Philippines: Thousands protest state burial of dictator

Peoples Power Monument, EDSA, Manila, November 18.

The burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes’ Cemetery (Libingan ng mga Bayani — LNMB) was hurriedly and secretively carried out, with military-style logistical support.

Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 until he was overthrown in the Peoples Power EDSA Uprising of 1986. He died in exile in the US three years later.

On November 18, a military helicopter brought the body from Ilocos Norte, where the former dictator’s body was displayed in the Marcos Museum, to the LNMB. The marines and the police were mobilised to encircle the perimeter of the cemetery. They were placed on red alert.

The enabler was President Rodrigo Duterte. It was, all along, a state sponsored burial. Duterte ordered it, the Supreme Court authorised it. The burial was accompanied with a 21-gun salute and the pompous ceremony that accompanies an official burial.

The government may have thought that, given the dictator was overthrown 30 years ago, there would be only muted opposition. However, thousands, predominantly youth and university students, spontaneously walked out of class rooms and immediately took to the streets to protest the burial, sending the President a clear message that this is a miscalculation he will be made to regret.

A new generation took to the streets demonstrating that it would be the guardians of a history that was also proudly made by the generation of the “first quarter storm” — the student radicalisation that was the basis for an organised mass movement that led to the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship.

The young protestors chanted the slogans of the martial law generation: “Makibaka, Huwag Matakot!” and “Marcos, Hitler, Diktador, Tuta!” They sang “Bayan Ko” — the Filipino revolutionary song that became an anthem of the opposition to the Marcos regime. Most of them do not belong to any radical organisation. They are students of history. A history that cannot be covered up — a product of the continuing organisation and education by the martial law generation.

Significantly, the young people also sense history in the making — the climate of fear leading to martial law, of more repressions and another dictatorship. A new generation has signalled that it will not stand by and watch this happen. They have sent a warning to the Duterte administration. They have now taken up the cudgel.

With the authority of these mass rallies they have declared that the protests will continue. They have put forward some demands, chanting “hukayin” – “dig up the body” and bury it where it belongs — in the dustbin of history.

Protesters rallied at the Peoples Power Monument, which commemorates the overthrow of Marcos, where they were addressed by speakers including leaders of the left-wing Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), which pledged to accompany the youth in this struggle and in the coming struggles under an administration that refuses to learn the lessons of history.

However, PLM Chairperson Sonny Melencio later cautioned those in the organised left against sectarianism.

“I think we should really handle the spontaneous participation of mostly young people in the anti-Marcos burial rally in a very careful way, devoid of drum-beating of any group and the lambasting of other groups,” he said.

“There’s a great number of non-aligned youth who participated in the protests and we don’t want them to be put off by any sectarian antic. Sectarianism is poison to a newly emerging movement.

“It’s one thing to disallow the trapos [traditional politicians] — whether in office or not in office — to take centre stage, but it’s another thing to block other mass organisations from participating.”

Referring to the centre-left Citizens Action Party (Akbayan), which supported the government of previous President Pinoy Aquino, Melencio said: “Let Akbayan be there, and let their ideas on how to move forward in the protest against the Marcos burial at LNMB be propagated, even if we may disagree with them.

“Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred thoughts contend. Let the youth be unhindered, physically and mentally, in their fight for truth, justice, social liberation and freedom. Let the new movement emerge.”

[Reihana Mohideen heads the International Desk of the PLM.]

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