MANILA -- Filipinos on Thursday staged protests across the country to mark the 45th anniversary of martial law declared by a former dictator, with a call to reject President Rodrigo Duterte's authoritarian policies.
Tens of thousands of Filipinos converged in key public places to call for an end to extrajudicial killings, uphold human rights and repel a looming dictatorship under Duterte.
"We are here to oppose, fight and repel the impending return of an authoritarian regime in our country," former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano said in an interview. Mariano, a prominent leftist leader, served in Duterte's cabinet for a year until a powerful congressional committee rejected his appointment this month.
Activists converged near Malacanang, the seat of power, to torch an effigy of Duterte that depicted the latter's similarity with former President Ferdinand Marcos, the late dictator who ruled for two decades in a military-backed regime. The protesters then marched toward Luneta Park in Manila where many took turns to recall experiences under Marcos' rule, criticized Duterte's war on drugs and called for democratic rights to be upheld.
"We live under a 'Dutertatorship'. It is an authoritarian regime distinctive for its policy of killing, use of fake news as a political tool to stifle dissent, and its palpable hatred of women leaders who dare stand up to blatant disregard for democracy," opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel said in a statement.
Marcos declared martial martial law in September 1972 to quell a rising communist insurgency. The declaration, however, perpetuated his stay in power for two decades until a people power revolution ended his regime in 1986 and forced him into exile until his death three years later.
The legacy of Marcos continues to polarize the Philippines. Loyalists, particularly Marcos' supporters in his hometown in northern Philippines, believed the late dictator ushered in a golden era for the Philippines through his massive infrastructure investments.
Critics, however, said the period was marked by massive human rights abuses, where political opponents and activists were abducted, tortured and killed. They have warned the public to foil the Marcoses' attempts to revise history, aided by Duterte's support for the family.
Last year, Duterte allowed Marcos' heirs to bury their patriarch in a cemetery reserved for national heroes. This month, Duterte said the Marcoses have expressed willingness to return portions of their ill-gotten wealth.
Duterte has declared Sept. 21 a "national day of protest" to recognize "the fear and indignation" of Filipinos against a repetition of human rights abuses and all other failings of government.
"I urge all protesters to act within the bounds of the law," Duterte said in his proclamation. His supporters have staged separate counter-protests in the capital.
Over 10,000 suspected drug users and peddlers have been killed in Duterte's war against drugs, according to estimates by human rights groups.