MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Ferdinand Marcos was being buried at a heroes' cemetery Friday in a secrecy-shrouded ceremony, police officials said, despite growing opposition after the Supreme Court ruled that one of Asia's most infamous tyrants can be entombed in the cemetery.
Police Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde said authorities earlier finalized the burial plans with the Marcos family Thursday, adding the former president's remains were flown by helicopter from his northern Ilocos Norte hometown for burial in the military-run cemetery in Manila.
Albayalde, who was helping oversee security for the burial, told The Associated Press by cellphone that the dictator's widow, Imelda, and her children were attending the simple ceremony, which he described as "really like just a family affair."
"There will be no state funeral. It will be very simple," Albayalde said, adding the remains were taken to his tomb as a 21-gun salute rang out by military honor troops.
Still, the highly secretive funeral plan shocked many pro-democracy advocates and human rights victims who 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 for the dictator were already underway.
Leftwing activist Bonifacio Ilagan, who was tortured and detained during Marcos' time in power, protested the stealthy funeral plans and said Marcos was being buried "like a thief in the night."
"It's very much like when he declared martial law in 1972," Ilagan told The AP. "This is so Marcos style. I want to rush to the cemetery to protest this. I feel so enraged, I feel so agitated."
He said he and other stunned activists, gathering outside the Supreme Court in Manila for the previously scheduled "Black Friday" protest against the burial, had not decided their next step yet.
Burying someone accused of massive rights violations and widespread corruption 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 returned 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."