February 25, 2021 marks the 35th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution that ended the 21-year reign of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. During that time, Filipinos saw the collapse of a hated regime that looted the wealth of the Philippine government and made millionaires out of a few cronies of Marcos, which until now are still being investigated by the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG), a quasi-judicial government agency whose primary mandate is to recover ill-gotten wealth accumulated by the Marcoses and cronies. President Cory Aquino created it shortly after she assumed the presidency in the aftermath of the People Power Revolution.
In 1988, according to Marcos’ representatives who were negotiating on his behalf, Marcos — who was then in exile in Hawaii — offered to give back $5 billion to the Philippines and to support the government of Cory Aquino if he was permitted to return there and be exempted from criminal prosecution. Aquino reportedly rejected the offer; however, she challenged Marcos: “Send the $5 billion, and then we’ll talk.” The negotiation ended but had it gone through, it could have been used to pay off 20% of the country’s foreign debt.
In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that a representative of the Marcos heirs approached him and offered to return to the government a still-unspecified amount of money and “a few gold bars” to help ease the government’s expected budget deficit.
“The Marcoses are ready to open and bring back [assets] including a few gold bars,” Duterte quoted the Marcos spokesman as saying. “It’s not that big, it’s not Fort Knox, just a few [gold bars] but they said, they’ll return.” But no exact amount had been discussed and what’s “a few gold bars” worth?
Duterte was willing to accept the offer and would appoint a retired justice of the Philippine Supreme Court to negotiate with the Marcos family. But nothing came out of the negotiation. What happened? It died a few days after it was announced. Did somebody try to take a commission or “lagay”? Or did the Marcoses feel that they could gain power back without paying for it?
As of 2019, the PCGG has recovered more than P171 billion ($3.4 billion) from the so-called Marcos loot, a far cry from the estimated $10 billion that was estimated in 1985 and which was believed to be ill-gotten, commonly known as the “Marcos loot.” However, estimates of wealth acquired are going as high as $30 billion.
Later in 2019, there was an attempt to dissolve PCGG but failed due to resistance in the Senate. And the fact that the Marcoses have become so powerful again makes recovery seem futile.
It’s amazing how the Marcoses recovered from their fall in 1986 when they went to exile in Hawaii. Five years later, then-President Cory Aquino allowed the family to come back home to face more than 60 criminal and civil charges against Imelda Marcos, including charges of graft and tax evasion.
Chronology of success
The Marcoses slowly returned to politics, with family members – one by one –elected to government positions. A chronology of their rise is as follows:
In 1992, Imelda ran for president and lost.
In 1993, Marcos’ remains were flown back to the Philippines. His body was encased in a glass vault and displayed at the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in Batac, Ilocos Norte.
In 1995, Imelda ran for congresswoman of her hometown in Leyte and won.
Also, in 1995, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. ran for the Senate and won.
In 1998, Imelda ran again for the presidency but later withdrew when she was lagging behind her rivals. She said she withdrew to “save the Filipino people from the ultimate injustice of a possible bloody election.” Although many believed she withdrew to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
In 1998, Bongbong ran for governor and won. He served three three-year terms.
In 1998, Imee ran for congresswoman of Ilocos Norte, serving three terms from 1998 to 2007.
In 2007, Bongbong ran and was elected congressman of Ilocos Norte.
In 2010, Bongbong ran and was elected senator. He served for two terms.
In 2010, Imee was elected governor of Ilocos Norte. She served for three terms.
In 2010, Imelda ran for congresswoman of Ilocos Norte. She served for three terms.
In 2016, Bongbong ran for vice-president and lost to Leni Robredo by 263,473 votes. Bongbong filed an electoral protest.
In 2016, the body of Ferdinand Marcos was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery).
In 2019, Imee ran for senator and won.
In 2021, Bongbong’s electoral protest was unanimously dismissed by the Supreme Court after the pilot count in three provinces resulted in Robredo widening her lead even more by 15,093 additional votes. Immediately, Bongbong decided to run for office in 2022. But he did not specify if he’s going to run for president since he is still clinging to the hope that the Supreme Court had junked only part of his poll protest. However, while the full court resolution has yet to be released, the magistrates reportedly “were in unison” that the complaint should be scrapped since there was “no substantial recovery in the manual recount of votes done in selected precincts that Marcos himself had identified.” In other words, Bongbong is going to lose the vice-presidency to Robredo. It was fait accompli. But with only 16 months left prior to the 2022 elections, who cares who would be the sitting vice-president? The outcome of the 2022 elections is far more important than winning the tail end of the 2016 vice-presidency. If Bongbong wants to win, he’d better start building his presidential campaign. Time is running out.
Recollection of a glorious past?
And this brings to mind when Bongbong told the media back in 2015 during his campaign for senator that he and his family have nothing to apologize for what happened during the reign of his father, the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
“I will always say sorry, but what I’ve been guilty of to apologize about?” Marcos told ANC’s Headstart.
”Will I say sorry for the thousands of kilometers of road that were built? Will I say sorry for the agricultural policy that brought us to self-sufficiency in rice? Will I say sorry for the power generation? Will I say sorry for the highest literacy rate in Asia? What am I to say sorry about?”
But the younger Marcos said he and his family feel sorry for people who felt injustice during his father’s time, of which thousands have allegedly been tortured and many disappeared or “salvaged” – the term used for forced disappearance –during the martial law regime of the older Marcos.
Thirty-five years have passed and gone by and generations of Filipinos were born during the post-martial law years that have no first-hand recollection of the sufferings many older Filipinos have gone through during the martial law era. But those who have relatives who fell prey to the brutal rule of the late dictator, no words or deeds could make them forget what their relatives had gone through. But many of them have accepted the Marcos heirs as decent and innocent progeny of the long diseased dictator. They cannot apologize for the sins of their father. Nor could they disown their father. But they could ask for forgiveness for the human rights violations of their parents. Only then could the Filipinos move forward and do what is best for their country.
Is Bongbong ready to lead?
The question is: Is Bongbong Marcos ready to lead the country that suffered for 21 years under his father’s dictatorial rule? Is the nation’s progress worth leaving behind a trail of sufferings by thousands of Filipinos? But sometimes it’s better not to look back if we want to move forward in a fast-changing world. Leave to the historians to record what transpired during those dark days in Philippine history. However, Bongbong needs to put a closure to this sad episode by asking for forgiveness. And let’s hope that future leaders would rule with compassion, honesty, and justice.
Indeed, the Marcoses’ success in inching their way from exile to the halls of power is one of the most remarkable family sagas in history. A story of perseverance and strong will, they looked beyond the humility that their family suffered from the day they landed in exile in Hawaii to their return four years later to Ilocos Norte where they reclaimed the old political bailiwick of the late president Marcos. And finally, two offspring of Marcos – Imee and Bongbong – earned their seats in the Philippine Senate. And now, Bongbong is poised to run for president.