MANILA >> The presumptive Philippine president-elect said Monday he will allow the immediate burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at a heroes’ cemetery and will support the release of ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from detention on corruption charges, in moves likely to spark anti-government protests.
Rodrigo Duterte, who won the May 9 presidential election with a large margin based on an unofficial tally, has been outlining his plans at a series of news conferences. He is due to be inaugurated as president on June 30 at the end of outgoing leader Benigno Aquino III’s six-year term.
Asked if he is ready to face street protests for making such politically sensitive decisions, Duterte said he would allow the rallies, even if they drag on for weeks.
Duterte, 71, told reporters that Marcos deserves to be buried at the heroes’ cemetery because he was once a soldier and not because he was a hero. He said the burial, opposed by Aquino, left-wing groups and nationalists, has divided Filipinos for far too long.
Marcos’ followers in northern Ilocos Norte province, where his preserved body is displayed in a glass coffin, have been angered by his fate, Duterte said. By allowing him to be buried at the heroes’ cemetery in metropolitan Manila, “I would erase from amongst our people one hatred,” he said.
Aquino and other Marcos opponents have cited massive graft and human-rights violations during Marcos’ administration as reasons for refusing such a burial. Marcos was ousted in a 1986 “people power” revolt.
Duterte argued that those buried at the cemetery were not all heroes, and said he would leave it up to the military whether to bestow full funeral honors. Such a burial, he said, “can be arranged immediately.”
Asked about speculation that the burial might take place on Marcos’ birthday on Sept. 11, Duterte replied that he was OK with that date.
Duterte, the crime-fighting mayor of southern Davao City and a former government prosecutor, said he would support Arroyo’s release from hospital detention because he thought the case against her is weak. He said he offered to pardon the former president in a recent telephone conversation but she refused.
“I said ‘Ma’am, you want me to pardon you? It’s not because we are friends but because I do not think that there is a good case against you,’” Duterte said.
He said Arroyo refused the offer because she said that would require she admit wrongdoing and she wasn’t guilty of any crime. Duterte said he told her that he would support her if she applied for bail, and that her long detention, partly caused by trial delays, was a ground for dismissal of her case because of constitutional guarantees of fast and fair trials.
The 69-year-old Arroyo, who is suffering from a neck ailment, finished her tumultuous term in 2010. Since then, she has been charged with vote fraud and corruption and was detained at a government-run hospital.
She has accused her successor, Aquino, of pursuing a political vendetta.
Aquino was elected in 2010 on a promise to rid the Philippines of corruption and vowed to prosecute Arroyo and her inner circle, accusing them of stealing money for personal gain and of creating a culture of impunity in which corrupt practices flourished. Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing.
Duterte said he also plans to release detained communist guerrillas, including Communist Party of the Philippines leaders Benito Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma, to foster peace talks to settle the decades-long Marxist insurgency.
The Tiamzons, who were captured by government forces in March 2014, face several charges, including murder.
Duterte has said he plans to offer four Cabinet positions to the guerrillas or their allies, such as the labor and land reform departments.
The brash Duterte, who campaigned for the presidency on a pledge to end crime and corruption within six months, has announced politically daring moves, including plans to reimpose the death penalty by hanging for drug dealers and other hardcore criminals, and to introduce a nighttime curfew for minors.