MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Thousands of pro-democracy activists marked the anniversary of the 1986 revolt that ousted Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos with a warning against what they say are the incumbent president's dictatorial tendencies.
The activists gathered Saturday at the "people power" revolt shrine along the main highway in metropolitan Manila, where millions of Filipinos converged 31 years ago in a largely peaceful uprising to oust Marcos. A much larger rally in support of President Rodrigo Duterte and his crackdown on illegal drugs was held at Manila's Rizal Park, where police estimated the crowd to have surpassed more than 200,000. Many of the demonstrators arrived in buses and jeeps with local officials.
"This is proof of the real 'people power,'" Communications Secretary Andanar told the crowd.
The army-backed 1986 revolt ended a presidency marked by massive corruption, abuse of power and human rights violations.
Duterte's administration commemorated the 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 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 re-imposition 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.
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 that Duterte may already be starting to curtail civil liberties.
"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 color associated with opposition groups.