MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos was buried “like a thief in the night” Friday at the country’s Heroes’ Cemetery in a secrecy-shrouded ceremony which opponents said mocked the democratic triumph Filipinos won when a “people power” revolt ousted him three decades ago.
Marcos’s daughter, Imee, expressed relief after her father’s interment at the heavily guarded cemetery in metropolitan Manila, which she said fulfilled his last wish. Enraged pro-democracy activists, however, stressed the decades-long debate over the ex-president’s final resting place was far from over and protested across the metropolis.
Bonifacio Ilagan, a left-wing activist who was detained and tortured during during Marcos’s rule, said the dictator was buried “like a thief in the night” in a stealthy fashion similar to when he suddenly placed the country under martial rule. A lawmaker considered asking the Supreme Court to exhume the newly buried Marcos.
“It’s very much like when he declared martial law in 1972,” Ilagan told The Associated Press. “This is so Marcos style. I want to rush to the cemetery to protest this. I feel so enraged.”
Imee Marcos, however, thanked the many Filipinos who “were with us in hoping and praying for nearly three decades to see this day.”
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said authorities had finalized the burial plans with the Marcos family and that his remains was flown by an air force helicopter from his northern Ilocos Norte hometown for burial in the military-run cemetery in Manila.
The dictator’s widow, Imelda, who was clad in black, and her children attended the simple ceremony, along with dozens of relatives and friends.
After landing at an air base, Marcos’s remains were brought by a black limousine to the cemetery, where his flag-draped wooden coffin was put on a horse-drawn carrier and later carried by military pallbearers to the gravesite, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
A 21-gun salute by military honor troops rang out during the burial ceremony.
“We rendered the simplest of honors befitting the former president in compliance to the desire of the family,” Padilla said.
Asked why the burial was kept from the public, Padilla said it was the Marcos family’s desire “to keep it private.”
Still, the highly secretive funeral shocked many pro-democracy advocates and human rights victims who had planned several protests nationwide Friday to oppose the burial at the cemetery, where former presidents, soldiers and national artists have been interred, unaware that funeral plans were already underway.
Burying someone accused of massive rights violations and plunder at the heroes’ cemetery has long been an emotional and divisive issue in the Philippines, where Marcos was ousted by a largely nonviolent army-backed uprising in 1986. At the height of the political turbulence, Marcos flew to Hawaii, where he lived with his wife and children until he died in 1989.
The powerful family has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and Imelda Marcos and two of her children eventually ran for public office and won stunning political comebacks. One son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., ran for vice president earlier this year and won more than 14 million votes, but lost by a slim margin.
In 1993, Marcos’s body was taken to his hometown in Ilocos Norte, where it has been displayed in a glass coffin and became a tourist attraction. But his family fought for his remains to be transferred to the heroes’ cemetery.
Rodrigo Duterte, who took over the presidency in June, backed the dictator’s burial at the cemetery, saying it was his right as a president and soldier. It was a political risk in a country where pro-democracy advocates celebrate Marcos’s ouster each year.
Duterte was flying to Peru to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, but officials said he was aware of the burial.
Last week, the Supreme Court dismissed seven petitions, including from former torture victims, which argued that an honorable burial for the dictator was “illegal and contrary to law, public policy, morals and justice.”
Opponents also cited Duterte’s political debt to the Marcos family, which supported his presidency.
The court ruled that Marcos was never convicted by final judgment of any offense involving moral turpitude, adding the convictions cited by anti-Marcos petitioners were civil in nature.
While critics may disregard Marcos as president due to his human rights abuses, the court said he cannot be denied the right to be acknowledged as a former legislator, a defense secretary, a military member, a war veteran and a Medal of Valor awardee.
“While he was not all good,” the 15-member court said, “he was not pure evil either.”