Victims of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos are trying to get his son, presidential frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, disqualified from running in next year’s election.
The challenge, while legal technically related to a long-solved tax case, has revived unresolved debates among Filipinos about how they remember his father’s regime, which imprisoned and murdered thousands and looted state assets.
“We don’t want Bongbong Marcos or any member of his family returning to power,” said Bonifacio Ilagan, a playwright, torture survivor and co-organizer of the campaign against the return of the Marcoses and martial law (Carmma), who filed the disqualification, the The Washington City Times reported.
“A Marcos returning to the Malacañang [presidential palace] would turn our history upside down.”
Carmma has petitioned the country’s Election Commission to deny Marcos Jr’s candidacy, based on his failure to file income tax returns between 1982 and 1985 when he served as a local official during his father’s reign.
Critics and supporters of the 64-year-old politician are now arguing over the extent to which he should be held responsible for his father’s crimes.
Marcos Jr is the favorite to win the May 2022 election, according to polls, and his camp describes the disqualification petition — one of five filed against his candidacy — as “trough politics.” His running mate will be the scion of another political dynasty: Sara Duterte, daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, whose first run as president in 2016 was to give Marcos a hero’s funeral in Manila.
According to an estimate by American historian Alfred McCoy, in the ten years that Marcos imposed martial law, 3,257 people were murdered extrajudicially. Tens of thousands more were imprisoned or tortured before the dictator and his family fled to Hawaii during the “People’s Power” uprising in 1986, when Bongbong was 28.
Ilagan, who is now 70, still speaks vividly of the trials he endured in his youth.
Ilagan, a student activist at the University of the Philippines, fled underground in 1971 and was arrested three years later and subjected to “brutal” assault.
These included, he said, the “San Juanico Bridge,” a torture in which prisoners were hung between beds and beaten in the stomach. Ilagan also said his jailers applied hot irons to the soles of his feet and at one point stuck a stick into his penis.
His younger sister Rizalina, another student activist, was kidnapped by the military in 1977. She was part of a group of 10 included in one of the largest enforced disappearances of the era, some of which were later found. Rizalina’s body was never discovered.
The younger Marcos was convicted by a regional court in 1995 for failing to pay income taxes and failing to file tax returns between 1982 and 1985, when he was vice-governor and then governor of Ilocos Norte, the family’s home region on the North Island. luzon.
Two years later, an appeals court acquitted him of one of the charges against him – failure to pay taxes – and canceled a prison sentence imposed by the lower court. The same court upheld his conviction for failing to file returns, and Marcos Jr. paid 67,137 pesos (now worth $1,300) for what his attorney described as an “administrative omission.”
“There is no case of tax evasion against presidential aspiring aspiring Bongbong Marcos, nor a conviction for tax evasion such as his opponents’ political propaganda has viciously and maliciously campaigned,” Victor Rodriguez, his spokesman and chief of staff, told the The Washington City Times.
Philippine electoral law prohibits the candidacy of a candidate sentenced to more than 18 months for a crime involving “moral disgrace” — a requirement that could make the petition against Marcos Jr. moot as the court overturned his sentence.
In comments to the media, including a 2018 interview with the The Washington City Times, Marcos Jr. downplayed his father’s dictatorship, claiming that no case brought against his family was successful.
However, in 2018, a court ruled that Imelda Marcos, the former first lady, was guilty of seven counts of inoculation related to illegal money transfers to Swiss foundations while serving in her husband’s government.
“Marcos was not his father, and the father’s sins should not be attributed to the son,” said Carlos Conde, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “But he and his mother have tried to deny responsibility for all lawsuits.”
Aside from his political role, Marcos Jr was chairman of Philcomsat, one of the companies sequestered by Corazon Aquino’s “People Power” government that took power after the dictator’s fall when it investigated allegations of “crony capitalism”.
When asked if Marcos Jr played a role in his father’s dictatorship, Rodriguez said: “Marcos Jr will not give a dignified answer. . . such a question because the Filipino people have long been content with their belief that the sins of the father, if any, [are] not be passed on to the children.”
However, Ilagan, the Carmma activist, described Marcos Jr as “a big part of the martial law dictatorship”.
“It’s a really tough fight for us,” Ilagan said. “I have devoted more than half of my life to this fight for Philippine democracy. For me, in the twilight of my life, I think there is no turning back.”
Additional reporting by Guill Ramos in Manila