'Bongbong' is the son of former president Ferdinand Marcos who was ousted by a people's uprising in 1986
The latest polls show Bongbong as the favorite pick for VP
It’s been 30 years since a Marcos has been at the highest echelons of the Filipino government.
Although Ferdinand Marcos’ decades-long rule was tainted by widespread corruption and violence, the most recent survey shows his only son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., as the favorite to become the Philippines’ next vice president.
What’s in a name?
Bongbong, as he is nicknamed, is one of Ferdinand’s three children. Ferdinand ruled the country from 1965-1986 — including a nine-year stint under martial law, which he imposed in 1972 — before he was toppled in a revolt.
The Marcoses were accused of stealing billions of dollars from the Filipino people during Ferdinand’s presidency. Bongbong’s mother, Imelda, was famous for her lavish spending while first lady – and when the family fled to Hawaii in 1986, she left over 1,000 pairs of shoes and more than 800 purses behind.
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Bongbong’s Instagram feed is filled with photos from his childhood including one of him posing with his late father.
According to his profile on the Senate of the Philippines’ website, Bongbong pursued secondary education in Great Britain, majoring in social studies at the University of Oxford. He subsequently enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business but never completed his degree, instead returning to the Philippines to kick start his political career.
He married Louise Cacho Araneta, a lawyer who also comes from a prominent political family. They have three sons together.
Rise to power
Bongbong first entered politics as vice-governor of Ilocos Norte province in 1981 at the age of 23. He would later serve as governor from 1983 to 1986, but his term was cut short when his father was ousted.
Although his family spent several years in exile in the United States, he came back as a congressman in the same province in 1992.
In 1998, he was elected Governor of Ilocos Norte – this time serving for three consecutive terms. He landed a seat in the senate in 2010.
Bongbong announced his bid for the vice presidency last October with his family, including mother Imelda, by his side. A few weeks later, he confirmed that he was teaming up with Miriam Defensor-Santiago in her run for the presidency. In the Philippines, the vice president and president can choose to run separate or combined campaigns.
He joins five others in seeking the country’s second highest office: Francis Escudero, who is not far behind Bongbong in popularity polls, lawyer and social activist Leni Robredo, Bongbong’s former good friend Alan Peter Cayetano, Gregorio Honasan, who played a key role in the People Power Revolution that ended the Marcos regime, and ex-navy officer Antonio Trillanes IV.
Bongbong is not the only one in his family to have returned to politics. His mother Imelda and his sister Imee have also won local government posts.
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So far, he’s shrugged off his controversial family history – including claims of human rights violations, cronyism and corruption during his father’s rule.
On the 30th anniversary of the revolution in February, current President Benigno Aquino III said Bongbong’s father Ferdinand was responsible for turning the Philippines into the “sick man of Asia”.
“During that time, the only freedom was the freedom to laud the Marcos government. Martial law happened. There was once a dictator who gripped on power with his family and cronies in exchange of our country’s freedom,” Aquino said.
“There are stories of people who were tortured, killed, or disappeared who until now have yet to be found,” Aquino continued
The president also criticized Bongbong for not acknowledging his father’s wrongdoings.
“The blood relatives of the dictator could have said, ‘My father was wrong; give us a chance to correct this,” the president said.
“If he can’t see what his family did wrong, how will we know that it won’t happen again?”
However, Bongbong has sidestepped questions on his family’s role in the country’s dark period.
“As I’ve said, there are people who ask the question to attack you. So no matter what you say, it won’t make a difference because they just don’t like you, anyway,” he said.
“You have to remember: ’86 was 30 years ago,” Bongbong added, referring to the year his family was exiled.
He’s also expressed that he feels lucky to be a part of a dynasty.
“I have only felt it to be an advantage, a blessing. I am very thankful that I am a Marcos,” he said.
After announcing he was standing for election as Vice President, Bongbong said he would banish the “politics of personality” that have resulted in the Philippines becoming “a soft state where the rich become richer, the poor become poorer, graft and corruption is endemic, the drug menace pervades, injustice is the norm and government incompetence is accepted.”
Bonifacio Ilagan, part of a group campaigning against the family, attributes his popularity to young people who don’t remember his father’s reign. “Many of today’s youth have not experienced martial law, and say things that I don’t think they really know about,” Ilagan says.
He adds that if Bonging made it to the Coconut Palace, as the official residence of the vice president is called, it would only be a matter of time before he sought the presidency.
Martial law victims: No to Marcoses in palace
“Grievance politics” could also be at play — where candidates cultivate a victim narrative, playing on intense frustrations of the people, including the continuing threat from terror group Abu Sayyaf in southern Mindanao and China’s bullying in the South China Sea.
Some say candidates such as Bongbong — who’s billed himself as a decisive “get-things-done” leader – appeal to a growing number of Filipinos who are irked by the bureaucracy of democratic institutions and are giving into autocratic nostalgia.
Whatever the reason, it appears that it’s working.