Thousands of anti-Marcos activists stage 'Black Friday' protest across Philippines

Anti-Marcos student activists donning anti-Marcos slogans during a protest near Malacanang palace against the burial of Marcos at the heroes' cemetery in Manila on Nov 25, 2016.
Anti-Marcos student activists donning anti-Marcos slogans during a protest near Malacanang palace against the burial of Marcos at the heroes' cemetery in Manila on Nov 25, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
A protester impersonating former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos kisses an effigy of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos inside a mock coffin during a protest on Nov 25, 2016, denouncing his burial at the Heroes' cemetery.
A protester impersonating former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos kisses an effigy of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos inside a mock coffin during a protest on Nov 25, 2016, denouncing his burial at the Heroes' cemetery.PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters gather around an effigy of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos inside a mock coffin during a protest at Luneta park on Nov 25, 2016.
Protesters gather around an effigy of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos inside a mock coffin during a protest at Luneta park on Nov 25, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Anti-Marcos student activists burn an effigy of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos during a protest near Malacanang palace against the burial of Marcos at the heroes' cemetery in Manila on Nov 25, 2016.
Anti-Marcos student activists burn an effigy of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos during a protest near Malacanang palace against the burial of Marcos at the heroes' cemetery in Manila on Nov 25, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Thousands of activists marched across the Philippines on Friday (Nov 25) to protest the burial last week of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at Manila's national heroes' cemetery.

Wearing mostly black and amid a steady downpour, about 10,000 students, lawyers, workers, farmers, church activists, and left-leaning politicians converged at the 58ha Rizal Park in the capital Manila for what they dubbed as their "Black Friday" protest.

Anti-Marcos rallies were also held in Davao, home city of President Rodrigo Duterte, and Zamboanga city in the southern island of Mindanao, and in the central Philippine cities of Cebu, Iloilo, Roxas, and Bacolod.

At the state-run University of the Philippines, about two dozen students from the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity protested by running naked around their campus, as hundreds of other activities lined their route to cheer them on, chanting: "Marcos, dictaor, lapdog!", and "Never again to martial law!"

Protest leaders chided President Rodrigo Duterte for allowing the Marcos family to bury Marcos at the heroes' cemetery, in what he admitted was a political trade-off.

"Today, we link arms to denounce Duterte's unholy alliance with the Marcoses," said youth group Anakbayan's head Vencer Crisostomo.

But Mr Duterte on friday (Nov 25) again defended his decision, insisting he was only following the law that allowed former soldiers and presidents to be buried at the heroes' cemetery, even though there were not hailed as "heroes".

"We did not have a choice. We cannot have a different interpretation because it simply says that a soldier and a former president are qualified to be buried (there)," he told reporters.

He said the Aquino family, arch-foes of the Marcoses, had two presidents - Mrs Corazon Aquino, and his son, Mr Benigno Aquino III - who could have pushed a law that would have permanently barred a burial at the cemetery for Marcos.

"I am trained to follow simply the law. It was a simple matter of amending the law and they had about - the mother and the son - 12 golden years to do it. Now, they're blaming me," said Mr Duterte.

In a hush-hush affair, Marcos was buried with military honours on Nov 18, 27 years after his death, in what anti-Marcos activists decried as a "blitzkrieg burial" meant to head off street demonstrations and last-minute court petitions.

The timing of the burial came as surprise. Mr Duterte himself was unaware of the burial date before he left for a summit of Apec leaders in Peru.

Also, a court appeal against it was still pending.

The secrecy stunned activists who had been lining up protests to oppose a highly symbolic burial that they saw was an attempt by the Marcoses to rewrite history and exonerate Marcos of his crimes.

Marcos ruled the Philippines for 20 years. He was convicted of plundering up to US$10 billion (S$13.5 billion) from state coffers and overseeing widespread human rights abuses to decimate opposition to his rule.

Over 90,000 were jailed, and nearly 6,000 tortured during martial law from 1972 to 1983. At least 2,5000 were summarily executed, and about 800 have yet to find a body to bury.

Marcos fled with his family to Hawaii in 1986, when millions took to the streets in a "people power" revolt.

He died in exile on Sept 28, 1989.

In 1993, his corpse was flown back to the Philippines. He was supposed to be buried in Batac. But the Marcos family instead installed the corpse inside a glass box at a mausoleum in Batac, where it remains to this day.

Past governments had refused to allow Marcos' burial at the heroes' cemetery because of the dictator's crimes.

The family's fortune changed with the election of Mr Duterte as president in May.

Saying he was fulfilling a campaign promise, he said Marcos, as a former president and veteran, deserved to be buried at the heroes' cemetery.

rdancel@sph.com.sg