MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine historical commission, former human rights victims and left-wing groups on Tuesday opposed President Rodrigo Duterte's approval of a plan to bury late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a heroes' cemetery, reigniting a politically divisive and emotional debate.
A coalition of groups opposed to the plan said Marcos was "a plunderer" who "treated the national coffers as his personal piggy bank" and "a dictator who ordered the torture, detention and deaths of thousands who dared question his rule."
They announced plans to hold a protest rally on Sunday. Rep. Edcel Lagman, a member of the coalition, said they will study the possibility of seeking an injunction blocking the burial from the Supreme Court.
Duterte gave the go-ahead Sunday for the burial, which is expected next month. He said Marcos, who was ousted in a 1986 "people power" revolt, is qualified to be buried at the military-run cemetery as a former soldier and president.
Maria Serena Diokno, head of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, said Tuesday the commission sent a letter to Duterte last month objecting to the plan. She said a study by the commission showed that Marcos' military record "is fraught with myths, factual inconsistencies and lies." She said the commission had not received a response.
The study found that Marcos lied about receiving U.S. medals which he claimed as early as about 1945; that his guerrilla unit, the Ang Mga Maharlika, and his leadership of it were never officially recognized, and that U.S. officials did not recognize Marcos' promotion from major in 1944 to lieutenant colonel by 1947.
It said some of Marcos' actions as a soldier were officially called into question by senior officials in the U.S. military, who it said described Marcos' command over the Allas Intelligence Unit as usurpation, his commissioning of officers as without authority, his collection of money for an airfield as illegal, and his listing of his name on rosters of different units as a malicious criminal act.
The commission said Philippine military rules bar the burial at the cemetery of personnel who have been dishonorably discharged from service, or who were convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude. While Marcos was not dishonorably separated from the service, it said he suffered a worse and more dishonorable fate: he was removed by the collective action of the Filipino people in 1986.
Being an ex-president also does not automatically mean burial at the cemetery, with seven out of 11 deceased former presidents not buried there, it added.
Boni Ilagan, an activist who was tortured during Marcos' presidency, said, "If we bury the dictator at the cemetery we are sending a signal to the whole world that in the Philippines, crime pays."