Who was Ferdinand Marcos Sr and what does a Bongbong victory mean for the Philippines?

Father of the Philippines' newest president was embroiled in kleptocracy and corruption

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The son of a former dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, also known as ”Bongbong”, has been inaugurated as the country's newest president after a landslide election victory.

Mr Marcos Jr received more than 31 million votes in May's election in a result that brought his family name back into the political limelight, 36 years after his father's removal from power.

Ferdinand Marcos Sr ruled the country for two decades, creating vast debt and financial ruin through kleptocracy and authoritarianism. Here is a look at the former dictator, his fall and his legacy.

Who was Ferdinand Marcos Sr?

Born on September 11, 1917, Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr served as his country’s 10th president for 21 years.

He earned a reputation as a “war hero” but his claims were found to be false by the US Army.

“Army investigations found no foundation for Mr Marcos’s claims that he led a guerrilla force called Ang Mga Maharlika in military operations against Japanese forces from 1942 to 1944,” The New York Times reported on January 23, 1986.

US Army Capt Elbert Curtis called Marcos Sr’s claims “fraudulent" and “preposterous”.

From a career in law, Marcos Sr rose to power in 1949 as a member of the Philippines' House of Representatives, then the Senate in 1959.

He was elected president six years later.

Although the country’s economy prospered in the early years of his rule, the Philippines soon became rife with poverty, debt and a crushing financial crisis.

He was re-elected for a second term shortly after enacting martial law, effectively expanding his powers, silencing the opposition and oppressing religious minorities such as Muslims.

Amnesty International estimates that more than 3,000 people were victims of extrajudicial killings and 35,000 others were tortured during Marcos Sr’s rule under martial law from 1972 to 1986.

Overall, Marcos Sr’s reign is largely associated with corruption, extravagance and ill-gotten wealth.

Speaking to the Philippines’ Inquirer in 1998, Marcos Sr’s wife Imelda famously 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.”

Ferdinand Marcos Sr, back right, and his wife Imelda pose with their children and a niece, for an official portrait after his third-term inauguration in 1981, in Manila. Ferdinand Marcos Jr is pictured back left. AP

How did he lose power?

By his third term in 1981, the cracks in Marcos Sr’s rule began to show.

The assassination of an opposition senator, Benigno Aquino Jr, caused an anti-Marcos sentiment to gain strength.

Then, documents of the dictator’s illicit financial activities began to surface.

In 1986, he was removed from power after calling for snap elections in an interview with US broadcaster ABC News.

One of the presidential candidates considered by the opposition included the assassinated senator’s widow Corazon Aquino, who lost by 7 per cent of the vote.

Protesters mark the 36th anniversary of the People Power Revolution at a monument in Quezon City, Philippines. Activists voiced concern over the return of 'a powerful dynasty' during Ferdinand Marcos Jr's election campaign. EPA

These results caused outrage as accusations of electoral fraud were hurled at Marcos Sr, leading to a chain of events that resulted in high-level resignations from his government.

The People Power Revolution took off on February 22, 1986, effectively removing Marcos Sr from power and prompting him to flee to Hawaii.

Where do the Marcos family live now?

Despite a constitutional article that prohibits political dynasties, the Marcos family are still a part of the country’s political fabric.

They returned to the Philippines in 1991 to face corruption charges two years after Marcos Sr’s death.

Imelda Marcos made a failed bid for president shortly after the family’s return, while Mr Marcos Jr followed in his father’s footsteps by landing a seat in the House of Representatives.

Imelda and her daughter Imee won their own seats in the House.

Imelda Marcos at a court hearing in Manila. Nearly 40 years after the hunt began for billions of dollars plundered during Ferdinand Marcos Sr's regime, much is still missing and no one in the family has been jailed. AFP

Despite standing trial for numerous charges, the former first lady has not served any jail sentence.

Now, Mr Marcos Jr has become the Philippines’ president.

“But 2022 is not 1972. This is not the end of Philippine democracy, though it may accelerate its decay,” said Gregory Poling, a senior fellow and director for South-East Asia at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

American historian Alfred McCoy, who has written books on the Marcos Sr dictatorship, said: “Bongbong Marcos is as if Marcos Sr rose from the dead ... he is a surrogate for his father.”

Bongbong has tried to distance himself from his family's legacy.

"Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions," his spokesman, Vic Rodriguez, has quoted Mr Marcos Jr as saying.

Updated: June 30, 2022, 7:54 AM
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