x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Marcos family takes another run at power

The former Philippines dictator's son Ferdinand is a senate hopeful, and his shoe-collecting mother and sister are also standing for election.

Ferdinand
Ferdinand "Bong-Bong" Marcos Jr reaches out to supporters after filing his candidacy papers last month.

BATAC, PHILIPPINES // The mausoleum where Ferdinand Marcos's body is on show to the public hardly has an air of grandeur, or even of dignity. It is slightly musty inside and the late president's remains look more like a waxwork, which indeed is what some guidebooks and locals suggest the supposed body actually is.

But while Marcos's resting place may fail to impress, his hometown, in the province of Ilocos Norte, remains a power base for his family. His son, Ferdinand "Bong-Bong" Marcos, 52, is a congressman for the second district of Ilocos Norte who next year hopes to win a seat in the Philippine senate. Looking to replace him in congress is none other than his mother, Imelda Marcos, 80, who became notorious internationally for collecting 3,000 pairs of shoes as first lady while many of her country's people lived in poverty.

Also searching for votes in the 2010 elections is Imee Marcos, Bong-Bong's 54-year-old sister and his predecessor in congress, who hopes to be elected the province's governor, a position Bong-Bong has previously held. There is no denying the continued fondness in which the family name is held locally, despite what many see as the wanton abuses of power of Ferdinand Marcos's 21-year rule, eight years of which were spent under martial law.

Ferdinand Marcos was accused of human rights abuses, corruption and embezzlement before being ousted in the 1986 "People Power" revolution led by Cory Aquino, the widow of Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, an opposition leader assassinated while Marcos was in office. Cristina Bajo, who runs a shoe shop in Batac a few minutes' walk from the mausoleum and not far from a Marcos statue, is one of many local devotees.

"He was a nice person," she said. "He had so many projects. He was the only one who completed the electrification of the Philippines. He was the only person who improved all the roads and bridges. "He's an Ilocano. He's a product of Ilocos Norte so we are very proud of him." Her enthusiasm extends to Mr Marcos, who she said would garner heavy support locally in his 2010 election bid. "One hundred per cent of the Ilocos people are in favour of Bong-Bong to become a senator," she insisted.

June Racho, 40, who runs a sporting goods business and lives in the town of Vigan to the south of Batac, is another enthusiast. "With Marcos being the son of Ilocos, we feel bad about Cory Aquino [ousting Marcos as president] because people here loved Ferdinand Marcos because of what he did during his time," he said. "He made us proud to be an Ilocano. Maybe martial law was a way of preventing a bigger problem from happening. He was a dictator in the sense he gave priority to the Philippines rather than the United States or any other country. During his time the Philippines were solely managed by Filipinos."

But for Mr Marcos, becoming a senator will require him to reach beyond his home constituency, since members are elected nationally rather than provincially. His mother Imelda, 80, will just have to convince Ilocos Norte voters when she squares up to Mariano Nalupta Jr, a former governor of the province. In an interview shortly after he filed his papers to stand as a candidate for senator, Mr Marcos said he felt "proud" and "lucky" to be a Marcos. But he also tried to distance himself from his father, implicitly acknowledging the Marcos name could prove a drag on his candidacy. His father's nemesis Ninoy Aquino remains a national hero, with prominent statues in the capital, and his face on banknotes.

"You're trying to put me in comparison with my father," Bong-Bong told local media. "I don't compare myself with my father. I think about the problems as they come." Mr Marcos will stand for the senate on behalf of the Nacionalista Party, having been expelled from the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan party, which his father founded. If he succeeds, Mr Marcos could use the senate as a springboard for the presidency, just as Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, the 49-year-old son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, hopes to in the elections next year. It would also mirror his father's career, since Ferdinand Marcos was a congressman and senator before becoming president.

Efren Bartolome, one of Mr Marcos's aides at his Batac offices, which are based next to the former president's mausoleum, said he was "very, very, very" much a potential presidential candidate and insisted the Marcos name need not be a handicap. "It's a positive [legacy] because he will continue the unfinished projects that the father had almost completed when he was deposed," he said. "We are just waiting for our congressman to become president."

dbardsley@thenational.ae