A year ago, on May 9, the son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos was brought to power. In this series of three texts, The duty takes the pulse of the capital of the Philippines and the north of the country. Continuation and end today: meeting with one of the family members of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
In the Marcos family, Michael Marcos Keon, mayor of the city of Laoag, the most important agglomeration of the region of Ilocos Norte, in the north of the Philippines, is certainly the one who could best be called the “black sheep”. “.
“Things are complicated, as they are in all families,” said the principal concerned, sitting in front of a mountain of documents in his vast office in the town hall where The duty met him last week. “But I don’t want to say too much. »
However, a few things are common knowledge. In 2022, this nephew of Ferdinand Marcos senior, undoubtedly one of the favorites of the dictator, as assured by some elders in the region, was re-elected for a second term as mayor of Laoag after a remarkable campaign: his cousin Ferdinand Marcos Jr., known as Bongbong Marcos (BBM), the current president, and his cousin Imee Marcos, two influential politicians in the region, had preferred to support the candidacy of his adversary: the deputy mayor, Tito Lazo.
“There were a lot of lies spread about me during the campaign, by the one who was supported by members of my family, he says, but I don’t hold any grudges. »
A year later, tempers indeed seem to have calmed down, and Michael Marcos Keon, who was president of the Philippine Olympic Committee under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, is even able to take a positive look at the nascent presidency of his cousin, without having to force himself.
“He was made to follow in his father’s footsteps. It was his destiny, he says. And for now, he’s doing some pretty good things, like strengthening our ties with the Americans” as tensions escalate off the coast of the Philippines between China and the United States over the strategic issue of Taiwan.
And even if this succession drawn between a father and his son is observed with some concern in the rest of the world, recognizes the city councilor, it can only follow a completely different trajectory, he assures.
“I served the Philippines under Marcos senior, whom I knew very well. He was portrayed as a dictator. And he was one. But he was a benevolent dictator. Will my cousin become the same? He doesn’t need it. The country is now elsewhere, far from the rise of communism at the time of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., which justified the declaration of martial law. And then, the democratic institutions of the Philippines will resist such a scenario. The people won’t want it either and the country will eventually remain a democracy,” he predicts.
The ascent of his cousin to Malacañang, palace of the presidency, was played out at the end of a skilfully orchestrated campaign by the Marcos to make people forget the traces of their dark past. Extrajudicial executions. The torture. Disappearances, as many citizens opposed to the dictatorship as billions of dollars taken from state coffers to be hidden abroad. A rewrite that Michael Marcos Keon admits “up to a point”, he says. “What story are we talking about? The one written by the Americans to bring down Ferdinand Marcos? Everyone knows that it is the Westerners who wrote the history books, ”continues the elected official, imposing the weight of an “OK” at the end of his sentence.
“The problem with Bongbong is that he has to live with his father’s legacy. He has no other choice. He seeks to distance himself from it, and for the moment, he does it well. And the longer he stays in the job, the easier he will be able to do it. »
Things are complicated, as they are in all families. But I don’t want to say too much.
From his margin – “the rest of the family finds me strange”, he says – the president’s cousin, who has fond memories of their youth spent together, assures that Bongbong does not have the seed of a dictator. “He is an intellectual, a loner, who does not particularly appreciate the presence of too many people. He is not a violent, power-hungry being. I worked with him. I know him very well. I also lived with him, although I lived in Thailand when he was in Malacañang with his father. »
“Yes, he could become a little more authoritarian, if necessary for the good of the country. But under the circumstances, I don’t see how he could want to repeat the mistakes of the past. »
For Michael Marcos Keon, the arrival of BBM to power does not seem to be frightening, as evidenced by the attitude of investors towards a country that the new president likes to describe as a “rising star” in Southeast Asia. . Last September, he returned from a trip to the United States with the promise of investments of 3.9 billion Philippine pesos (almost 100 million Canadian dollars) to create 112,000 jobs, then with other promises of $350 million following visits to Singapore and Indonesia.
“He seems to have found new friendships abroad that he will certainly not seek to compromise,” adds Michael Marcos Keon, so as not to risk jeopardizing his project to restore the Philippines to the greatness it already has. had, according to BBM. Just like small and large family affairs, at the heart of Filipino life, and necessarily of their politics.
“The family is a central issue everywhere in the Philippines,” adds Michael Marcos Keon. This is the most important thing. From the outside, it may look a bit feudal, but that’s how culturally we operate here,” he concludes.
The Philippines remains historically in the group of countries where the perception of corruption is among the highest, at 116e world ranking out of 180 countries and territories, according to the latest ranking established by Transparency International. Earlier this year, a US State Department report on human rights practices in the Philippines acknowledged that laws had been passed to combat corruption, “but [que] the government has not implemented them effectively”. In 2022, “public officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity,” it read.
This report was financed thanks to the support of the Transat International Journalism Fund.The duty.