Philippine former first lady Imelda Marcos looks at the embalmed body of her husband former leader Ferdinand Marcos prior to an election campaign sortie in the town of Batac, Ilocos norte province north of Manila on March 26, 2010. Kissing the glass casket of her dead but unburied husband, ex-Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos hit the campaign trail to revive her political career at the ripe old of 80. AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippine former first lady Imelda Marcos looks at the embalmed body of her husband, the late Ferdinand Marcos, in 2010 © AFP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is pushing ahead with controversial plans to bury the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila, despite the threat of protests and an online petition that has garnered tens of thousands of signatures.

On Sunday Mr Duterte gave the go-ahead to move the body of the late leader from the mausoleum where it is on display in northern Ilocos Norte province.

The move, scheduled for September 18, has generated controversy and divided the nation, with critics pointing to the brutal, oppressive and corrupt nature of Marcos’s two-decade regime.

“Burying Ferdinand E Marcos alongside our nation’s heroes who fought for our freedom is an affront to the thousands of lives tortured and murdered during his reign,” read an online petition that has garnered nearly 30,000 signatures.

“Laying him to rest at the Heroes’ Cemetery is a disdainful act that will send a message to the future of our nation — our children — that the world we live in rewards forceful and violent hands.”

Mr Duterte — whose father served in Marcos’s cabinet — brushed off criticism about the plan, telling local media that protesters “can demonstrate all they want”.

While campaigning for the presidency this year, Mr Duterte vowed to move Marcos’s body from its current home in an air-conditioned glass coffin in Batac city to the Manila military cemetery.

It was necessary for the country to move forward, he said, in a comment echoed by many Filipinos.

“I don’t think he is a hero . . . [But] I believe it is time to bury him so we can move on,” said Bim Baron, an IT specialist from Davao city, where Mr Duterte was previously mayor.

“Burying him would be a symbolic way of healing this torn nation. He’s a former president and a soldier. The constitution is clear about it, he can be laid to rest there.”

Benigno Aquino III, Mr Duterte’s predecessor, had previously blocked such efforts, with his family blaming Marcos for the 1983 assassination of his father, former opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.

The killing in Manila international airport fuelled outrage in the country, eventually culminating in the the People Power Revolution that toppled Marcos in 1986.

“This decision will not bring unity to our country; it will only deepen the unhealed wounds of the survivors and family members of victims of the terrible years under the Marcos presidency,” said Leni Robredo, the country’s vice-president.

“It is our responsibility to teach our children the heroism and sacrifice of our forefathers. And Mr Marcos is no hero.”

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