'Bongbong', the son, leads Marcos revival in the Philippines

By Reuters/Martin Petty and Manuel Mogato   May 3, 2016 | 11:28 pm PT
'Bongbong', the son, leads Marcos revival in the Philippines
Philippines Vice-Presidential candidate BongBong Marcos whispers to his mother, former First Lady and Congresswoman Imelda Marcos, before BongBong announced his candidacy in Manila Philippines October 10, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
For the son and namesake of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, winning the vice presidency in next week's election is as much about restoring his family's tainted image as it is about making the country a better place.

"Bongbong", as Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is known, has been leading most opinion polls ahead of the May 9 election, marking the revival of a name synonymous with martial law, torture and billions of dollars of plundered wealth. A poll published on Wednesday had him slipping to second place for the first time, but he was just two points behind Congresswoman Leni Robredo.

Marcos Jr., 58, says his family is not the only issue and his popularity comes from public disenchantment with a political establishment that emerged after his father's overthrow in the iconic "people power" revolution in 1986.

"We keep hearing about all these wonderful things happening to our economy and yet people are poor," he said in an interview.

"That's where the frustration comes from... There's clearly a desire for something different."

Unlike most other countries, elections for the Philippine president and vice-president are held separately and the two can be political rivals.

The maverick mayor of the southern city of Davao, Rodrigo Duterte, 71, is leading opinion polls for president.

The senior Marcos was president of the Philippines for two decades, including nine years as the head of a martial law government.

Later governments have documented 75,000 cases of torture, illegal detention and disappearances in those years. The rule by the senior Marcos and his wife Imelda, known for her lavish lifestyle and thousands of pairs of shoes, has been called a kleptocratic "conjugal dictatorship".

The family fled to exile in Hawaii after the ouster, where the senior Marcos died in 1989. After that, the widespread hatred of the Marcos family began to ebb.

Bongbong Marcos returned from Hawaii in 1991 and rebuilt the family's political base in its stomping grounds of Ilocos Norte province, serving as governor, congressman and senator. His mother Imelda is seeking re-election next week to the House of Representatives from a district in the province, while his sister Imee is seeking re-election as the provincial governor.

Political strategist Pastor "Boy" Saycon says the Marcos years were not all that bad, although he spent three months in jail at that time when the government rounded up student activists.

"There was this discipline being instilled," he said. "Because that's the problem of our country today - there is no discipline."

"Enforced vacation"

If Bongbong wins the number two spot, he will be firmly in line to contest the presidency in a later election.

Marcos gets irritated by the suggestion that the presidency is his goal. He calls the vice presidency a natural step and describes himself as a reluctant politician who had to clear the family name.

"When we came back from our 'enforced vacation' we were the issue, and so to answer that we had to be also in the political stage," Marcos said.

"There was very little else we could do if we were to somehow be able to continue to be able to work and to do something, and part of it is also to defend ourselves."

There are old scores to settle between Marcos and another dynasty, the family of outgoing President Benigno Aquino. Aquino's father and namesake was a fierce critic of the Marcoses and his assassination in 1983 ignited the people power revolt.

The president's late mother Corazon Aquino led the people power uprising before taking the presidency.

Aquino has tried to derail Marcos's bid for vice-president. In October, the president said he had faith the public would reject Marcos and in February, timed with the 30-year anniversary of the revolution, the government announced it would sell gems, property and stocks confiscated from the Marcoses and would seek the return of $1 billion via court cases at home and overseas.

But Marcos has opened up a clear lead in the most recent opinion polls and his anti-establishment platform is resonating with young Filipinos born long after the rule of his father.

But for some of the older generation, the prospect of his family's return to the forefront of national politics is an embarrassing, retrograde step.

"People from the outside cannot understand why Filipinos are putting Marcos back into power," said political analyst Dindo Manhit.

"We never learn."

Bongbong Marcos rejects common narratives of oppression and failed government in his father's rule.

"There are many positive things to talk about from during that time," he said.

"So that's what we do. It's fairly simple."

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