strike a balance by considering the sentiments of many pro-Marcos followers in the dictator’s northern political stronghold. He has said that past presidents opposed to the burial should have taken steps to legally prevent it, for example by passing legislation.

Duterte’s deadly crackdown on illegal drugs has been widely criticized but has not sparked widespread protests because many crime-weary Filipinos back the effort despite concerns over the killings of many drug suspects, said political analyst Ramon Casiple, the director of a think-tank promoting electoral and political reforms.

“Duterte’s decision to allow the Marcos burial opened up old wounds,” Casiple said.

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