Can That Anti-Marcos Spirit Be Revived?

by Emil Guillermo

We just have a few weeks to go, and things seem to be going to plan, if you’re rooting against democracy in the Philippines.

Me? I prefer the old-fashioned way. An engaged citizenry passionate about their country, and either for an inspirational leader or against a greedy dictator.

Forty years ago, that passion was present in the Philippines. It was that anti-Marcos spirit. I think I saw a glimpse of it in the video clips circulating recently. They showed about 300 people marching in Washington, D.C., thousands of miles away from where their hearts really were, the Philippines.

The participants, mostly dual-citizens, RP and US, are the embodiment of the devolving relationship, sometimes colonial, sometimes free, uniquely Filipino. And now they were all marching not just to protest but to drop off their presidential election ballots to the Philippine Embassy in the U.S.

If you’re an overseas dual citizen, the election is May 9th. Don’t forget to mail your ballots in on time. If you haven’t received your ballot yet, call the Philippine Embassy or your nearest consulate.

There are 190,000 eligible voters in the US, a relative fraction of the nearly 1.7 million overseas workers overall. Don’t think your voice doesn’t matter. Remittances talk, and the RP knows remittances. OFWs send back more than $30 billion last year. From the U.S. alone the amount is estimated at $13.2 billion.

That’s a “b” for Billion. Not Bong-Bong.

If you send remittance money, you are an enabler of your family, sure, but also the Philippines. You might as well enable someone worthy of the presidency with your vote.

Most all of the marchers in D.C. were dressed in pink of some sort, the campaign colors of Vice President Leni Robredo, trying to rally those who still believe that Filipinos are deserving of democracy.

It made me wonder. Is that good old anti-Marcos feeling still alive? Can it make a comeback after all these years?

It will take that kind of emotion felt in the 1980’s to stave off the second coming of a Marcos presidency in the Philippines.

Back then Bong-Bong was just a kid in his 20s. Innocent enough. But old enough too to see the kind of reaction his family engendered. The anti-Marcos feeling was so strong during martial law you could feel it in the U.S. and easily get a thousand people to protest at San Francisco’s Union Square.

I was at one such protest as a reporter when Marcoses came to visit. There were Filipinos of all kinds, but also whites, unionists, other social justice fighters. They all knew what was at stake in the Philippines.

With Reagan and Bush propping up a thieving dictatorship, people throughout the U.S. were impacted by the Marcos years as well. They all knew Marcos was a bad man.

In 2022, that’s all a distant memory.

Either you’re too young. Or you’re too old. Or too Filipino, willing to forget, or to just “not remember.”

You don’t need trolls or social media to give you disinformation. You’ve got that Filipino amnesia working for you, brought on by a reluctance to face some tough hard facts about the Marcos dictatorship.

But this rehabilitation of the Marcos family has been going on since 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte won the Supreme Court’s blessing to go ahead with giving Daddy Dictator a hero’s burial in the national cemetery.

“I’m just being legalistic about it,” said Duterte to the media about Marcos at the time.  “He was president, he was a soldier. That’s about it.”

Oh yeah, there are a few other choice words and adjectives Duterte could have used. Corrupt dictator, philanderer, plunderer, I could go on.

The exiting Duterte has been spectacularly modest about his own political achievements, downplaying the thousands of extrajudicial killings attributed to his government.

Duterte is no small-time guy. He’s got stats.

The UN Human Rights Council in 2020 said since Duterte was elected to the presidency, more than 27,000 suspected drug peddlers have been killed in a mix of police operations and vigilante killings.

There have also been nearly 250 human rights defenders (unionists, lawyers, journalists and environmental rights defenders) killed.

Compare that with the depth of Marcos’ record. Amnesty International says Marcos imprisoned 70,000 people during martial law, tortured 34,000, and killed 3,240 Filipinos.

This perhaps is the reason VP Leni Robredo has little chance to win.

How many people has she killed? Jailed? Tortured? Then there’s the money the Marcoses plundered from the Philippines, an amount exceeding $10 billion.

No one comes close to the Marcoses. Even with billions partially recovered already, there is still $2.4 billion that remains in litigation, according to reports.

Will the government have the political courage to go after a villainous Marcos family reinstalled as leaders? Is it even wrong to see Bong-Bong and the Marcoses synonymously?

Of course not. It’s the Philippines, after all.

Junior is not separate from the father. The legacy is there. Just because Duterte buried Daddy Marcos doesn’t absolve the heirs. Someone needs to be held accountable for all they did. They didn’t flee in 1986 to Hawaii for vacation.

But that makes the burial of Marcos in 2016 both literal and symbolic.

The body and its deeds, along with the accompanying cleansing of history. Almost makes the social media trolling and disinformation unnecessary. One political friend of mine called it “brainwashing.”

And then when considering the Filipino nature is it even necessary. The Filipino nature? As one Filipino observer told me it’s the tendency of Filipinos to avoid difficult subjects, and simply to make nice.

It sets up an election where the smiling son of a dictator can stroll in, not debate any opponents, and run on the family’s infamous name.

Already some are talking how the return of the Marcoses will mean they’ll spend some of that ill-gotten wealth back in the Philippines. But does that excuse decades of political sins?

Another Filipino friend of mine feels there’s momentum for Robredo and senses a surge, a “tsunami” in the final weeks.

He believes that. I’ll believe it if I sense some of that anti-Marcos fervor I saw and felt in the 80s.

That was the power that toppled Marcos AND his family. It must be revived if a new Filipino pro-democracy movement wins on May 9.

Otherwise, make way for what 40 years ago may have seemed inconceivable.

EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator, and a former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.”  He talks about his columns on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my micro-talk show, Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

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