Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday said he will allow the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose rule was marked by widespread graft and rights abuses, to be buried at the country's cemetery for national heroes on Sept 18, a divisive issue that may spark protests.
"I will allow the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. He is qualified to be buried there. He was a soldier and a president," Mr Duterte said, referring to the Heroes' Cemetery in Manila, the final resting place of some of the country's leaders.
In a pre-dawn speech to soldiers and reporters, the 71-year-old President said that if the late dictator's son, former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, wants to bury his father at the cemetery next month, he could do so.
Mr Duterte, who has styled himself as an anti-corruption crusader, acknowledged that he is allowing the burial to repay the Marcos family for supporting him in the May elections. "I promised that during the campaign. I wanted to get votes from Ilocanos," he said.
He added that his father had also served in the Marcos Cabinet. "But that is not the point. The point is (Marcos) is qualified," he said.
Marcos was elected president in 1965 and declared martial law in 1972, allowing him to rule as a dictator. During his 20-year rule, he amassed an estimated US$10 billion fortune and oversaw widespread human rights abuses by security forces.
Marcos' family has kept his body in a glass box at a mausoleum in his northern home province of Ilocos for over 16 years, demanding that he be buried with full honours at the Heroes' Cemetery.
Last Friday, Mr Marcos Jr, 58, disclosed that the family planned to have his father's body interred at noon on Sept 18. The family had originally asked for a Sept 11 burial to coincide with the late leader's birthday, but decided they wanted a separate day to mark his death. Military honours being planned include a 21-gun salute, he added.
Marcos was elected president in 1965 and declared martial law in 1972, allowing him to rule as a dictator. During his 20-year rule, he amassed an estimated US$10 billion fortune and oversaw widespread human rights abuses by security forces. The government has recovered less than US$5 billion (S$6.7 billion) in cash, stocks, real estate, artworks and jewellery from the Marcoses and their cronies.
Marcos fled with his family to Hawaii in 1986 following a popular revolt. He died in exile on Sept 28, 1989, at age 72.
Past governments had refused to allow Marcos to be buried at the Heroes' Cemetery, amid opposition from tens of thousands of victims of human rights abuses under his rule.
Anticipating protests, Mr Duterte said he will allow anti-Marcos groups to take to the streets "for one month". "Other Filipinos don't like it. Fine. Hold demonstrations. Go ahead. You can use the streets. One month," he said.
But the rallies should not lead to traffic jams and "disturbances", he said, adding that he believed "out of 10 Filipinos, only one hates Marcos".
The National Historical Commission of the Philippines opposes the burial, saying the former president's military record "is fraught with myths, factual inconsistencies and lies".
Former lawmaker Walden Bello called the move an "insult to the more than 50,000 who were killed, tortured, raped and uprooted by the Marcos dictatorship".