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A test to Duterte's popularity

Ana P. Santos, ManilaAugust 16, 2016

Philippine President Duterte faces opposition over his move to allow burial for former dictator Marcos. Critics also find similarities between Marcos' dictatorship and Duterte's rule. Ana P. Santos reports from Manila.

Protesters hold umbrellas with an anti-Marcos slogan during a demonstration at a park in Manila on August 14, 2016, against plans to honour the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos with a state burial (Photo: Getty Images/AFP/T. Aljibe)
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Aljibe

Thousands of people recently took to the streets braving strong rains to protest President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to allow a hero's burial for former president Ferdinand Marcos on September 18.

Victims of torture during the Martial Law years of the Marcos dictatorship raised their fists in indignation at the rally. In solidarity with them were those who took part in a peaceful revolution in 1986 that overthrew Marcos, forcing him and his family to flee to Hawaii where he died in 1989.

He was never buried. Marcos' remains are in a refrigerated crypt in his home province in northern Philippines.

"We cannot allow our history to be rewritten. We must never forget," said Che Lipa, who was at the protest with his wife, Lita.

Former Philippine first lady and current Congress Representative Imelda Marcos (C) kisses the glass enclosure holding the preserved body of her late husband, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, during her 85th birthday celebration in the town of Batac, Ilocos Norte province, northern Philippines, 02 July 2014 (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/F. R. Malasig)
Marcos' remains are in a refrigerated crypt in his home province in northern PhilippinesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. R. Malasig

The couple, both 70, met in university where Che Lipa was already a student activist who opposed Martial Law. In 1986, the couple and their young children marched some 35 kilometers from their home to EDSA, the Philippine capital's major highway, where civilians gathered for a peaceful face off with the military.

"I was one of those who stopped the (military) tanks back then," Lipa proudly recalled.

Alarming similarities

Thinking back about the Marcos years, the two could not help but notice alarming similarities with the Duterte administration. Lipa was particularly concerned about the recent surge in summary executions. An estimated 135 suspected drug dealers were killed and more than 1,800 arrested in the first two weeks of Duterte's presidency, which began on July 1.

The killings are trademarked by the victim's face covered with packaging tape and a cardboard sign reading: "I'm a pusher. Do not be like me."

"Martial Law (under Marcos) also started by instilling fear in people. It's like you instill fear in a dog to teach compliance and obedience. We don't want that to happen again," said Lipa.

Philippinen Manila Proteste
'We cannot allow our history to be rewritten. We must never forget,' says Che Lipa, who was at the protest with his wife, LitaImage: DW/A. P. Santos

Marcos ruled the Philippines for 21 years and enforced Martial Law from 1972-1981. During that time, more than 60,000 people were detained, more than 30,000 tortured, and an estimated 3,000 killed.

"There were 75,700 claimants who were killed, tortured or arrested by Marcos; those who defied his rule. Isn't that enough evidence that Marcos is not a hero?" said Etta Rosales, chairperson of the former Commission on Human Rights, in her address to the protesters.

Senator Riza Hontiveros, who authored a Senate resolution opposing the planned hero's burial for Marcos, also spoke at the congregation.

Yuan Abana of Kilusan hopes that President Duterte will listen to the people calling for him to reconsider his decision to have a hero's burial for former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos (Photo: Ana P. Santos, Correspondent from Manila)
Yuen Abana hopes that Duterte will listen to the people calling for him to reconsider his decision on Marcos' burialImage: DW/A. P. Santos

"A place for heroes is only for heroes. It is no place for a dictator responsible for killing many others who were the real heroes," said Hontiveros.

"Marcos went down in history as an unrepentant enemy of our heroes. To honor the man as hero and bury his remains in a place reserved for the brave and martyred is an inimitable political abomination. President Duterte must not commit this atrocious mistake," Hontiveros added.

A voter's remorse

Yuen Abana, a community leader, says the Marcos burial is another reason some of their members are now saying they wished they hadn't voted for Duterte. The disillusionment mainly stems from the crackdown on drug dealers that critics say unjustly targets the poor small-time dealers instead of the major drug lords.

"There is no public clamor to have Marcos buried at the Hero's Cemetery but there is a clamor not to have him laid to rest there. We are hoping the president will listen," said Abana.


But it appears that Duterte is unfazed by the protests calling for him to reconsider his decision. While the right to assembly and protest is acknowledged, it will be "governance as usual" for Duterte.

Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a visit at the wake of killed soldiers in Davao city, southern Philippines, 07 August 2016 (Photo: picture alliance/dpa/C. Ebrano)
Many in the Philippines find similarities between Marcos' dictatorship and Duterte's ruleImage: picture alliance/dpa/C. Ebrano

"The President's stance, however, remains firm: There is clarity in the regulations governing the late President Marcos' burial. The matter is no longer up for debate," said Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.

"The President shall therefore remain undistracted… with his full and undivided attention in winning the war against drugs, criminality, and corruption," added Andanar.

The group that organized the demonstrations says the people will continue to hold a series of protests along with a signature campaign to oppose the scheduled burial of the late strongman.