In The Philippines, the fall and rise of the Marcos family

I know 36 years is a long time in the Philippines, where 70% of the people were not even born in 1986, but I’m still flummoxed and stunned by the fact the son of the tyrant Ferdinand Marcos – renowned for his corruption, plunder, embezzlement and cruelty – who ruled for two decades, including 10 years of martial law, has won a landslide victory and become the new president of the archipelago. This must be one of the strangest things to happen in history. Just a year ago the return of Marcos-rule was inconceivable. Possibly unimaginable. On Monday, Bongbong, to use the son’s popular moniker, has realized the almost impossible.

However, let me explain by first going back to 1986. Marcos Pere was standing for his fourth term as president opposed by Corazon Aquino. Three years earlier her husband, Benigno, had been assassinated on the tarmac of Manila airport. He was returning from exile to challenge Marcos. Cory, as she was affectionately called, took up the challenge. The election was rigged and a fraudulent result announced in Marcos’s favour.

Within hours the Philippines erupted. Tens of millions poured on to the streets. The delightfully named Cardinal Sin led the protests. Even Marcos’s defence minister and army chief deserted him. The term ‘People’s Power’ was coined to describe this revolution. It was electrifying. The world held its breath for three long days, anxiously wondering what would happen.

On the 26th of February the Marcoses fled the country, seeking sanctuary in Hawaii. Now consider what they took. Then, what they left behind. A 23-page US Customs record shows they arrived with 22 wooden crates, 12 suitcases and countless boxes. Their luggage contained clothes to fill 67 racks, 413 pieces of jewellery, 70 pairs of jewel-studded cufflinks, 24 gold bricks inscribed ‘To my husband on our 24th anniversary’, $717 million in cash, $4 million unset precious gems contained in Pampers diaper boxes, 65 Seiko and Cartier watches and deposit slips for banks in the US, Switzerland and the Cayman Islands worth $124 million.

Left behind at Malacanang Palace were 3,000 pairs of shoes belonging to his wife Imelda Marcos, 15 mink coats, 508 couture gowns, many with their Bergdorf Goodman labels still unremoved.

Amnesty International claims that during Marcos’s 20 year presidency from 1965 to 1986, 70,000 were imprisoned, 34,000 tortured and 3,240 documented as killed. The newspaper Bulatlat claims 120,000 were, in fact, detained.

Marcos died in 1989. Imelda is still alive. The BBC says she has several “convictions connected to an estimated total of $10 billion of plundered money”.

Not surprisingly, in the 1980s and ’90s, Ferdinand Marcos was hated and reviled. Today his eponymously-named son is politically beloved. How did that happen?

This is a question that is much asked and will be debated for a long time. Let me suggest three early, hesitant and incomplete answers. First, during the decades of Marcos tyranny, Ilocos Norte, their stronghold, was pampered and protected. So Bongbong always had a base from which to begin again.

Second, social media and sheer disinformation have literally whitewashed the past. Statista claims Filipinos spend four hours a day on social networks compared to just two in the UK. Consequently, stories of Marcos’s tyranny and corruption are considered fake news. In fact, his dictatorship is now called ‘a golden period’. History has been re-written and the Marcos dictatorship is painted in soft alluring colours.

Third, Bongbong’s running mate is the daughter of the outgoing president, Sara Duterte-Carpio. She brings with her her father’s popularity.

The closest India has come to anything similar is the fall and rise of Indira Gandhi between 1977 and 1979. In Britain something similar, but opposite, happened within months of winning World War II when Churchill lost the election. But the Marcos saga is in a different league altogether.

If there’s a lesson for us in South Asia it’s don’t write-off Congress. There could still be another Gandhi prime minister. Even the Rajapaksas could rise again! – IANS

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