Marcos Seeks to Restore Philippine Dynasty

Via The New York Times

Marcos Seeks to Restore Philippine Dynasty
The New York Times
By Norimitsu Onishi
8 May 2010

At a mall food court here, where she was sitting with reporters covering her campaign for the House of Representatives, Imelda Marcos inserted iPod earbuds on either side of her bouffant coiffure.

She had gamely accepted an offer to listen for the first time to “Here Lies Love,” a new rock opera by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim that chronicles her rise from country girl to the first lady of the Philippines. Removing the earbuds, tilting her head slightly, she said in an exaggerated tone, “I’m flattered; I can’t believe it!”

Her life may already have been distilled into pop culture, her name reduced to a punch line about shoes. But a couple of months shy of 81 years, Mrs. Marcos is battling to restore the Marcos dynasty in nationwide elections on Monday, watching over a daughter running for provincial governor and over her only son, who is running for the Senate, a national office that the family hopes will be a stepping-stone back to the presidency.

She herself has been crisscrossing a rural district here in the north, the home of her late husband, Ferdinand E. Marcos, in a campaign that has been violent, even by Philippine standards. On a recent Sunday evening, she attended a fiesta where she was introduced as “still the queen, still the winner.” The next day, she comforted the widow of one of her campaign organizers, the fourth one to be assassinated so far.

If there is an urgency to Mrs. Marcos’s step, it is because she is leading the family on two battle fronts. Rebellious nephews have, for the first time, split the extended clan here. And, more than anything else, public opinion polls have consistently indicated that the country’s next president is likely to be Benigno S. Aquino III, the scion of the family that for three decades fought the Marcoses for control of the Philippines.

More than parties or ideology, family rivalries have always defined Philippine politics. And no feud has shaped the modern Philippines more than the epic fight between the Marcoses and the Aquinos: the standoff between Mr. Marcos, the American-backed autocrat, and Benigno S. Aquino Jr., the opposition leader, which eventually led to Mr. Aquino’s assassination, Mr. Marcos’s downfall and the rise of Corazon C. Aquino as president in 1986.

Mrs. Aquino’s death last year led to emotional calls for her only son, a senator who had never shown much ambition for higher office, to run for the presidency. In a news conference announcing his candidacy, he said he wanted to muster the “political will” to recover the “hidden wealth of the Marcoses.”

The Marcoses’ only son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., 52, known as Bongbong, said: “Immediately that got our attention. It doesn’t frighten us, but it certainly defined what could happen should he become president.”

He added: “I thought these issues were resolved 24 years ago. You won. The government fell.”

Over the years, the Marcoses have patiently worked at re-establishing their political power from their stronghold here, in the province of Ilocos Norte, where the younger Mr. Marcos, his older sister Imee and first cousins have, in rotation, held the seats for governor or the House. An early run by Mr. Marcos for the Senate failed, but he earned plaudits as governor by becoming the first person to erect windmills in the country and building tourism.

This time, Mr. Marcos is considered a very strong candidate for one of the 12 seats open for election in the Senate, the legislative body that has produced most of the country’s past presidents. Older voters may associate the Marcos name with martial law, political repression and cronyism. But in a country where half the population is under 22.5 years old and history is taught poorly, many young voters interviewed outside the Marcos redoubt here, like Jeffrey Zamora, a 31-year-old caretaker, said they knew little about the Marcos legacy.

Asked whether the family hoped that a Senate victory would allow the late president’s son to run for the presidency next time, Mariano Marcos, a first cousin, said, “Oh, yeah, that’s what all of us are hoping and working toward.”

But Mr. Aquino’s run for the presidency, his lead in the polls and his comment about the Marcoses’ wealth complicated matters, creating a family feud over which of Mr. Aquino’s opponents to back for president. When the dust settled, the Marcoses found themselves in need of a candidate for the House. With no one in the younger generation interested in politics yet, the family turned to its matriarch to run for the House seat being vacated by her son.

Leaving her home in Manila, Mrs. Marcos set up her campaign headquarters here in the little-used family mansion, where cobwebs still laced the living-room chandelier on a recent visit.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mrs. Marcos defended her husband’s legacy (thrusting her right index finger in the air) and bemoaned the government’s largely unsuccessful lawsuits against her family (dabbing her eyes). After her son’s success in exploiting wind power, Mrs. Marcos said she wanted to save the environment.

As the former mother of the Philippines, she said she would now become an all-knowing mother to Ilocos Norte, using the Internet to “monitor, 24/7,” even from Congress in Manila, “every extended family in every barangay,” or village, here in the province.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “I hardly can sleep. I feel that my target now is really to save Mother Earth for humanity. And it’s doable.”

On a recent afternoon, however, Mrs. Marcos had to tend to the darker side of Philippine politics by attending a wake for the campaign organizer gunned down the previous day under mysterious circumstances. After a 40-minute drive up a mountainous road, she arrived at the man’s home, a modest house of concrete blocks under a roof of corrugated zinc, in a small town called Nueva Era. People swarmed around her. A young boy reached up to touch the back of her hair.

Inside, the organizer, Andres Peralta, 42, lay in a white glass-covered coffin. Mrs. Marcos patted the left arm of his widow, Nancy, and held one of the couple’s seven children.

Back outside, Mrs. Marcos joked with some elderly women who came to greet her: “How old are you? What? I’m older than you but I look younger! What happened to you?”

“I’m running not only as your representative, but as your mother,” said Mrs. Marcos, still the queen and maybe still the winner, as she passed out juice packets to the children and packs of Winnsboro cigarettes to the men of Nueva Era. “I’ll take care of all of you.”

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