MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Friday ruled out a burial for dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the national heroes' cemetery in Manila. "Not during my watch," he said.
Aquino told The Associated Press in an interview that he was finalizing a decision on his vice president's proposal to bury the strongman with military honors in his northern Philippine hometown, but that burial in the capital was out of the question.
Marcos' widow, Imelda, has long pushed for the burial of her husband in the heroes' cemetery, which is reserved for presidents, soldiers, statesmen and national artists. She is opposed by pro-democracy and left-wing groups, which say the late dictator committed massive human rights violations and plundered the nation's coffers during his two-decade rule.
Marcos was ousted in a 1986 "people power" revolt led by current President Benigno Aquino III's late mother, Corazon Aquino. Marcos died three years later in exile in Hawaii. His body was returned in 1993 to his northern Philippine hometown of Batac in Ilocos Norte province, where it has been displayed in a glass coffin and has become a tourist attraction.
Even 25 years after his downfall, Marcos is a divisive figure in the Philippines. Aquino has refused to decide alone where he should be buried, saying he would naturally be biased, so he asked Vice President Jejomar Binay to study the issue.
"I wanted to be fair to all parties concerned, to those who think Marcos is a great individual, to those who think Marcos is the worst evil (that) visited our country," he said.
Aquino confirmed earlier news reports that Binay recommended that Marcos be buried with military honors in Ilocos Norte.
Aquino said it would be "very difficult" to allow Marcos to be buried with military honors, "but again, we have to be a leader of the entire nation."
Officials were trying to verify if military honors were already accorded to Marcos after his remains were flown back to his hometown of Batac in 1993. If that was the case, "then the only remaining act that has to be done is the actual burial in Ilocos Norte," Aquino said.
Aquino noted the large number of human rights victims, including some of his own close friends, who suffered under Marcos. He said a friend who was tortured during Marcos' reign only recently acknowledged to him that she was raped by several people in detention.
The victims have never even received an official acknowledgment of their suffering or an apology from the government, Aquino said.
Aquino said he plans to commission a group to interview the victims so their ordeals could be stored in historical records "with the end in view of making sure that these don't happen again."
Marcos is reviled by many, including thousands of former political prisoners, and his alleged plundering of the economy remains the subject of protracted litigation. But he still enjoys a degree of popularity — particularly in Ilocos Norte, where his family holds significant political power.
Imelda Marcos won a congressional seat representing Ilocos Norte last year. A daughter was elected provincial governor and a son won a Senate seat — the post his father held before being elected president in 1965.
A survey by the independent Social Weather Stations in March showed that Filipinos are almost evenly divided over whether Marcos should be buried at the heroes' cemetery. A majority of members of the House of Representatives have backed a resolution urging Aquino to allow it, extolling the late president as a patriot who built the country's modern foundations with his infrastructure projects.
The Makati Business Club, a group of top business executives, blasted the resolution, saying it was "a gross distortion of the late dictator's true legacy of autocracy, ruined democratic institutions, violent political repression, unprecedented wholesale corruption, shameless nepotism, crony capitalism."
While he wanted to put an end to the long-hanging issue, Aquino said he was concerned Marcos's burial might open old wounds.
"It really is difficult that instead of moving us closer to having a closure, it really might just revive all of the pain, the anguish and, shall we say, the thirst for justice," Aquino said.
Associated Press writers Oliver Teves and Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this report.