Batac (Philippines) (AFP) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Sunday hailed late dictator Ferdinand Marcos as a "hero" to many Filipinos, brushing aside a history of corruption and rights abuses under the former strongman.
Duterte is stepping up efforts to rehabilitate the image of Marcos, who was ousted in an army-back popular revolt in 1986 and died in exile, as the Marcos family and their allies prepare to hold celebrations Monday marking a hundred years since his birth.
The outspoken Duterte, who has previously hailed Marcos as the country's best-ever president, has declared the anniversary a holiday in Marcos' home province of Ilocos Norte where his family still wields political power.
"He was a president. To the Ilocanos, he was the greatest president. Why do we have to debate on that?" Duterte said late Saturday.
"As far as the Ilocanos (are) concerned, Marcos is a hero," he added, calling criticisms of the former leader "hogwash" and "garbage".
Duterte, who has himself faced accusations of major human rights abuses, is a friend of the Marcos family and has played a key role in bolstering their efforts to regain the top echelons of political power.
Marcos was accused of embezzling billions of dollars from state coffers, with anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International in 2004 naming him the second most corrupt leader of all time, behind Indonesian dictator Suharto.
The dictator also oversaw widespread human rights abuses to maintain his control of the country and enable his plundering, with thousands of people killed or tortured, previous Philippine governments said.
This culminated in a popular revolt that toppled Marcos, sending him and his family fleeing into exile in Hawaii in 1986. He died in 1989.
No member of the Marcos clan has ever gone to prison and the family has made a stunning political comeback in recent years.
They have hosted various events in Ilocos in recent days showcasing the rule of their patriarch, including a Catholic mass and an event to unveil a plaque on Sunday at the family's ancestral home in the city of Batac.
Batac resident Lita Lampitoc, 72, summed up the adulation, saying: "We are Ilocanos so we are all for Marcos."
Asked about the opposition to Marcos, she said: "They do not know Marcos, we know Marcos. We don't know anything about those angry at Marcos."
Duterte stunned the nation last November by allowing Marcos to be buried at the national "Heroes' Cemetery" despite widespread outcry.