Father's rule haunts Bongbong in vice presidential bid

Ronron Calunsod, Kyodo News

The Marcos Family at the Malacanang of the North, which overlooks the Paoay Lake, during the 95th Birth Anniversary of the late Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos. From left to right: Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr., 2nd District of Ilocos Norte Representative Imelda Romualdez-Marcos and Irene Marcos-Araneta. Sept. 11, 2012, Alaric A. Yanos/ PGIN-CMO Photo

MANILA - As the May 9 national elections in the Philippines draw near, the two-decade rule until 1986 of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, most of which was under martial law, is more relevant than ever with the candidacy of his son for the country's second-highest position.

READ: Marcos: Abuses, ill-gotten wealth not relevant in 2016

As Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr., 58, maintains an unapologetic stance over what his family's critics call abuses and irregularities during his father's regime, various groups have come out to retell those allegations, demand accountability from the Marcos family and campaign against his vice presidential bid.

Last week, a coalition of youth and student organizations was the latest to openly oppose the possible return of the Marcoses to higher positions of government.

"We remind our fellow youth that the Marcoses' legacy is a legacy not just of human rights violations but also of massive corruption in all levels of government," A.J. Montesa, a student leader from the University of the Philippines, said in a forum.

"His (Bongbong's) bid for the second-highest position in the country is a grave insult to the people he and his family have wronged and stolen from."

According to Francis Pangilinan, a former senator who was a student activist during the 1972-1981 martial law period, the "realities of military rule" are that "3,257 were killed, 35,000 were tortured, 70,000 were jailed, and about $10 billion was plundered, of which only $4 billion has been recovered."

READ: Bongbong: When did we distort history?

The era was also marred by curtailment of basic civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and of mass assembly.

Montesa said Bongbong, who was 15 years old when martial law was declared, was a "clear accomplice" and "was no helpless child" when his father's regime "stole hundreds of billions of pesos from the Filipino people," and even left the country with $28 billion in foreign debt after its downfall in 1986.

READ: Martial Law era not an election issue: Bongbong

Lamenting over Bongbong's denial of these allegations, the youth and students' groups also question the source of his wealth, which in 2014 totaled almost 200.6 million pesos ($4.3 million).

"We are tired of paying for Bongbong's extravagant lifestyle. We refuse to pay for his vice presidential campaign, and we demand that he and his family return the money they stole from us," Montesa said.

READ: Marcos dared to withdraw legal oppositions on ill-gotten wealth

In late February, the movement "Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacanang," the seat of power in the Philippines, was also launched by different groups of martial law victims, enumerating "six sins" of Bongbong.

They are: "1) the brazen lie that his father's unbelievable wealth is legitimate; 2) partaking of the fruits of the plunder of the Marcos conjugal dictatorship; 3) whitewashing of the Marcos dictatorship's crony capitalism, of which he had been a part; 4) cover-up of the unprecedented plunder and economic sabotage that his father committed in the 21 years of his anti-people rule; 5) defending and promoting Martial Law that, in fact, caused Filipinos to suffer systematic, widespread, and state-sanctioned enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial executions; and, 6) complicity in the billion-peso (development assistance fund) scam."

No less than President Benigno Aquino, whose family suffered during the martial law years, highlighted by the assassination of his father in August 1983, campaigned as well against Bongbong when he spoke during a celebration on Feb. 25 of the 30th anniversary of People Power revolution that ousted the Marcos family from power.

READ: Did your father order Ninoy killed? No, says Bongbong

In a recent interview, Bongbong said he has so far not felt any negative impact in his campaign activities from the recent attacks against him and his family, citing the continuing warm reception he gets from ordinary people in various parts of the country he has visited.

When confronted with the allegations, he has maintained that any negative issue is really expected to be thrown at all candidates.

"I can see that my message is being accepted by the people, that the very first thing we have to do is for all Filipinos to unite so we can pool together the greatness and intelligence of the Filipinos. And this is for our country's progress and to help improve the lives of the people," he said in a recent radio interview.

The latest surveys conducted early this month by independent poll stations Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations showed Bongbong placing second among all six vice presidential candidates. His closest rivals, so far, are Sen. Francis Escudero, who has been in the lead throughout, and Aquino's bet Rep. Leni Robredo, whose ranking has been improving.

Bongbong was elected to the Senate in 2010. It was the first national position that a member of the Marcos family occupied since their downfall in 1986. The older Marcos died in 1989 while in exile in Hawaii.

Edna Co, a professor from the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance, credits Bongbong's popularity to the lack of "sense of history of the martial law period" among voters, especially younger ones.

Why you should know Martial Law victims' plight

"They can no longer connect what the Marcos family did with Bongbong. And therefore, for now, since they don't know that history, Bongbong is being viewed as someone so magical -- he is young, he is energetic, he is outspoken," Co told Kyodo News.

Co said there is fear of the return of the Marcoses to higher national positions because of the lingering trauma, both in society and among individuals who were victims of martial law.

"We're like a circus -- we go up, and then we go down. That's the fear of the people. A return to the situation of authoritarianism, the rule of a wealthy family and all that shouldn't happen again," she said.