Marcos Jr.’s presidential candidacy stirs painful memories in the Philippines

The victims of the late Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos are trying to disqualify his son, presidential favorite Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, from next year’s elections.

The challenge, though mounted on a legal technicality tied to a long-standing resolved tax case, has reignited unresolved debates among Filipinos over how they remember his father’s regime, which imprisoned and killed thousands of people. people and looted state property.

“We don’t want Bongbong Marcos or a member of his family to come back to power,” Bonifacio Ilagan, playwright, torture survivor and co-organizer of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcos and Martial Law (Carmma), who testified the disqualification case, the Financial Times said.

“A Marcos back in Malacañang [presidential palace] would completely change our history.

Carmma filed a petition with the country’s electoral commission to ban Marcos Jr’s candidacy, based on his inability to file income tax returns between 1982 and 1985 when he was a local official during his father’s reign.

Critics and supporters of the 64-year-old politician are now arguing over the extent to which he should be held accountable for his father’s crimes.

Marcos Jr is the favorite to win the May 2022 election, according to opinion polls, and his side calls the disqualification petition – one of five filed against his candidacy – a “gutter policy”. His running mate will be the descendant of another political dynasty: Sara Duterte, daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, one of whose first acts as president in 2016 was to give Marcos the funeral of a hero in Manila.

According to an estimate by American historian Alfred McCoy, 3,257 people were extrajudicially killed during the decade in which Marcos imposed martial law. Tens of thousands more were imprisoned or tortured, before the dictator and his family fled to Hawaii during the People’s Power uprising in 1986, when Bongbong was 28 years old.

Ilagan, who is 70 years old today, still speaks forcefully of the hardships he endured in his youth.

An activist student at the University of the Philippines, Ilagan fled underground in 1971 and was arrested three years later and suffered “brutal” ill-treatment.

These included, he said, the “San Juanico Bridge”, a torture in which prisoners were lying suspended between cots and beaten in the stomach. Ilagan also said his jailers applied hot irons to the soles of his feet and at one point inserted a stick into his penis.

Marcos Jr with his wife Louise, left, in 2018. He was convicted in 1995 of non-payment of income tax, before successfully appealing © REUTERS

Her younger sister Rizalina, another student activist, was kidnapped in 1977 by the military. She was part of a group of 10 people caught up in one of the largest cases of enforced disappearance of the time, some of whose bodies were later found. Rizalina’s body has never been discovered.

Young Marcos was found guilty by a regional court in 1995 of failing to pay his income taxes and failing to file income tax returns between 1982 and 1985, when he was vice-governor and then governor of ‘Ilocos Norte, the family’s home region in the north of the island of Luzon.

Two years later, an appeals court acquitted him of one of the charges against him – non-payment of taxes – and overturned a prison sentence handed down by the lower court. The same court upheld his conviction for failing to provide statements, and Marcos Jr paid 67,137 pesos (now worth $ 1,300) for what his lawyer called an “administrative omission”.

“There is no case of tax evasion against presidential aspirant Bongbong Marcos nor a conviction for tax evasion like what the political propaganda of his detractors has pushed, with nastiness and nastiness,” said Victor Rodriguez, his spokesperson and chief of staff at the Financial Times.

Filipino electoral law prohibits a candidate from running who has been sentenced to more than 18 months for a crime involving “moral turpitude” – a requirement that may render the claim against Marcos Jr moot after the court overturned his sentence .

In comments to the media, including an interview with the FT in 2018, Marcos Jr played down his father’s dictatorship and claimed that no case against his family has been successful.

However, in 2018, a court found Imelda Marcos, the former first lady, guilty of seven counts of corruption relating to illegal transfers of funds to Swiss foundations while serving in her husband’s government.

Accompanied by his family, Ferdinand Marcos waves to the crowd after his presidential inauguration in 1965 © Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

“Marcos was not his father, and the sins of the father should not be inflicted on the son,” said Carlos Conde, researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But he and his mother tried to deny responsibility for all the cases brought to court. ”

In addition to his political role, Marcos Jr was president of Philcomsat, one of the companies sequestered by the government of “People Power” of Corazon Aquino which seized power after the overthrow of the dictator while investigating the allegations of ” crony capitalism ”.

When asked if Marcos Jr had played a role in his father’s dictatorship, Rodriguez replied, “Marcos Jr will not be worthy of an answer. . . such a question because the Filipino people had long since settled into their belief that the sins of the father, if any, [are] not to be passed on to children.

However, Ilagan, the Carmma activist, described Marcos Jr as “an integral part of the dictatorship of martial law”.

“It’s a really tough battle for us,” Ilagan said. “I have devoted more than half of my life to this fight for Philippine democracy. For me, in the twilight of my life, I think there is no turning back.

Additional reporting by Guill Ramos in Manila

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