Philippines' Duterte says former dictator Marcos can be buried at heroes' cemetery

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a visit at the wake of killed soldiers in Davao city, southern Philippines on August 7. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday (Aug 7) he has "given the go-signal" for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried as a hero on Sept 18, a divisive issue that may spark protests in the country.

"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, 71, said, referring to the 142ha heroes' cemetery in the capital Manila where some of the country's leaders are buried.

He said if the dictator's son, former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, wants to bury his father at the cemetery next month, "so be it".

On Friday (Aug 5), Mr Marcos Jr told a group of editors preparations have begun to have his father's remains, which have been kept inside a glass box at a mausoleum in his northern home province of Ilocos for over 16 years now, interred at noon on Sept 18.

The family had asked Mr Duterte for a Sept 11 burial to coincide with Marcos' birthday, but decided they wanted a separate day to mark his death, said Mr Marcos Jr, 58.

He said military honours being planned include a 21-gun salute and a horse-drawn funeral carriage.

Marcos fled with his family to Hawaii in 1986, following a popular revolt. He had corruptly amassed an estimated US$10 billion (S$13.5 billion) during his 20-year rule.

He died in exile aged 72 on Sept 28, 1989.

The government has recovered less than US$5 billion in cash, stocks, real estate, artworks and jewellery from the Marcoses and their cronies.

Past governments had refused to allow Marcos to be buried at the heroes' cemetery, amid opposition from tens of thousands of Filipinos, including victims of human rights abuses under his rule.

Anticipating protests, Mr Duterte on Sunday 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 he stressed that rallies should not be disruptive, saying protests should not lead to traffic logjams and "disturbances".

"Your right to air your grievances is constitutional. But that right is also subject to the right of others not to your liking or sharing your views," said Mr Duterte.

He said he believes that "out of 10 Filipinos, only one hates Marcos".

Mr Duterte acknowledged that he is allowing a hero's burial for Marcos to repay the Marcoses for supporting him in the May elections.

"I promised that during the campaign. I wanted to get votes from Ilocanos," he said.

He noted that his father had also served in the Marcos Cabinet. "But that is not the point. The point is he is qualified," said Mr Duterte.

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