Marcos Jr aims to fulfil family’s ‘destiny’ as Philippines president

It was in 1986 that the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family were forced to leave the Philippines in disgrace. Helicopters airlifted the family from the Malacañang Palace, as protesters filled the streets. Marcos Sr, after ruling with an iron fist for 20 years, had been toppled by a popular uprising, the People Power Revolution.

Crowds stormed the abandoned palace, discovering the extent of the family’s opulence. There were grand artworks, boxes of commemorative gold coins, lavish jewellery, hundreds of gowns, dresses, and, infamously, an enormous collection of designer shoes belonging to the former first lady, Imelda Marcos.

Analysts say that, ever since the family was ousted, it has been intent on forging a comeback. In the documentary The Kingmaker, Imelda Marcos described it as her son’s destiny to become the president. Now he is on the cusp of doing so.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, “known as Bongbong”, was educated in the Philippines and at a boarding school in England. An extract from Marcos Sr’s diary suggests the family was concerned his son lacked the “character” needed for the future. “Bongbong is our principal worry. He is too carefree and lazy,” he writes, adding later: “I have told him that since we have enemies, he will have to fight the battles I fought in the past against myself and against circumstance.”

Marcos Jr began studying politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford, but, according to the university, did not complete a degree course and was awarded a special diploma in social sciences. Marcos insists he graduated with the equivalent of a degree.

After university, Marcos Jr became the vice-governor of his home province, Ilocos Norte, on the north-western tip of Luzon, at the age of 23 and later governor. He was 29 when his father was ousted and the family was forced to leave the Philippines.

Marcos Sr died in exile in 1989. However, the family was allowed to return to the country in the 1990s. Marcos Jr then began to re-establish his political career, again becoming governor in Ilocos Norte, the family’s stronghold, a congressman and a senator. In 2016, he ran for vice-president but lost to Leni Robredo – an outcome he unsuccessfully challenged in court. Robredo lost to him in the 2022 presidential race.

Marcos is married to the lawyer Louise Araneta-Marcos, known as Liza, with whom he has three sons. The eldest, Ferdinand Alexander Marcos III, known as Sandro, is running for the first district congressional seat of Ilocos Norte, and has developed a prominent social media presence where he is received adoringly by young female supporters.

The family continues to face numerous court cases over their plundered wealth, which is estimated to be as high as $10bn. Imelda is appealing against a 2018 criminal conviction on seven corruption charges.

Marcos Jr has been unapologetic about his family’s past and has downplayed or denied abuses under his father’s rule. He praised his father as a “political genius”, and his mother as the dynasty’s “supreme politician” during a recent interview with CNN Philippines.

Under martial law, which was imposed by Marcos in 1972, thousands of Marcos critics were arrested, tortured and killed.

Marcos Jr’s camp, and its supporters, have portrayed the Marcos years as a time when the country was thriving and prosperous. Online misinformation about the era has inundated social media, prompting media groups and academics to form factchecking initiatives.

Marcos Jr’s appeal has relied on nostalgia relating to his father’s rule, say analysts. “He did not inherit the political savvy or the appeal or the charm of the father,” said Prof Maria Ela L Atienza, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines. “He’s basically living off or campaigning on the basis of the name of the father.”

His campaign, which carried the slogan “together we shall rise again”, promised unity and a return to what he has portrayed to be a former greatness. He has also pledged to prioritise jobs and lower the cost of living, including bringing down the cost of rice, though critics say such proposals are lacking in detail.

His opponents fear the return of the family to power could lead to the reversal of democratic gains made in the country since his father was toppled in 1986.

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