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Protesters Criticize Plans To Give Ferdinand Marcos A Hero's Burial

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One of the unresolved issues concerning the late, disgraced Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos is where to bury him. Since his death in 1989, his embalmed remains have been on display in a glass sarcophagus in his home village. And a proposal by the country's new president to finally give Marcos a proper burial is being challenged in that country's supreme court in Manila. Here's Michael Sullivan.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: He's been dead for 27 years, but the former Philippine strongman, Ferdinand Marcos, can still draw a crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS: (Chanting) Marcos, no hero, no honors.

SULLIVAN: Anti-Marcos demonstrators outside the Supreme Court yesterday, hundreds waving signs, chanting their opposition to his proposed burial in Manila's hero cemetery. About 50 yards down the street, another demonstration. This one, Marcos supporters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: For the past week, justices inside the court have been hearing from lawyers on both sides of the issue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDCEL LAGMAN: A Marcos burial would glorify a dictator and mock the heroism of desaparecidos and other victims of Marcos' atrocities.

SULLIVAN: That's Edcel Lagman, a lawyer for the families of some of the desaparecidos or disappeared and for other victims of the Marcos regime. He refers to the cemetery by its Tagalog name.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAGMAN: We beseech the honorable Supreme Court to foreclose a national tragedy by prohibiting the burial of Marcos' remains being in the Libingan ng mga Bayani now and forever.

SULLIVAN: Arguing just as forcefully and with even more rhetorical flourish from the other side was the country's Shakespeare-quoting solicitor general Jose Calida.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSE CALIDA: I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them. The good is often interred in their bones.

SULLIVAN: Calida's task - to defend President Duterte's decision to allow the burial.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CALIDA: Inspired by this lines, I now come to your honors to allow this state to bury the remains of former President Ferdinand Marcos, not to honor him as a hero, but to accord him the simple mortuary rights befitting a former president, commander in chief, war veteran and soldier.

SULLIVAN: For some it's a bridge too far, but for others not so much, some here too young to remember or it's just not important. And the Marcos brand is strong. The former dictator's son Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. almost became vice president in May's election collecting 38 percent of the vote, a single percentage point behind the winner.

MALOU TIQUIA: After 30 years some - probably 38 percent of the electorate are saying we are better off during the Marcos era than 30 years after which is really sad.

SULLIVAN: That's Malou Tiquia of the consulting firm PUBLiCUS Asia. She says there's a perception the country's golden years were under Marcos' rule. Since the people power revolution that toppled him, she says, change has been slow.

TIQUIA: You see the same oligarchs. You see the same failure in terms of infrastructure development, and the basic is the poor are getting poorer.

SULLIVAN: That helps explain the Marcos nostalgia and appeal, and it also helps explain how Rodrigo Duterte got elected president in May, Tiquia says, a foul-mouth, tough guy with a reputation for getting things done one way or another - his recent war on drugs, perhaps the best example.

TIQUIA: And people who supported him are really angry about the institutions and systems that we have and are hedging on that kind of a leader, very strong.

SULLIVAN: Ferdinand Marcos started out as a really strong democratically-elected leader, too, one still in search of a final resting place. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Manila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.