Philippines' Duterte to allow burial of Marcos at heroes' cemetery

MANILA (Reuters) - President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday he would allow the burial of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Philippines’ heroes’ cemetery, despite strong opposition.

Presidential candidate Rodrigo "Digong" Duterte talks to reporters in Davao city in southern Philippines, May 9, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The southern mayor has yet to be declared winner of the May 9 election, but an official vote count by an election commission-accredited watchdog showed him six million votes ahead of his closest rival. He is due to assume office on June 30.

“I will allow Marcos burial in Libingan ng Mga Bayani, not because he was a hero but because he was a Filipino soldier,” Duterte said in Davao City, referring to the 142-hectare cemetery in Manila where some of the country’s leaders are buried.

Marcos fled to Hawaii in 1986 following a popular revolt. He had ruled the Philippines for 20 years, during which time his family amassed an estimated $10 billion.

He died in exile in 1989 and his embalmed body is currently on display in a mausoleum in his hometown in the northern Philippines.

The government has recovered less than $5 billion in cash, stocks, real estate, artworks and jewelry from the Marcoses and their cronies.

Past governments have refused to allow Marcos’ family to bury him at the heroes’ cemetery, amid opposition from tens of thousands of Filipinos, including the victims of human rights abuses under his rule and their families.

Marcos’ son and namesake ran for vice president and was trailing by 200,000 to 300,000 votes in an unofficial vote count to administration candidate Leni Robredo, a congresswoman from the central Philippines.

Earl Parreno, analyst at the Institute of Political and Electoral Reforms, said Duterte’s decision to bury Marcos at the heroes’ cemetery would be divisive.

“It’s a wrong move to spend political capital this early when he should be consolidating support,” he told Reuters, adding the decision could fuel protests.

Duterte could also anger Filipinos if he frees former president Gloria Arroyo, who has been under detention in hospital for five years on corruption charges.

“She should also be released,” Duterte has said, noting the former leader’s co-accused had been out on bail.

Arroyo was re-elected for third and last time as member of the lower house of Congress.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Andrew Roche