'Protests if Marcos gets hero's burial'

Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos kissing the glass case bearing her late husband Ferdinand Marcos in Batac town, Ilocos norte, on July 2, 2014.
Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos kissing the glass case bearing her late husband Ferdinand Marcos in Batac town, Ilocos norte, on July 2, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

Duterte's offer to bury dictator in Heroes' Cemetery sparks outcry from anti-Marcos activists

A hero's burial for the dictator Ferdinand Marcos will open old wounds and spark street protests rather than mend rifts, anti-Marcos activists have warned, as they reacted to comments by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

He said on Sunday that he would allow a hero's burial for Marcos.

"I will allow the burial of President Marcos at the Heroes' Cemetery, not because he is a hero... but because he was a Filipino soldier. Period. That can be arranged immediately," he had told reporters.

Asked if Marcos could be buried on Sept 11, his birthday, Mr Duterte replied: "I'm okay with that. I don't mind."

He said this would "erase... one hatred" that had divided Filipinos.

Marcos and his wife Imelda, 86, were accused of plundering US$10 billion from state coffers and overseeing widespread human rights abuses by security forces for over two decades.

Their rule ended in 1986, when millions of people took to the streets in a famous military-backed "People Power" uprising, forcing the family into exile in the United States, where the patriarch died three years later at the age of 72.

But for martial law victims, giving him a hero's burial would whitewash Marcos' crimes.

And they expect protests against such a move to be headed by outgoing President Benigno Aquino, 56, whose family suffered persecution during Marcos' reign.

Mr Dan Mariano, a columnist and a victim of human rights abuse during the Marcos years, told The Straits Times that burying the strongman in the national cemetery, where the nation's most revered war heroes have been laid to rest, "will certainly draw vehement protests".

Even "left-wing formations" that Mr Duterte had invited to join his administration are likely to hit the streets, he said.

"Burying him at the (cemetery) will whitewash all crimes he committed against the people and will send the wrong message to the world: that in the Philippines, crime pays," Mr Bonifacio Ilagan, who was detained and tortured by Marcos forces, told Agence France-Presse.

Mr Aquino, who will step down as President next month, will continue to oppose a hero's burial for Marcos, his spokesman, Mr Herminio Coloma, said. Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of the late leader, meanwhile thanked Mr Duterte "for this kind, rightful and healing gesture". He said in a statement: "It is this kind of pronouncement that we hope could end the decades of divisiveness that have been imposed upon us by our leaders."

The younger Mr Marcos, 58, has been leading a stunning comeback that has seen his family return to the political elite.

Mr Marcos ran for vice-president in the May 9 elections, though he looks set to lose narrowly to Representative Leni Robredo.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2016, with the headline ''Protests if Marcos gets hero's burial''. Print Edition | Subscribe