Philippine dictator Marcos can be given national hero's burial, Supreme Court rules

Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, offers prayers alongside supporters at a vigil for her father in front of the Supreme Court in Manila on Oct 17, 2016.
Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, offers prayers alongside supporters at a vigil for her father in front of the Supreme Court in Manila on Oct 17, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - Ex-Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos can be buried at the national heroes' cemetery, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday (Nov 8) in a hugely controversial verdict that critics warned would whitewash his crimes and divide the nation.

The judges voted with a clear majority to endorse President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to allow the burial at the "Cemetery of Heroes" in Manila, court spokesman Theodore Te told reporters.

"There is no law that prohibits the burial," Te said as he read a summary of the verdict and hundreds of Marcos supporters outside the court cheered.

Marcos ruled the Philippines for two decades until 1986, when millions of people took to the streets in a "People Power" revolution that forced him and his family into US exile.

Marcos, his infamously flamboyant wife, Imelda, and their cronies plundered up to US$10 billion (S$14 billion) from state coffers during his rule, according to government investigators and historians.

The dictator also oversaw widespread human rights abuses to maintain his control of the country and enable his plundering, with thousands of people killed and tortured, previous Philippine governments said.

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International in 2004 named Marcos the second most corrupt leader of all time.

Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989 and his family had since tried to have him buried at the heroes' cemetery, where other presidents and celebrated military figures are interned.

The family has enjoyed a remarkable political comeback that saw his son and namesake, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, become a senator, then almost win the vice presidency this year.

However previous presidents had refused to allow the burial because of Marcos's crimes, and the preserved body had been kept in a glass casket at his home in the northern province of Ilocos Norte.

The family's fortunes changed with the election of Duterte, a longtime ally of the Marcos family, as president in May this year.

He said Marcos deserved to be buried at the heroes' cemetery based simply on the fact he had been a president and a veteran of World War II.

Duterte also said he owed loyalty to the family because his father served in the Marcos government and the family had helped to fund his election campaign.

Immediately celebrating the verdict, Bongbong Marcos said the nation of 100 million people would now be able to put past controversies behind it.

"It is in our belief a very important step for the healing process in the political arena of our country," Marcos told CNN Philippines.

"I think this will be the beginning of bringing the country together and uniting the country." But the immediate reaction from Marcos critics signalled otherwise.

"The decision intends to effectively wipe the Marcos slate clean and negate the sacrifices of the thousands of brave souls who fought and suffered under the brutal Marcos dictatorship," Senator Risa Hontiveros said.

Marcos's war record is one of the particularly contentious issues of the debate about whether he should be buried at the Heroes' Cemetery.

Marcos claimed to have been a decorated World War II hero leading a guerrilla force against Japanese occupiers. But historians have largely discredited those claims.