Protests as family marks 100th anniversary of late Philippines strongman Marcos' birth

Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jnr (left), a former senator and son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, salutes in front of a monument dedicated to his father as he offers a wreath during celebrations to mark his father's 100th birthday in Batac, Ilocos Norte province, north of Manila on Sept 10, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP, REUTERS) - Riot police on Monday (Sept 11) blocked hundreds of protesters trying to prevent the family of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos from celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth at the Philippines' "Heroes Cemetery".

Three decades after a bloodless "People Power" revolution toppled the Marcos regime, his family holds influential political posts and is busy rehabilitating his legacy - with the help of family friend President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte last year allowed the remains to be buried at the cemetery, reserved for soldiers slain in battle and former presidents. Last week he declared the birth anniversary on Sept 11 a holiday in the ex-leader's home province.

"This is an insult to the memory of my father," said Amira Lidasan, one of a group of anti-Marcos protesters estimated by police to number 500 who marched on the cemetery gates.

Lidasan said her father was imprisoned for a month for a nighttime curfew violation in the early 1970s, when Marcos put the country under martial law for more than eight years.

The father died from illness shortly afterwards, she added.

But about 300 riot police blocked a road leading to the Marcos tomb, allowing the family to hold a private reception inside the cemetery grounds.

About 50 elderly women supporters of Marcos meanwhile flashed V-for-victory signs and sang "Happy Birthday" for Marcos at a separate gathering outside the cemetery gates.

"He achieved many things during his presidency. He built roads and many other structures and he kept the prices of grocery items low," Erlinda Taning, 65, told AFP.

Marcos oversaw widespread human rights abuses during his 20-year rule. Thousands of people were killed, tortured or imprisoned, according to rights advocates and previous Philippine governments.

He has also been accused of embezzling billions of dollars from state coffers during his rule, with anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International in 2004 naming him the second most corrupt leader of all time, behind Indonesian dictator Suharto.

However no member of the Marcos clan has ever gone to prison and the family has made a dramatic political comeback in recent years, with his widow and two children being elected to office.

The election last year of Duterte, a family friend, has accelerated the rehabilitation.

Opponents are outraged by what they see as the possibility the Duterte government could grant the Marcos family immunity from prosecution in exchange for the return of part of what many believe was its ill-gotten wealth.

Some independent experts have estimated as much as US$10 billion was siphoned off during Marcos' rule.

The family has offered to return "a few gold bars" but may ask for immunity from criminal prosecution, according to Duterte. Karapatan, a human rights advocacy group, said Duterte's"shameless concessions" with the Marcos family "will whitewash Marcos' heinous crimes against the Filipino people, while his family creeps back into power".

Ferdinand Marcos Jnr, the dictator's son, lost the vice-presidential election last year but has filed an election protest in hopes of overturning the result. Duterte, who was elected separately, has endorsed his protest.

Protesters on Monday burned a banner that read "Marcos Duterte Fascist" and which depicted a two-faced man - half Marcos and half Duterte.

"There should be no compromise, no immunity to a plunderer and a murderer," Marie Enriquez, a human rights activist whose sister was tortured and killed in a Marcos martial-law prison, said in a statement.

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