MANILA, Philippines –Hundreds of left-wing and pro-democracy activists on Saturday marked the anniversary of the 1986 revolt that ousted Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos to warn about what they say are the incumbent president’s dictatorial tendencies and condemn his decision to allow Marcos to be buried in a heroes’ cemetery.
More than 1,000 activists from different groups gathered at the “people power” revolt shrine along the main highway in the Manila metropolis where millions of Filipinos converged 31 years ago in a largely peaceful uprising to oust Marcos.
The army-backed revolt, which became a harbinger of peaceful change in authoritarian regimes worldwide, ended a presidency marked by massive corruption, abuse of power and human rights violations.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration commemorated the revolt’s anniversary austerely in the main military camp Friday near the “people power” shrine. The event was not attended by Duterte, who allowed Marcos to be buried in a heroes’ cemetery in November, sparking an outcry from pro-democracy groups.
Reacting to criticism that the government rites reflected Duterte’s cordial attitude toward the Marcoses, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the late dictator “is not that iconic in the mind of the president.”
“I think it is too much to say that he is the new Macoy,” Abella said, using a shortened reference to Marcos.
The protesters condemned the thousands of killings of mostly poor drug suspects in a brutal crackdown Duterte ordered shortly after he took office in June and other policy changes, including his call for the reimposition of the death penalty, preferably by public hanging.
Duterte, whose father served in Marcos’ Cabinet, allowed the burial on grounds that there was no law barring his interment at the Heroes’ Cemetery, where presidents, soldiers, statesmen and national artists are buried. It was a political risk in a country where democracy advocates still celebrate Marcos’ ouster each year.
“The pile of bodies in the Duterte government’s war on drugs, arrests and killings of political activists, renewed push for death penalty, and militarization of communities affecting women and children is nothing but a U-turn to full-blown fascism,” left-wing Rep. Emmi De Jesus said.
“We will stand our ground against efforts to revert to dictatorship,” she said.
Duterte, who rose to the presidency by tapping on public exasperation with crime and corruption, has said it’s in his power to place the country under martial rule to deal with contingencies. But he denied in other speeches that he would, creating confusion and unease
Another group, called Block Marcos, warned Duterte may already be starting to curtail civil liberties without formally declaring martial law.
“One common parallelism that we see between Duterte and Marcos is the silencing of dissent,” said the group’s spokesman, Milky Babilonia. “Whenever you oppose them, you will be labeled as yellows … as supporter of narco-politics and drugs,” he said, referring to the colour associated with opposition groups.
Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, showed up at the daylong commemoration at the “people power” shrine Saturday night, along with current Vice-President Leni Robredo, who resigned from Duterte’s Cabinet in December after presidential aides barred her from attending Cabinet meetings due to her policy differences with the president.
Aquino, Robredo and other members of the once-ruling Liberal Party have expressed support to opposition Sen. Leila de Lima, a leading Duterte critic who was arrested and detained Friday on drug charges that she vehemently denied.
Duterte’s supporters held a rally and vigil at Manila’s Rizal Park late Saturday to express support for his crackdown on illegal drugs and corruption.