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Filipinos yearn for the ‘golden age’ of Marcos

MANILA — As Filipinos prepare for the 30th anniversary today of the “People Power” revolution that toppled Ferdinand Marcos, the Marcos family legacy is undergoing a political renaissance among those who claim it was a “golden age” of peace and prosperity.

MANILA — As Filipinos prepare for the 30th anniversary today of the “People Power” revolution that toppled Ferdinand Marcos, the Marcos family legacy is undergoing a political renaissance among those who claim it was a “golden age” of peace and prosperity.

“I think Marcos was our best president,” said Manila resident Richard Negre, who was born two years after the dictator was overthrown. “That was when the Philippines was the leader of Asia. We were respected.”

Marcos, who died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, ruled the Philippines with an iron fist for two decades with wife Imelda, whose lavish lifestyle — and thousands of pairs of shoes — became a global symbol of greed and corruption. He was removed from power in 1986 when millions of Filipinos poured into the streets for days of peaceful protests.

But in the decades since Marcos was ousted and fled the country, the outrage has faded for many Filipinos. Despite the accusations of widespread corruption and human rights violations, none of the Marcos family members have been jailed. The family has quietly returned to politics — Mrs Marcos is now a member of Congress, while her daughter, Imee Marcos, is a Governor.

The family’s political resurgence is led by Marcos’ son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, known as Bongbong, a popular Senator who is tied for first place in the Vice-President’s race for the May 9 national election, according to a recent survey.

Mr Marcos Jr has built a coalition from his father’s remaining supporters and young people who were not alive when martial law was declared in the 1970s. He is also backed by the well-funded families who benefited from the Marcos presidency, according to Mr Ramon C Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila.

The Senator has also drawn close to popular politicians. He often appears at rallies with boxer Manny Pacquiao, a senatorial candidate who is loved by millions of Filipinos. On the campaign trail, he usually discusses his plans for the future, but he has also touched on what his father’s supporters consider the “golden age” of the Philippines.

Ms Michelle Pulumbarit, 31, a customer service operator who lives north of Manila, noted that Mr Marcos Jr was putting forward a proposal for the future that will bring back the best of the Marcos years. She is not concerned about martial law and human rights violations, she said.

“For me, those are things of the past,” she said. “That was a time when our economy was booming. Even Imelda did a lot of good things. She shared our culture with the world. I can forgive her for having so many shoes.”

For others, the idea of a Marcos “golden age” is not supported by the facts. In her recent book, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, journalist Raissa Robles estimated that more than 3,200 people were murdered by the government during the Marcos years, and about 40,000 were tortured.

“It was a ‘golden age’ if you were politically aligned with Marcos,” said Mr Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

This week, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino III told reporters that the country is more successful now than it was under Marcos. “It took us three decades to return our country’s honour,” he said. “We are now known as Asia’s rising star, an investment-grade economy and an example of good governance.”

Mr Lisandro Claudio, a professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, said the Marcos family has changed the political narrative over time, focusing on the glamour and high-profile achievements of the Marcos years.

“They have poured a lot of money into this,” he said. “They have engineered this resurgence for decades and it taps into something genuine: That Filipinos don’t think they are respected in the world anymore. They feel they are globally insignificant.”

Marcos supporters note that most of the accusations against the family have never been proved in court.

The Philippine government estimates Marcos and his associates spirited away US$5 billion (S$7 billion) of government funds by moving the money to overseas bank accounts, as well as buying works of art and jewellery.

Ms Apple Buiza, 26, an employee of a Manila aluminium siding company, said the fate of Imelda Marcos’ jewels was not a priority for her in the next election. She spends hours each day battling traffic to get to work and is frustrated by the current government. She said she has heard stories of how orderly the country was during the Marcos years.

“During the time of martial law, the Philippines was disciplined,” said Ms Buiza as she gestured towards jaywalkers dodging vehicles and blocking traffic. “People don’t even know how to cross the street now.”

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