Politics

Bongbong seeks to rebrand Marcos’ brutal legacy


Marcos Jr seen here addressing a rally in suburban Manila in April. The Marcos name has lost its menace for a new generation of Filipinos which has grown up with no memory of the brutal martial law era of the last century.

Jam Sta Rosa | Afp | Getty Images

For a significant portion of Filipinos voting for the presidential election in the Philippines, the memories of dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ brutal and corrupt reign have not been erased.

In fact, they don’t even exist — because a majority of the electorate were either not born or were too young to remember that era.

Over 50% of Filipinos eligible to vote on Monday’s election are between the ages of 18 and 41, according to the Commission on Elections as quoted by the local media.

Ferdinand Marcos Sr. ruled with an iron fist for nearly two decades until 1986, a period marked by great poverty, unemployment and a debt crisis. Arbitrary arrests, disappearances and alleged torture during his rule provoked a mass uprising, which came to be known as the People’s Power revolution. It eventually forced him to flee to Hawaii, where he died in 1989. 

Today, his son Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr., 64,  is the frontrunner to replace outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte and reclaim the presidency for the Marcos family. Bongbong, as he is popularly known, was 15 when his father imposed martial law in the Philippines in 1972.

The younger Marcos has spent long years in politics. He has served as vice governor, governor and congressman in the family stronghold of Ilocos Norte in the north of the country since the 1980s. His mother Imelda Marcos, 92, ran for president twice and lost in the 1990s. 

Her infamous 3,000-pair shoe collection — discovered when protesters stormed the presidential palace in the 1986 uprising — is now housed in a Manila museum. But today, public disillusionment with successive democratic governments seems to have displaced the excesses of the Marcos regime in public consciousness.

Social media star who rarely meets journalists

The Marcos name today is ringed by a kind of romanticism, a vintage it has acquired from the days when, as the narrative goes, the Philippines used to matter in world affairs. Bongbong, whose slogan is “Together we shall rise again,” has stuck to an evocative message of rekindling the idea of former greatness.

His father ran a similar campaign, promising to make the Philippines “great again.” But unlike his father, the younger Marcos has kept a low profile in the mainstream media, instead running a sophisticated social media campaign with millions of followers.

He is a popular presence on Chinese media app TikTok, where he posts reviews and presents a storyline of his family which once enjoyed a Kennedy-like mystique.

He often invokes his family name at campaign rallies but remains wary of exposing himself to the vagaries of political debate.

Among the 10 candidates in the race, Marcos Jr. was the only one to skip the two televised debates held by the government’s Commission on Elections. Late in April, he rejected a one-on-one debate with his closest rival Leni Robredo, the current vice president. He also refused to attend a debate hosted by CNN in the Philippines.

He has rarely given media interviews and refuses to answer shouted questions from journalists at rallies. It is a strategy he has honed on the back of a narrow loss to Robredo, who defeated him during the 2016 vice-presidential race. At that time, his father’s corrupt and brutal legacy was at the front-and-center of the opposition’s campaign. 

It helps that Duterte is an ally. He has helped the country reimagine the Marcos legacy.

In 2016, the remains of Marcos Sr. were buried at the national cemetery, the Philippines’ equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery. 

Treading a fine line between China and the U.S.

The Philippines was a traditional military ally of the U.S. but after his presidential election in 2016, Duterte moved closer to China and declared his country’s “separation” from the U.S.

Addressing a virtual forum in March, Marcos Jr. said the Philippines shared a “special relationship” with the U.S. 

“Military deals are advantageous to both countries,” he said, adding that the U.S. could do “many things” to help the Philippines. But it remains to be seen if the younger Marcos will risk upsetting Beijing by drawing closer to the U.S..

Notably, he has not said much on the economy. Instead, he has used vague phrases such as “national unity” and implied that his policies would continue to back Duterte’s infrastructure-based “Build, Build, Build” public works plan. 



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