MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Pro-democracy activists on Monday protested the Philippine president’s declaration of a provincial holiday marking the birthday of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and other steps they said promote a political rehabilitation of his family.
More than 150 people rallied outside the national Heroes’ Cemetery in metropolitan Manila as the Marcos family and guests celebrated his 100th birthday. Marcos was ousted in a 1986 “people power” revolt and died in Hawaii three years later.
With riot police standing by, the protesters burned portraits combining half of Marcos’ face with half of President Rodrigo Duterte’s face. Others held placards reading “Marcos no hero.” Pro-Marcos supporters yelled his name in a separate rally nearby.
“This ‘celebration’ is part of the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses, courtesy of President Duterte,” said protest leader Bonifacio Ilagan. “Marcos has never been worthy of a tribute, not even a provincial holiday. To glorify Marcos is to absolve him of his crimes against the Filipino people.”
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Duterte, whose presidential campaign was backed by one of Marcos’ daughters, has declared Marcos’ birthday a holiday in the late president’s northern home province of Ilocos Norte. In November, he approved Marcos’s burial in a secrecy-shrouded ceremony in Heroes’ Cemetery, shocking democracy and rights advocates and sparking protests.
Duterte has defended his pro-Marcos actions. “Why? What’s wrong?” Duterte asked during a news conference over the weekend when asked about his holiday declaration. “He was a president, to the Ilocanos, he was the greatest president,” he said, referring to Ilocos Norte residents.
Last month, he said the Marcos family has indicated a willingness to return a still-unspecified amount of money and “a few gold bars” to help ease the government’s expected budget deficit. Duterte said without elaborating that he was considering designating three people to negotiate with the Marcoses over the return of the assets.
His remarks sparked criticism and warnings from anti-Marcos groups, which said the Marcos family should return all ill-gotten wealth without conditions and be made to account before Philippine courts.
Marcos died without admitting any wrongdoing, including accusations that he and his family amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion while he was in power.
He placed the Philippines under martial rule in 1972, a year before his term was to expire. He padlocked Congress, ordered the arrest of political rivals and left-wing activists and ruled by decree.
A Hawaii court found Marcos liable for human rights violations and awarded $2 billion from his estate to compensate more than 9,000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
Associated Press video journalist Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.