MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte has broken with his predecessors and finally ordered the burial of Ferdinand Marcos, the infamous former Philippine president who died 27 years ago, in a cemetery reserved for war heroes and eminent individuals.
Duterte said burying Marcos at the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani (Heroes' Cemetery) would heal political divisions and honor Marcos as a World War II veteran. The interment has been provisionally scheduled for Sept. 18, according to the Philippine Star newspaper.
The disgraced former president is accused of plundering billions in public funds and grave abuses of human rights.
"We are a divided nation," Duterte said on Sunday, arguing that the former dictator is "qualified" for an honorable burial. "The family has that right to bury their father or husband because he was president of the Republic of the Philippines, and he was a soldier at one time".
The Marcos family has kept the former president unburied until its long-standing request that he be laid to rest in the Heroes' Cemetery is granted. Duterte's predecessors all refused permission due to opposition from his surviving victims during the martial law years.
Duterte's permission to inter Marcos risks causing friction in a nation still conflicted over the dictator's legacy. A historical commission objected to the planned burial of Marcos as a war veteran because he lied about receiving medals from the U.S., which has never recognized his guerrilla unit and rank.
Marcos ruled from 1965 to 1986. In 1972, a year before he was due to step down, he declared martial law, purportedly to quell a rising communist insurgency and to reform Philippine society. Thereafter, he ruled brutally, detained political opponents, tortured activists, and dismantled democratic institutions.
Marcos was forced from power in 1986 by a popular uprising that forced him into exile in Hawaii, where he died three years later. His embalmed remains were brought back to the Philippines in 1993, and have been preserved in a private museum in Batac in Ilocos Norte province, some 500 km north of Manila.
While official attempts to recover an alleged $10 billion illegally amassed by the Marcoses have continued, the family fortunes have rallied. The dead dictator's son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is a former senator and ran unsuccessfully for vice president in May. The younger Marcos appealed the result, and the case is being deliberated in the supreme court. Imelda Marcos, the family matriarch who caught the world's attention for her extravagance in a country mired in poverty, represents Ilocos Norte in parliament, while her daughter Imee is the governor.
Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana instructed the Philippine armed forces to make arrangements for the impending burial.
Just two months into his presidency, Duterte has made other controversial decisions. He has endorsed a violent war on narcotics that has already left 420 alleged pushers dead, and publicly shamed politicians, judges, and policemen allegedly involved with drugs.