Sen. Bongbong Marcos is the picture of confidence these days—some would even say, of cockiness. The son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos has eased himself out of the shadow of his perpetually more quotable mother Imelda and older sister Imee by getting his own voice heard on many of the hot-button issues of the day, from the public transport mess to the Mamasapano debacle and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The appearance of seriousness and maturity has excited that segment of the population that has never abandoned the Marcos myth; Marcos Jr. is now seen, more than ever, as viable presidential material, whose fateful return to Malacañang one day soon would be a vindication of everything that the Marcoses have endured since their exit from the Palace in 1986.
In their view, the Marcos years were a halcyon era in Philippine society and politics, when peace and order reigned, the economy boomed, people were disciplined and the government was functioning. In the wake of Lee Kuan Yew’s death, Bongbong even declared with dead seriousness that the Philippines could have been another Singapore had his father’s 20-year stay in power not been cut short by the Edsa People Power revolt.
This week, he was back defending the rampart. There was nothing wrong about martial law, he said on TV, and there is nothing to apologize for. “Will I say sorry for the thousands and thousands of kilometers [of roads] 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?”
It’s a catchy picture, but a false, incomplete one. Marcos’ agricultural policy? He simply parceled out the economy to his cronies; as the Chicago Tribune put it, “Eduardo Cojuangco became the ‘Coconut King,’ Antonio Floirendo the ‘Banana King,’ Herminio Disini the ‘Tobacco King,’ Jose Campos the ‘Pharmaceutical King,’ Roberto Benedicto the ‘Sugar King.’” For years, millions of farmers had to fork over hard-earned money for a so-called coconut levy fund that never went to their welfare, but instead became a P150-billion asset fought over by the likes of Cojuangco and Juan Ponce Enrile.
The land reform that was supposed to be the cornerstone of Marcos’ New Society? It was a sham. Out of some 10 million hectares of private land and 17 million hectares of public land available for disposal, only 50,000-70,000 hectares had been subjected to land reform by the time the Marcoses fled Malacañang in 1986.
Power generation? The monstrosity that is the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant—built of an outdated design with some 4,000 defects, on a known earthquake fault line, to the tune of $2.3 billion, about $80 million of which ended up as kickbacks to Marcos and his bagman Disini as documented in court records against its builder Westinghouse—is the ultimate indictment of Marcos’ energy policies.
The highest literacy rate in Asia? Sure—against a landscape where press freedom was absent, dissenting journalists were hauled off to jail or allegedly thrown overboard from helicopters, then Minister of Information Gregorio Cendaña had an iron hand clamped on TV and radio, and newspapers were the plaything of Marcos cronies.
And so on. We haven’t touched on the billions of dollars in Swiss accounts, or the thousands of “desaparecidos” and human rights victims. Do current history books reflect these facts? Apparently not, because Bongbong could also claim that one reason he’s getting giddy at the idea of running for president is that “young people who were not even alive at that time say that, ‘Buti pa noong panahong iyon, alam namin, may ganito at may ganyan.”’
Bongbong may find in that youthful gushing a quick high, but the ill-informed appraisal of what he believes is the golden era of his formative years says more about the tragic miseducation of the Filipino than about his father’s true record. Still, one hears what one wants to hear, so an apology is not in the offing from the Marcos son, because “history will judge [Marcos] properly, and we’ll leave it at that.”
But he has, in fact, been judged. Marcos is the only president in Philippine history who had to flee with his family in the dead of night to escape the wrath of his people—from whom he stole up to the end, by the way, with millions of gold, jewelry and cash brought along with them. There’s the judgment of history right there for you. Unfortunately for Bongbong, that ignominy cannot be erased with a cocky shrug.
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