It was a rainy afternoon in Manhattan on Wednesday, but the sidewalk in front of the Philippine Consulate on Fifth Avenue was packed with placard-wielding protesters chanting in unison. Underneath the giant Philippine flag hanging limp from the building’s facade, one woman carried a sign that read “DIG HIM UP!”
The group was protesting a controversial Philippine Supreme Court decision that allowed a hero’s burial for former president Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator found guilty of stealing billions of U.S. dollars from national coffers and ordering the torture and murder of thousands of Filipinos under martial law. On Nov. 18, Marcos’ remains were interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the national cemetery of heroes in Manila. The ceremony, held in secret, was met with almost immediate backlash.
“My great grandfather fought against the Marcos regime during martial law,” said Terrenze Rienton, a representative of the New York and New Jersey-based Filipino organization Ugnayan Youth, as he addressed the fifty or so people gathered in front of the consulate. “I’m standing here today to continue his fight against the betrayal of the Marcos family.”
Nikay Paredes, a poet who recently moved to New York from the Philippines, said she was enraged by the news of Marcos’ burial. “There is just a blatant disregard for history,” she said.
Paredes described how her father, a student activist, was detained as a political prisoner before Marcos was deposed in 1986. “When he found out about Marcos’ burial,” Paredes said, “my father told me that it was a sad day, but the struggle continues.”
Protesters in the Philippines have called for the exhumation of Marcos’ remains and the resignation of the Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of his burial. In the past several weeks, rallies have multiplied across the Philippines and have since rippled into Filipino communities in the United States.
The demonstration in New York on Wednesday was a joint effort by national and grassroot organizations like the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, Anakbayan New York, Ugnayan Youth, Migrante New Jersey and the Damayan Migrant Workers Association. The protest – one of many staged simultaneously by Filipino communities all over the world – was scheduled to coincide with Bonifacio Day, the Filipino holiday that commemorates the 19th-century revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio, who fought for freedom against oppressive colonial rule.
In the Philippines, crowds gathered in the tens of thousands on Wednesday to fight against the decision many fear will cause the nation to forget some of the darkest years of Philippine history.
“I am inspired by the youth that mobilized today in various cities in the Philippines,” said Ruben Carranza, director of the Reparative Justice Program at the International Center for Transitional Justice based in New York. “And I am happy that we in New York can show solidarity with our own people.”
In 2003, Carranza was on the commission responsible for drafting a law that allowed over 75,000 Filipinos to register as victims of the Marcos administration. Standing in the rain on Wednesday, he spoke about his experience as a detainee during the Marcos years. At 18 years old, Carranza was arrested during a protest and kept in custody for several days. “I remember I was one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I have friends who never made it past that age.”
Several other martial law victims attended Wednesday’s rally. Linda Oalican, the executive director of the Damayan Migrant Workers Association, recounted how she spent more than six months detained by the Marcos administration. “Three of those months I was in isolation,” she said. “They tortured me, broke my left eardrum.” When she was finally released, Oalican said she went right back to the streets and rejoined the protests. “The spirit of young activism at the time could not be contained or quelled,” she said.
In front of the Philippine Consulate, that same spirit of activism was alive in both the generations that lived through Philippine martial law and those that inherited the fight against fascist rule.
“It did not end with the death of my grandfather, or the death of our elders, or with the death of Marcos,” Rienton said. “The struggle continues with us and the next generation. We will continue to struggle against oppression.”