How the Marcoses are regaining their lost glory

By Ira Pedrasa for

Posted at Mar 21 2013 04:51 PM | Updated as of Mar 22 2013 01:33 AM

“As we were coming down Malacanang, Ferdinand held my hand and said, ‘Imelda, this is your fault.’ In shock, I asked, ‘Why, Ferdinand?’ He answered, ‘Because you gave me a heart.” – Imelda Marcos, on why the former president did not retaliate against the crowds in Edsa in 1986

Children view the exhibits in the Marcos Museum. Photo by Rem Zamora
LAOAG CITY - Ilocos Norte is still Marcos country. And many here believe that the Marcos name will rise again, with the whole country embracing its new image.

Public opinion surveys validate the change in how Filipinos perceive the late strongman.

For instance, a Pulse Asia survey done between January 22 and January 26, 2010 shows President Corazon Aquino, who died just six months before the survey was conducted, as the most loved national leader. Eighteen percent of respondents picked the democracy icon.   

Ferdinand Marcos came in second, with 8% of 1,800 respondents picking him as their most loved national leader. He was even ahead of former President Joseph Estrada and the late Senator Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr.

“At first, I was also puzzled [with the survey results]. But it has become a validation of the shift in perception [of Marcos],” said writer-blogger, sociologist and professor Herdy La. Yumul. After staying in Manila for many years, Yumul had shared the view that Marcos was a bad leader for being a dictator.

Glory to Gloria

But when Yumul went back to Laoag to teach at the Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, his attitude changed. He said the former First Family only has to thank former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the change in mindset.

“We have Gloria to thank for showing that Marcos was not as bad,” he said. Even if textbooks demonize and exaggerate some aspects about the Marcos years, Yumul said history has altered people's perception about the Marcoses.

He said EDSA People Power in February 1986 was only natural because of the people’s “resentment,” and this was again repeated in People Power II in January 2001, which forced President Joseph Estrada to step down from office.

“[Then] All of a sudden, EDSA is not in fashion anymore. That was proven when Gloria was in power, even if people already wanted her out, [she stayed on],” he said.

Yumul admitted he admires the old man, especially his role as a social architect. “His philosophy is Machiavellian. May konsepto sya kung ano ang gusto nya para sa bayan…The human rights abuses is a part of war, it’s part of the game.”

He said he also now subscribes to Machiavellian philosophy. “I have become Machiavellian, too. We need strong leadership. We need to sacrifice some of rights and liberties.”

He said the same ideology was propagated by the likes of Singapore's former leader Lee Kuan Yew, whose strong leadership is said to have played a key role in making Singapore a modern and prosperous country. “He [Marcos] did not invent the philosophy, the same [philosophy] has been there since the time of Plato and even Marx.”

The role of the web, social media

Yumul also attributed the change in perceptions about the Marcoses to “democratization” of media, which now includes social media. The internet has made some positive materials on the Marcoses more accessible, especially to the younger generation.

Yumul remembers writing “Sulat kay Aaron,” a compilation of stories in a book entitled “Up North,” which explains the Marcos years with images from the museums in Ilocos Norte.

As a kid from Manila, "Aaron" could have ended up believing Marcos was a “bad” person, especially with a “looted” gold spoon and fork, supposedly belonging to the Marcoses, hanging on the wall of his house.

Instead of thinking about the Marcos loot, Yumul said Aaron probably wondered why "bad people" were "looting from the Marcoses."

Rebranding, poverty

The change could also be due to the fact that the Marcoses are being rebranded.

In most tourism spots in Ilocos Norte today, for instance, there are pins and other items with the phrase “I am Makoy,” similar to the “I am Ninoy" marketing campaign for the assassinated opposition leader. There are ref magnets which depict Marcos subliminally as someone like US President Barack Obama.

The more important factor, said Yumul, is poverty.

“It also boils down to our economic state: Is life better today?” Yumul asked. He said the younger generation feels it isn't better, given the limited job opportunities for new graduates.

Only time will tell if the Marcos name will regain its glory. “It’s like that in politics, I guess. Even with an Aquino in position now and [People Power still] being celebrated, Ilocos Norte is still part of the country. We also celebrate People Power here,” he said.

But one thing’s for sure: the Marcoses can only reclaim their former status with the help of the so-called “Solid North,” Yumul said. Solid North refers to the loyal voting support of the Ilocos region for the Marcoses.

Marcos pa rin

Yumul said a possible Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. presidential bid in 2016 “will be hard, but it’s the dream of the Ilocanos.”

He said the Ilocos region, as well La Union and Baguio, were greatly disappointed when younger Marcos lost in his first foray in the senatorial elections in 1995.

Things have changed, however.

Aside from the Solid North, Bongbong has expanded his fan base, as shown by his victory in the 2010 elections. “Some people see that Bongbong is cute and thus harmless, that [former First Lady Imelda Marcos] can’t hurt a fly,” Yumul said.

Aside from Bongbong, there are other Marcoses who can enter politics both at the local and national level. There is talk in the province that Imee's son, Borgy Manotoc, will follow the footsteps of his mother, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos.

Borgy has been involved in projects such as the “Himala sa Buhangin!”” celebration, an arts festival held in honor of the province’s patroness, La Virgen Milagrosa, where the public can brush elbows with government officials.
Yumul said all these factors are helping the Marcoses regain their lost glory.