Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Ferdinand Marcos Granted Hero's Burial By Philippines Supreme Court


All right. Some news now in the Philippines. That country's former dictator Ferdinand Marcos is closer to a final resting place. Marcos died in exile in Hawaii more than two decades ago, but his embalmed remains were brought back and kept under glass in his home province. A recent proposal to bury him in Manila's Heroes Cemetery went to the Supreme Court. Opponents argued the former strongman was no hero and did not deserve such a burial. Well, today the court ruled 9 to 5 to put Marcos in the ground. Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Almost 30 years after his death, Ferdinand Marcos still stirs deep feelings among many Filipinos. Lawyers for those tortured, imprisoned or disappeared during his dictatorship were adamant when the case was argued before the court in September that Marcos didn't deserve a hero's burial. Attorney Edcel Lagman.


EDCEL LAGMAN: Let not the dictator Marcos perpetrate injustice beyond the grave.

SULLIVAN: But the government arguing on behalf of the country's new president, Rodrigo Duterte, whose order to allow the burial sparked the challenge, offered a different take. Solicitor General Jose Calida.


JOSE CALIDA: As the father of this nation, President Duterte desires to begin the long overdue healing of our nation and to exorcise the ghosts of enmity and bitterness that prevent us from moving forward.

SULLIVAN: The government's main argument, though, wasn't emotional, but legal, and that's the way the court apparently saw things today.

ARIES ARUGAY: From a legal standpoint, there is nothing in the existing laws of the country that prevents even a former dictator to be buried in the national cemetery, especially dictators who were never convicted in any court.

SULLIVAN: That's Aries Arugay, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines. He doesn't expect much of a backlash from today's decision, especially with so many Filipinos too young to remember the abuses of Marcos' martial law years.

ARUGAY: It is more the minority, particularly the more educated, those that are living in urban areas, those who have either direct or indirect experience with martial law. They are the ones who are outraged.

SULLIVAN: And here's the thing. The Marcos brand - it's resurgent. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the strongman son, came within a hair of winning the vice presidency in last May's election. Many people arguing that the Marcos years - the early ones anyway - were the golden years economically, and that subsequent democratically-elected governments just haven't delivered.

That helps explain why a tough guy like President Duterte is so popular. His poll ratings still very favorable as he pursues his controversial war on drugs - close to 2,000 alleged drug suspects dead in encounters with police since he took office more than four months ago and some 3,000 more killed vigilante style often with signs attached to their bodies proclaiming them as dealers. As his solicitor general noted, Duterte hopes that Marcos' burial will help bring closure to a previous dark chapter in the country's history. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.