On Feb. 25, 1986, U.S. military aircraft whisked Ferdinand Marcos and his family to exile in Hawaii, ending two decades in power they allegedly used to plunder the Philippines and preside over the disappearance, death or torture of thousands. Thirty years later, his son and namesake has a good shot at the vice presidency, which would put him a proverbial heartbeat away from the palace he grew up in.
Thirty years ago, “Bongbong” Marcos, the 28-year-old governor of Ilocos Norte province, was decked in fatigues beside his father, who addressed loyalists in an increasingly isolated Malacanang Palace. By that time, most of the military had defected to Corazon Aquino. Hours later, the Marcoses and close associates were airlifted out.
The family returned after the elder Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989 and wasted no time regaining power. By 1992, Bongbong was congressman of Ilocos Norte. From 1998 to 2007, he was governor again. In 2010, he went national, placing seventh in an election for 12 nationally-elected senators.
Filipinos vote separately for president and vice president. In the undercard this year, Marcos is tied with Chiz Escudero, another senator, at 26 percent, according to a February poll. He was second to Escudero in a late January survey. A Marcos win would make the Philippines a “laughing stock,” says Senator Sergio Osmena, who was jailed for five years after the elder Marcos declared martial law in 1972.
The Marcoses wouldn’t be the first Asian family to come back from being ousted. In Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra was elected prime minister in 2011, just five years after her brother Thaksin Shinawatra was removed amid a tax scandal. Indonesia’s Megawati Sukarnoputri and Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto took power three decades and 10 years after their fathers were deposed.
In the Philippines, Bongbong wasn’t the only one working on a restoration. His sister Imee took over as congressman when he was governor. When he moved to the Senate and Imee to the governorship, their mother Imelda took over in Congress. Meanwhile, Imelda’s nephews won posts in her home province of Leyte, with one making a bid for the Senate this year.
It is possible that on June 30, Marcos will be vice president with a cousin in the Senate, mother Imelda in the house and sister Imee governor of Ilocos Norte.
“It’s absurd,” Boni Ilagan, who heads a group that on Tuesday vowed to “hound” Marcos as he campaigned around the country, told International Business Times. “It’s like we are putting back what we vomited out in 1986.”
Ilagan and others say Marcos gets a big part of his popularity from young people, who they say know little or nothing about his father’s regime, or believe it was a disciplined, peaceful, even progressive time. They also blame the education system, with even President Benigno Aquino — whose mother succeeded Marcos — saying textbooks have “lies and mistakes” about the Marcos years. Aquino is barred from seeking re-election.
“The youth are simply beguiled by his looks and [his] being articulate and his ability to brazenly lie while looking straight into your eyes,” Ilagan told IBT. “They say there was peace, there was discipline. One liners that say so much about how little they know.”
Some educators agree.
“To a certain extent Bongbong represents his father, which makes him popular to supporters of his father,” Rey Trillana, a political science professor at University of Santo Tomas, told IBT. “But he is also a young, handsome, intelligent man admired by young people who cannot make the connection between him and the atrocities of the past.”
But Marcos, now 58, is No. 2 in all age groups, including those who lived through martial law, according to data from the Pulse Asia polling group. In fact, Escudero, 46, beats him 2:1 among 18- to 34-year-olds, the data shows.
After their return, large parts of society accepted the Marcoses back without demanding an acknowledgment, apology or reparation. They were soon back in the party circuit and society pages. In October, the Philippine edition of Tatler magazine caused a stir by putting Imee Marcos on the cover of its annual fashion issue. In 2014, Imee’s son was on the cover of the local edition of Town & Country’s annual top bachelors list.
“To a large extent you can attribute that to our faulty culture to let bygones be bygones, even if we haven’t closed the gaping open wounds,” Ilagan said, adding the attitude of many was, “let’s move forward and be friends.”
The government says it has recovered $4 billion of the $10 billion the Marcoses allegedly stole. The family is still fighting efforts to recover the rest.
In an interview in August, Marcos was asked if he would ask forgiveness for his father’s alleged abuses. “What am I to apologize for?” he answered, saying he shouldn’t say sorry for his father’s success in infrastructure, agriculture, power and literacy. He said any human rights abuses weren’t ordered by his father. “These are just instances that have fallen through the cracks,” he said.
Attempts to reach four members of Marcos’ media group went unanswered.
Ilagan says his group, Campaign Against the Restoration of the Marcoses in Malacanang, will disrupt Marcos’ campaign events with questions, publish a “charge sheet” and an illustrated guide on Martial Law and stage skits, all the while trying to get media attention.
On Facebook, anti-Marcos groups, some of them with “Never Again” in their name, have sprouted up.
“You can say it’s too late because there’s little time left, especially considering the Marcoses have the money,” Ilagan said. “I don’t think that is reason to stop the campaign.”
Of the Philippines’ 15 presidents, six came to office from the vice presidency either by election or the death or ouster of the chief executive. They include two of the last three leaders: Joseph Estrada in 1998 and Gloria Arroyo in 2001. If Vice President Jejomar Binay, 73, wins the presidency — he ranks No. 1 or No. 2 in the polls — that would make it three out of four.
A Marcos win in 2016 may split the country as badly as in the mid-1980s, when Corazon Aquino, armed with yellow ribbons and confetti, battled the Marcoses — whose campaign color was and is red, Professor Trillana said.
“A Marcos win in May 2016, I think, will dramatically rekindle the political fissures in the country reminiscent of the Marcos vs. Aquino days. It will re-energize the so-called yellow crowd and the red loyalists as well,” Trillana predicted. “If he wins as vice president, he will most likely become president in 2022. As Binay has done, one could use one’s office to promote his candidacy in the next elections."