MANILA (Reuters) - Supporters of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos gathered on Monday to celebrate his 100th birthday outside his resting place, amid protests against what his foes believe are moves to restore his powerful family’s tainted image.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been accused of glorifying the authoritarian rule of Marcos, granted the family’s request to declare his birthday a holiday in his home province of Ilocos Norte and said on Saturday the former strongman was a “hero” to many Filipinos.
Marcos family supporters held a short rally at the cemetery, where a memorial service was planned, but dispersed before the arrival of about 200 protesters. The protesters carried placards in the pouring rain denouncing Marcos and what they say is Duterte’s “Marcosian” leadership style.
Marcos ruled the Philippines for two decades and put the entire country under martial law in 1972, during which time tens of thousands of suspected communist rebels and political foes were killed.
Critics lament what they see as his dictator-like tendencies and fear history is repeating itself, with widespread allegations of human rights abuses during Duterte’s war on drugs that has killed thousands of Filipinos.
Duterte has also placed Mindanao under military control until the end of the year to tackle Islamist extremists, the longest phase of martial law since Marcos. He has repeatedly threatened to expand it to the rest of the country.
Opponents are outraged by what they see as a lack of sensitivity by Duterte and the possibility his government could grant the Marcos family immunity from prosecution in exchange for the return of part of what many believe was its ill-gotten wealth.
Some independent experts have estimated as much as $10 billion was siphoned off during Marcos’ rule.
The family has offered to return “a few gold bars” but may ask for immunity from criminal prosecution, according to Duterte.
Karapatan, a human rights advocacy group, said Duterte’s “shameless concessions” with the Marcos family “will whitewash Marcos’ heinous crimes against the Filipino people, while his family creeps back into power”.
Marcos was overthrown in a 1986 “people power” uprising and died in exile a few years later. His family started to win back political power after returning to the Philippines in the 1990s.
His wife Imelda is a congresswoman, daughter Imee is Ilocos Norte governor, and his son and namesake, popularly known as Bongbong, has sought a vote recount after finishing runner-up in last year’s vice presidential election.
Duterte allowed Marcos to be buried with military honours at the heroes’ cemetery in Manila last year, despite strong opposition, saying he was fulfilling a campaign promise and all presidents were entitled to be buried there.
Additional reporting by Ronn Bautista; Editing by Martin Petty and Paul Tait