Marcos, rebranded: Why son of dictator is leading Philippines’ surveys

Bonifacio Ilagan can nevertheless remember being tortured under the Ferdinand Marcos regime. At 22 years old, he had recently joined a large student activist movement, and the authorities wanted information on his colleagues. 

Now in his 70s, Mr. Ilagan has devoted much of his life to sharing the stories of fellow martial law survivors. During one of the darkest periods in Philippine history, tens of thousands of people were imprisoned and tortured, and more than 3,000 were killed, while the Marcos family is believed to have embezzled $5 billion to 10 billion.

Why We Wrote This

The campaign of ​​Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the Philippine presidential race shows how carefully curated mythmaking and historical revision can shape an election.

But their accounts of brutality seem to have little effect on the Filipino electorate, which is poised to pick Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. – the late dictator’s son and namesake – as the country’s next president on Monday.

The election is packed with familiar names, and experts say the rise of a Marcos candidate signals how disinformation and economic stagnation have made the Philippines unprotected to democratic backsliding. Many of Bongbong’s supporters – particularly younger voters who don’t remember martial law – describe the 1970s as a sort of golden age, when crime and traffic were down and the world respected the Philippines. 

Political scientist Cleve V. Arguelles, from De La Salle University in Manila, sees a decadeslong plan coming to fruition. “The Marcos family brand … is a product of a painstaking course of action of mythmaking,” he says.

MANILA, Philippines

Bonifacio Ilagan was only 22 when the security forces raided the house where he’d been hiding after joining a large student activist movement resisting the regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Authorities brought him to Camp Crame, a detention facility that today serves as the headquarters of the national police. There he was tortured in an attempt to extract information on the whereabouts of his colleagues in the movement, but Mr. Ilagan says he never gave up names.

“I refused to be the reason someone will be killed,” he says.

Why We Wrote This

The campaign of ​​Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the Philippine presidential race shows how carefully curated mythmaking and historical revision can shape an election.

Now in his 70s, Mr. Ilagan isn’t the only one who suffered under martial law. During those nine years that historians call the darkest period in Philippine history, more than 3,000 people were killed, and around 34,000 people were tortured and 70,000 imprisoned, according to human rights organizations. Many people disappeared, including Mr. Ilagan’s sister. But their stories seem to have little effect on the Filipino electorate, which is poised to pick Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. – the son and namesake of the late dictator – as the country’s next president on Monday. Latest opinion surveys also show Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of the controversial President Rodrigo Duterte, leading in the race for vice president, a position Filipinos elect separately.

This is a pivotal election packed with familiar names, and experts say the rise of the Marcos-Duterte ticket signals how disinformation and economic stagnation have made the Philippines unprotected to democratic backsliding.

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