President Rodrigo Duterte hailed late dictator Ferdinand Marcos as a hero for many Filipinos as supporters of the former strongman mark his 100th birth anniversary on Monday.
Duterte’s latest remarks are part of an escalating campaign to rehabilitate the image of Marcos and help the family’s remarkable political comeback — with the dictator’s widow a congresswoman and their son angling to become vice president.
The outspoken Duterte, who has previously hailed Marcos as the country’s best-ever president, has declared the anniversary a holiday in Marcos’ home province of Ilocos Norte where they still wield political power.
“He was a president. To the Ilocanos, he was the greatest president. Why do we have to debate on that?” Duterte said late Saturday.
“As far as the Ilocanos (are) concerned, Marcos is a hero,” he added, calling criticisms of the former leader “hogwash” and “garbage.”
“To dwell on this thing for so long a time will just divide the nation,” he added.
Duterte, who has himself faced accusations of major human rights abuses, is a friend of the Marcos family and has played a key role in bolstering their efforts to regain the top echelons of political power.
Militant groups that opposed the hero’s burial given to Marcos are set to stage protests outside the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, according to Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary General Renato Reyes.
“There will be mass protests on Monday to mark the 100th birth anniversary of the dictator Marcos and to condemn Duterte regime’s political rehabilitation of the late strongman,” Reyes said.
“Duterte’s presidential proclamation conveniently whitewashes Marcos’ record of plunder and gross human rights violations,” he added, referring to the President’s proclamation declaring September 11 a holiday in Ilocos Norte.
On Saturday night, the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), Artist group Respond and Break the Silence against the Killings and social media group Temperamental Brats prepared a mock party in Quezon City against the birthday celebration of Marcos, called “Blow Out!”
The Southern Police District (SPD) said around 200 to 250 policemen will be deployed outside the Heroes’ Cemetery in Taguig City.
The Philippine Army will also deploy troops as it said protests rallies will be prohibited inside.
“We have prepared contingencies for the event,” SPD Director Chief Supt. Tomas Apolinario said.
Marcos, who was ousted in an army-backed popular revolt in 1986 and died in exile in Hawaii three years later, has been accused of embezzling billions of dollars from state coffers during his rule.
Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International in 2004 named him the second most corrupt leader of all time, behind Indonesian dictator Suharto.
The dictator also oversaw widespread human rights abuses to maintain his grip on the country and enable his plundering, with thousands of people killed, tortured or imprisoned, rights advocates and previous Philippine governments said.
However, no member of the Marcos clan has ever gone to prison and the family has made a stunning political comeback in recent years.
They have hosted various events in Ilocos in recent days showcasing the rule of their patriarch, including a Catholic mass and the unveiling of a plaque on Sunday at the family’s ancestral hometown of Batac.
Batac resident Lita Lampitoc, 72, summed up the adulation, saying: “We are Ilocanos so we are all for Marcos.”
Asked about the opposition to him, she said: “They do not know Marcos, we know Marcos. We don’t know anything about those angry at Marcos.”
At the unveiling of the plaque, Rene Escalante, head of a national historical commission, acknowledged differing views on Marcos’s leadership style but said his administration “had a great contribution on strengthening the nation.”
The marker mentioned how Marcos declared martial law in 1972, adding “he carried out programs, projects and laws under the slogan ‘the New Society’.”
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the dictator’s son, said the marker was a “final recognition of my father’s 21 years as president and 21 years of work as the primary nation-builder of our country.”
The Marcos son, who lost the vice-presidential election last year, has filed an election protest in hopes of overturning the result. Duterte, who was elected separately, has endorsed the protest.
Imee Marcos, the dictator’s eldest daughter and governor of Ilocos, acknowledged the fierce opposition to her father.
She called for reconciliation, saying “let finally these two sides be brought together and the polarization of our poor beleaguered nation be (ended).”
However she made no mention of any apology or any concessions that might mollify anti-Marcos forces.
Duterte stunned the nation last November by allowing Marcos to be buried at the national “Heroes’ Cemetery” despite widespread protests that he was unfit for the honor.
He has also called for the abolition of an agency tasked with recovering Marcos’s ill-gotten wealth and suggested the family could return some of the wealth in exchange for immunity from prosecution.