'Bong Bong' hauls Marcos clan back to respectability

Thirty years ago the family were reviled by many Filipinos - now Ferdinand Jnr, his mother and sister will each hold office.

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MANILA // Ferdinand Emmanuel Romualdez "Bong Bong" Marcos Jr may be his father's only son, but that is where the connection ends. "I have never lived in the shadow of my father. I will be judged on my own record and not his," Mr Marcos, 52, said in an interview late last month. "My father was president for 20 years. Back then the world was a much different place. History will be his judge."

Mr Marcos was just 28 when his father was swept out of power in 1986 and into exile in Hawaii by a non-violent People Power Revolution led by Corazon Aquino, the mother of the president-elect, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino. Ferdinand Marcos, who died in 1989 while in exile, had been accused of major human rights abuses during his 20-year rule, half of which was spent under martial law. He was accused of creating what was termed "crony capitalism" through which close friends profited from the theft of billions of dollars from the state purse. Despite the hundreds of court cases filed against the Marcoses, none have stuck and less than US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) of the money he siphoned off has been recovered in 22 years.

Thirty years ago the Marcoses were reviled by many Filipinos. Today, the family appears to be well on the road to rehabilitation. At the end of this month Mr Marcos will take his seat in the 24-member Senate, the first Marcos to sit in the chamber since his father in 1959. The Senate is seen as a stepping stone to the presidency in Philippine politics. At the same time, his mother, Imelda, 80, will take up her seat in Congress, representing the family's home province of Ilocos Norte while sister Imee takes over as governor of the province.

Mr Marcos says he never intended to enter politics. "I wanted to study physics, mathematics and science at university but my father said you can't make a living out of them so in the end I studied PPE at Oxford University in England - politics philosophy and economics," he said sitting in his campaign office in the Manila suburb of Ortegas. "Politics was the last thing on my mind," he said. Asked if he has ambitions for the presidency and to clear his father's name, he said: "A lot has been said and written since I started out campaigning for the Senate - that I will run for president - but I have only just been elected and I have a job to do. I am not even thinking that far ahead. As for defending my father, history will do that not me."

As a senator Mr Marcos says he has three priority areas he wants to address - agriculture, and the poor state of the country's public education and health systems. As governor of Ilocos Norte from 1998 to 2007, when he was elected to Congress for the province, he has managed to build up an impressive track record. He has managed to turn around a mainly poor province on the main island of Luzon into an attractive tourist destination, especially among the Chinese, and introduced universal health care for the province's 650,000 people. Even the power-generating windmills he had built have become a tourist attraction and the project is providing electricity to the province as well as the national grid.

Braving the possibility of arrest from the new government of Mrs Aquino, he was the first member of his family to return to the country. Despite the stigma he had to endure, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 as representative for the second district of Ilocos Norte. Asked what sort of president Mr Aquino will make, Mr Marcos said: "I honestly don't know. People ask me that all the time and I just don't know. He has no track record so I have nothing to judge him on.

"If he gets the right people around him he should do all right." One person Mr Aquino has chosen to be his executive secretary is Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa, a partner in the law firm of Mr Marcos's wife, Louise Araneta-Marcos. An unknown quantity, he is an old friend of Mr Aquino and Ms Araneta-Marcos, who are partners in the law firm Marcos, Ochoa, Serapio and Tan known as Most. Mr Marcos denied that he will attempt to use Mr Ochoa to influence Mr Aquino, but "that's the way it is in this country". "They will read all sorts of things into the appointment. He is a friend of my wife's. God, I have only met Mr Aquino once. I don't even know him, but that wont stop people from seeing things that are not there," he said.