Activists mark historic People Power revolt as most Filipinos look to Marcos Jr for hope

All major opinion polls show Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr headed for a landslide victory in the May 9 election. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippines is marking the 36th anniversary of its historic People Power revolt on Friday (Feb 25) amid a fiercely contested presidential election that could see the family of Mr Ferdinand Marcos Sr complete their stunning return to power.

All major opinion polls show Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the late dictator's son, headed for a landslide victory in the May 9 election. If he wins, he will become the Philippines' 17th president. His father was the 10th.

The likely Marcos victory has alarmed those who fought the dictatorship and lived through martial law, still fervently believing in the aims of the 1986 uprising that saw a military-backed civilian revolt ending Mr Marcos Sr's brutal regime with the promise of democracy, peace and prosperity.

They have warned about the prospect of a major rewriting of history stretching back to the 1960s and a reversal of progressive policies under a second Marcos presidency.

"We never imagined that Ferdinand Marcos Jr would top presidential surveys 36 years after his father was ousted," Archbishop Socrates Villegas told the online news website Rappler.

Archbishop Villegas was a protege of the late Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, who played a pivotal role in mobilising civilian support for the military coup against Mr Marcos Sr that sparked the People Power revolt.

"If you look at their narrative, instead of saying sorry, they are changing the story," he said.

Civil rights activist Etta Rosales, who was detained and raped by security forces during martial law, said Mr Marcos Jr is "pushing the idea that the People Power revolution wrecked the fruits of his father's labour, so that will continue - and that is the worst thing that can happen".

"He's not the lesser evil. Once he becomes president, he can use force. He will learn (how to use) it," she said.

Retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio told the Philippine Star that Mr Marcos Jr would claw back the wealth his family believes their old cronies took from them.

"The Marcoses will squeeze them, put extra legal pressure on them to pay the shares the Marcoses claimed they owned," he said.

He said Mr Marcos Jr would also likely abolish the commission still hunting his family's ill-gotten wealth.

This commission has, through the courts, recovered some 174 billion pesos (S$4.6 billion) from the Marcoses, but it is still going after some 125 billion pesos more.

A wall with the names of victims of martial law from the 1970s, at the Monument of Heroes in Quezon City, Manila. PHOTO: AFP

Analysts are more skeptical in assessing the Marcos candidacy, saying that his rise does not speak about his strengths and accomplishments but rather the failings of the People Power revolt.

The Marcoses have been trying to rehabilitate their image since they returned to the Philippines from exile in 1991.

It was not until 2016, when Mr Marcos Jr narrowly lost the vice-presidency to Ms Leni Robredo, who heads the anti-Marcos party that grew out of the People Power revolt, that the effort to put him on the presidency began in earnest.

Philippine presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr looks headed for a landslide victory in the May 9 election. PHOTO: REUTERS

By then, the People Power revolt had lost its lustre.

Only a few thousand people were turning up to celebrate it and the main players who made it happen had either died or were distancing themselves from it.

Most of those who lived through the Marcos regime and joined the 1986 uprising were already pushing into their 60s and 70s.

The majority of voters were born after 1986, and they were resentful that the promises of People Power never materialised.

Income inequality is as wide as it has ever been since 1986, and more than 26 million Filipinos are still living below the poverty line. Corruption continues to infest the bureaucracy.

"Such resentments have a long shelf life, and right now they favour the return of the Marcoses," said political analyst Randy David.

The Marcoses have been tapping into the public's disappointment at the broken promises of People Power to push their own version of history: that the more than 20-year reign of Mr Marcos Sr were "golden years" of growth; that they never stole from the nation's coffers; and that martial law saved the nation from communism.

Ms Loretta Ann Rosales showing a photo of when she was arrested after martial law was declared in the 1970s. PHOTO: AFP

That narrative blanketed Facebook, which is now the main source of news by one in two Filipinos. It went on unchecked on the platform and quickly fed the biases of those who felt let down by the People Power revolt.

Activists are lining up protests on Friday around a shrine in Manila that marks the site where over two million people gathered in 1986, armed with nothing but flowers, rosaries and their convictions and grievances, to confront soldiers armed to the teeth and ready to mow them down with bullets.

A "teach-in" is scheduled in the morning, which organisers say is meant to remind Filipinos of the dark days of the Marcoses. But it will likely draw in just a few hundred protesters.

The history-altering events of 1986 has run its course for most Filipinos, and going forward may mean looking back to what they see as a glorious albeit flawed past.

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