The luck of Bongbong Marcos
“I am the luckiest person that I know and being a Marcos is part of that and I am very happy that I was born into the Marcos family,” said Bongbong Marcos.
Obvious ba? Did Bongbong really have to rub this in?
When he was born in 1957, his father, Ferdinand Marcos, was already completing a third term in Congress. Two years later, Ferdinand won a seat in the Senate, from where he launched two successful presidential campaigns. Faced with term limits, he then imposed a martial law regime that enabled him to retain supreme power for another 14 years. There were few disadvantages for the only son of the Philippines’ most powerful politician.
It was not Bongbong’s fault to be born to wealth and power, and it is an act of virtue to express gratitude for the benefits received from parents. But his filial piety becomes suspect when he suggests that the blessings he enjoyed also spread to the rest of the population. It becomes delusional when he asserts that Ferdinand was the best leader the country has ever had.
Bongbong is aware of the issues raised in the past against the “conjugal dictatorship” of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. He argues that “history should be left to analysts,” but believes that the Marcos “legacy” would boost his bid in the 2016 vice-presidential race. Bongbong and his family refuse to recognize that the “analysts” have already rendered a verdict on the Marcos legacy.
Take the myth of Maharlika, the guerrilla unit that Ferdinand supposedly organized and led from 1942 to 1944 in operations all over Luzon, whose exploits earned for him 32 medals for heroism. There is adequate documentation for three medals, which we should commend. But the other awards, from Alfred W. McCoy’s archival research, were figments of Ferdinand’s imagination, invented to support a scam. Investigations conducted by the Pentagon concluded that his Maharlika unit roster was a fabrication to support claims for American back-pay benefits. Its proclaimed achievements were “fraudulent,” “preposterous,” and advancing them is a “malicious, criminal act.”
On human rights violations during the Marcos regime, McCoy recorded a figure of 3,257 extrajudicial killings—compared to 2,115 under Pinochet in Chile and 266 under the military junta in Brazil—and over 2,500 “salvaged” victims. In September 1992, the US District Court in Honolulu found Ferdinand Marcos guilty of systematic torture and held his estate liable for damages to all 9,541 victims, later awarding nearly $2 billion in damages—the biggest personal injury verdict then in legal history.
Regarding plundered wealth, the 2004 Global Transparency Report listed Marcos second (behind Suharto of Indonesia) in its list of the World’s Most Corrupt Leaders. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, often cited as a model authoritarian ruler that Marcos could have emulated, distanced himself from Ferdinand: “Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics.”
Bongbong would prefer to leave the past behind and to address today’s problems. He asks: “Why is the distribution of wealth not happening?” He should ask his mother. Speaking to the Inquirer in 1998, Imelda Marcos said: “We practically own everything in the Philippines—from electricity, telecommunications, airline, banking, beer and tobacco, newspaper publishing, television stations, shipping, oil and mining, hotels and beach resorts, down to coconut milling, small farms, real estate and insurance.” She was then planning to sue the cronies holding the family’s properties.
The Supreme Court estimated the total legal income of the Marcoses earned from 1965 to 1986 at over $304,000. The Presidential Commission on Good Government tasked to recover the Marcos plunder pegged what had been looted from the country at $10 billion, less than half of which has been recovered. Might kleptocracy help explain the inequitable wealth distribution that so concerns Bongbong?
“Why is our education sector miserable?” Bongbong asks. Recent research has shown that from the Magsaysay administration (1954-57) to the two presidential terms of Ferdinand Marcos (1965-81), education received the biggest share of the national budget, maintaining close to 28 percent. During the rest of the Marcos regime (1972-1985), education’s share dropped to an average of 11.6 percent of the budget, even while basic education enrollment was growing at about 2.4 percent a year.
During the period when Marcos could determine budget allocations, he chose to cut down support for education. An educated population, of course, poses a threat to dictators.
The judgment on the Marcos record is clear, but we have not fully plumbed the depths of the damage inflicted by the Marcos regime on the country. How do we quantify the cost of leaders killed or suppressed during martial law? Bongbong’s gratuitous celebration of the Marcos legacy challenges us to pursue the research effort.
Edilberto C. de Jesus (firstname.lastname@example.org) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
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