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Former Philippines Dictator Eligible For Burial In Heroes' Cemetery, Court Rules

The highest court in the Philippines has voted to allow the body of the country's former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, to be buried in the Heroes' Cemetery outside Manila.

The court ruled 9 to 5 against a challenge that would have blocked the burial, brought by victims of Marcos's regime. As Michael Sullivan reports:

"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 heroes burial."

"A Marcos burial would glorify a dictator and mock the heroism of desaparecidos and other victims of Marcos' atrocities," argued Edcel Lagman, a lawyer for some of the so-called "desparecidos," or disappeared, as well as other victims of the Marcos regime.

"We beseech the honorable Supreme Court to foreclose a national tragedy by prohibiting the burial of Marcos' remains [at the Heroes' Cemetery]," Lagman said during arguments.

During his rule, Marcos' family and cronies amassed an estimated "$10 billion in ill-gotten wealth," Reuters reports, and thousands of suspected rebels and political foes were killed.

Protesters listen to the ruling of the Philippine Supreme Court allowing the body of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the country's Heroes' Cemetery.
Bullit Marquez / AP
Protesters listen to the ruling of the Philippine Supreme Court allowing the body of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the country's Heroes' Cemetery.

Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989. His remains were returned to the Philippines four years later where they've been displayed in a glass sarcophagus since.

As The New York Times reported at the time of his death, then-president Corazon Aquino initially barred the dictator's body from being brought back to the Philippines, saying her decision was for "the safety of those who would take the death of Mr. Marcos in widely and passionately conflicting ways."

Aquino said she would leave it "to others, and ultimately to history," to assess Mr. Marcos's rule, which "touched the life of every Filipino who was his contemporary," The Times further reported.

Despite the track record of his regime, in 2016 the Marcos name still draws followers. The former dictator's son, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., almost became vice president in this year's election. He collected 38 percent of the vote, just one point behind the winner, as Sullivan reported for NPR from Manila in September.

The court challenge came after the country's president, Rodrigo Duterte, ordered that the burial be allowed, and the government's argument sidestepped the history of the Marcos regime in favor of a straight legal argument.

"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," said Aries Arugay, who studies political science at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, "especially dictators who were never convicted in any court."

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Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.