The Marcos name is either the greatest gift or the worst disadvantage for an aspiring politician. It could either mean a shining legacy or a dark burden, owing either to the gains of the Marcos years or the consequences of martial law and the dramatic 1986 ouster from Malacañang.
Yet Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. walked through those flames to regain his footing in Philippine politics after returning from exile in Hawaii. Marcos survived the post-Edsa years with a career rebuilt in the solid Marcos north (he served as representative for the second district of Ilocos Norte and then governor of Ilocos Norte).
In 2010, Marcos won a seat as a Senator of the republic, with his 12,372,118 votes representing the seventh largest number of votes in the Senate race that year. This victory indicates that Marcos had a wider popularity than just the north, something that outraged anti-Marcos activists.
This outrage rose to new heights when Marcos announced he was running as vice president with Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Marcos remained nonplussed, and his campaign fully utilized the internet and social media—and appealed to younger voters.
In the months before the May 9 election, mock polls in universities showed that Marcos was a popular choice among students, finishing second at Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University, even topping the polls at University of Santo Tomas and Arellano University. This happened despite protests and warnings against “revisionist history.”
True enough, Marcos performed very well during the actual election, finishing a very close second to Liberal Party candidate Leni Robredo with 14,155,344 votes, just over 250,000 less than the winning number. Marcos’ camp claimed the Robredo margin was the result of cheating, and last June 29, filed an electoral protest, stating that the certificates of canvass were not authentic.
Acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, the Supreme Court on Aug. 2 asked Robredo to respond to the protest in 10 days, while issuing a Precautionary Protection Order for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to preserve all election returns being questioned for manual recount, judicial revision and technical examination. With Robredo stating the protest is “baseless,” the case rolls on.
With over half the voting population between the ages of 18 and 34, Marcos has indeed proved popular among the younger voters.
John, a 22-year-old college senior, stated a common sentiment: Marcos was not to blame for what his father did. “I voted for Bongbong Marcos, because I don’t believe that he would end up like his father.”
YLA, a 21-year-old student, said Marcos’ performance during the televised presidential debate convinced her: “He handled and expressed himself well, from the issues hurled at him regarding his family to his plans for the country.”
Cali, a 30-year-old product manager, said, “I thought he had the best qualities as vice president for the 2016 elections as compared to the other candidates.” JD, a 23-year-old government employee, said, “I feel him, unlike the other candidates.”
All four were born after 1986, and they all acknowledge that terrible things happened during the Marcos era, something they learned from school and their family. But it wasn’t all bad, they said.
“I didn’t experience it first-hand, but I honestly think that during that time people had no freedom of speech, since everything was controlled by the government,” Cali said. “I pity those who fell victim to martial law,” added YLA. “Also, I pity the Marcoses, because they were forced to steal government property. What happened was too much.”
JD had the strongest opinion: “What I know is during their era, the Philippines was next to Japan in terms of power and money in Asia. A strong government was formed, many projects were built, the gross national product of the country was high, the people of the republic were secure compared to today, many individuals were employed, less people were starving.
“These were the good things President Ferdinand Marcos did that I know about, but the sad reality is that he abused his authority, and many people died with no conclusive evidence that they were guilty of their crime or actions.”
Despite what they heard from their family, media and school, the four didn’t agree that Marcos shared the blame for what his father did. YLA explained, “What’s in the past is in the past. BBM’s term would have been an opportunity to prove himself and to show that his family is not plain evil.” John added, “The things his father did should not be passed on to Bongbong Marcos. He was a better choice, and his family history will not change my perviews on him.”
In fact, some of these young people actually associate the name “Marcos” with positive things. “I feel positive because I know there is a descendant who might bring back the glory days of our country,” JD said. Cali agreed: “Positive because of their achievements, and the recognition they gave our country.” YLA said she felt differently, depending on what aspect of the Marcos legacy was being referenced.
JD argued passionately that many people believe in Marcos, as shown by his performance in the polls. “For those who open their minds to the reality that no other president has lifted this country that high, I believe that the people of our nation were united in this previous election, where the new president is Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, known for his wrong choice of words, but also for the good things he did in Davao.
“I believe that people realize the good things Marcos’ family did, and that’s why Bongbong almost won. If the people of this country didn’t believe in the Marcos family, how come Bongbong Marcos almost became vice president?”
They also state a willingness to let the former President Marcos be buried in the Libingan ng Bayani. “I am not against it,” YLA said. “I think Marcos still deserves to be buried there. Warts and all, his life had its merits.” JD prefaced his answer by saying those who can’t forgive the elder Marcos for martial law won’t agree with him. “But dead people deserve a proper burial, and people shouldn’t condemn him forever. Although it was awful in some ways, let us admit that Marcos really did something good in the past.”
They believe Marcos has a bright political future, and they would consider him for a political post if he should run again.
These youngsters may have spoken, but Marcos’ extraordinary vote total could not have been the result of just the youth vote. According to political analyst and University of the Philippines assistant professor Dr. Clarissa David, “Based on the commentary of those who deal with the data, support for Marcos was higher among older people. It is a bit of a misconception to say that he gets a lot more support from the young.
“He has high support among those 35 and over. The bigger story here, I think, is not the age divisions, but the regionality.” After all, Marcos won Regions I, II, III, VIII, XI, XII, and most notably, the National Capital Region.
David added that this result does indicate a disconnect with what should have been learned from the martial law years: “It is not only a forgetting, it is a rewriting of history. There are photos circulating on social media of school books that shows Ferdinand Marcos as a president who ruled for 20 years over a progressive nation, and ‘stepped down’ in 1986. It was probably not hard to rewrite; after all, we don’t have definitive, readily available texts that depict real events.
“In order to really understand this support for the Marcoses, we must understand the support as it is now,” said Dr. David. “Not connecting it to the father, but asking, what is the relationship of these regions to the family, how do Filipinos connect families with politics, and what is it that this family symbolizes?”
Karina Bolasco, former publishing manager at Anvil Publishing and now director of Ateneo de Manila University Press, worked on the private school textbooks before the K-12 program. She noted that Philippine history and government was taught in the first year of high school, and, with the need to cover all the presidents up to the present, only six to eight pages are devoted to each presidency.
“Many classes never get to finish the last unit,” said Bolasco. “With just achievements, challenges and major events per presidency mentioned, it is very possible that Marcos years come out glorious for peace and order and numerous infrastructures. Martial law may have been mentioned as just an event,” Bolasco said, adding that there is a need to include more about martial law in textbooks.
More than just a specific Marcos phenomenon, it would be a matter of accurately recounting Philippine history. “It’s not about raw pieces of information, or isolated stories of the disappeared that circulate on Facebook,” said David. “We need the narrative, the whole history, what happened in those years and what were the long-term ramifications on the country’s politics, economics and development.”
If there is anything to be taken from May 9 and its aftermath, the story of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.—and the ultimate legacy of his controversial, powerful family name—has many unpredictable chapters left to be told. TVJ