By Perry Diaz
Ever since Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. was elected to the Senate in 2010, a lot of people have been wondering if he’d pursue a higher office when his term ends in 2016. Being the only male offspring of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, a dictator who ruled the Philippines for two decades, Bongbong is presumed to have an eye on the presidency for a variety of reasons. Foremost would be to follow in his father’s footsteps and regain the “glorious” years of the Marcos era.
On February 25, 1986, Marcos talked to U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt to seek advice form the White House. Laxalt, after consultation with the White House, advised him to “cut and cut cleanly.” Felt abandoned by the White House, the Marcoses fled Malacanang. They were picked up by a U.S. helicopter and transported to Clark Air Force Base where they boarded a C-130 plane bound for Hawaii. They lived in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii until Marcos’ death on September 28, 1989. A few years later, the surviving members of the Marcos family went back to the Philippines.
In 1992, Imelda ran for president but lost. In 1995, she ran for Congress and won as representative of Leyte, her province. It signaled the Marcoses’ political comeback.
Today, Imelda Marcos is a member of Congress representing her husband’s old congressional district in Ilocos Norte. Their daughter Imee Marcos is now the Governor of Ilocos Norte and Bongbong is a Senator.
It’s always been Imelda’s dream to see her only son become president of the Philippines. She made it known when Bongbong was elected to the Senate in 2010. Due for re-election in 2016, Bongbong has to decide whether to run for re-election to the Senate or for a higher office, which would either be President or Vice President.
He was inspired by a strong pro-Marcos sentiment, particularly among the young people who are now saying, “Marcos kami.” Although he has a strong following in the social media, he is lagging behind in the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia polls.
Buoyed by his social media supporters urging him to run for president, he tackled the number one issue against him if he ran for president; that is, questions about his father’s brutal dictatorship.
During an interview with ANC’s Headstart last August 26, Bongbong responded to questions on whether he would apologize for the “corruption and human rights abuses” during his father’s presidency if he decides to run for president or vice president? His response was terse: “What am I to say sorry about?” Then he added, “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?”
Bongbong had been defending his father’s record since he was elected to the Senate. He said “recent political history” looked favorably on his father’s legacy. “Being a Marcos is not a political liability but is even an advantage.” He added that there was a “constant refrain” that goes: “It was better during Marcos’ time, life was more comfortable; the government helped us. There were many programs and projects. Since he was replaced, we no longer experienced that. We hope that comes back.” [Translated from Tagalog]
However, with all the hoopla about Bongbong’s defense of his father, he emphasized that he’s still thinking whether to run for president or vice president. He’s still exploring possible tandem with either Binay or Duterte. But he pointed out that whatever he decides, he’s not leaving the Nacionalista Party (NP), which raises the question: If the NP endorsed Poe as its standard bearer, is Bongbong willing to be Grace’s vice presidential running mate?
Regardless whether Bongbong runs for either office, he is counting on the “Ilocano Vote,” which he differentiated from the “Solid North” that supported his father’s political ambitions. While the “Solid North” is a geographical designation of Northern Luzon, which has a large number of Ilocanos, the “Ilocano Vote” is everywhere, from the Ilocano stronghold of Northern Luzon to Southern Mindanao including Palawan where one of the major languages spoken is Ilocano. And don’t discount the Filipino diaspora that is dominated by Ilocanos, particularly in Hawaii and the agricultural farmlands of California.
With the clannishness of Ilocanos, it is not unusual to hear Ilocanos proclaim their loyalty to Marcos Sr. with the words, “Marcos pa rin kami” (We’re always be for Marcos). The question is: Would Bongbong be able to get the support his father got from Ilocanos?
One of the strengths of Marcos Sr. was his oratorical prowess in the use of the Ilocano language. Would Bongbong be able to communicate with Ilocanos in their native language? If there was one element that unifies the Ilocanos, it is because they spoke only one Ilocano language regardless of where they are. Marcos Sr. mastered his eloquence of the Ilocano language. Can Marcos Jr. do the same?
If Bongbong is going to run for president or vice president, he should make an aggressive effort to improve his popularity ratings. In the June 2015 Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys, Bongbong got 3% (ranked ninth) in the presidential survey and 1% (ranked 13th) in the vice presidential survey. In the June 2015 Pulse Asia survey, Bongbong got 9% (ranked fifth) in the “preferred vice president” category and none in the “preferred president” category.
The polls were taken 11 months prior to the May 2016 elections, which gives Bongbong enough time to catch up; however, he has to work aggressively to improve his rank in the polls.
Given the controversy that he created when he defended his father’s martial law regime, Bongbong is probably betting that a large number of post-martial law babies are now of voting age. With no experience of the harsh years of martial law, Bongbong could easily sway these young voters by crystallizing the positive achievements of his father, and burying the negatives in an avalanche of positive things. But there are still a large number of those who saw the brutalities of the martial law era and would most likely vote against Bongbong.
Bongbong likened his father to the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, saying that his father could have done a lot more if he remained longer in power. Does it seem like Bongbong is going to follow in his father’s footsteps and continue his “unfinished” work?
Surmise it to say, if Bongbong wins, it would be a vindication of his father. If he loses, then it will give the people a glimpse of how history will treat Ferdinand E. Marcos. It has been said, “Time heals all wounds.” But the wounds are deep and it might be too soon for healing… if it ever will.