Marcos-Aquino rivalry fires again

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 February, 2010, 12:00am

A week-long commemoration of the 1986 'people power' uprising that toppled Ferdinand Marcos has coincided with a rekindling of the Marcos-Aquino rivalry that once dominated politics in the Philippines.

Two presidential candidates promised on Monday to give Marcos' refrigerated corpse a hero's burial if they win, as part of attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of the late dictator. Adding to the indignation of the anti-Marcos camp, his widow, son and daughter are running for seats in the House and Senate.

Imelda Marcos is contesting in her late husband's Ilocos Norte stronghold, but she is saddled with more than 100 pending criminal and civil court cases, alleging the couple stole from state coffers.

Eldest daughter and three-time congresswoman Imee is running in a neighbouring congressional district, while Marcos' only son, Ferdinand 'Bongbong', is seeking a senate seat. His family said a nationwide senate victory for Bongbong, the present Ilocos Norte representative and former governor, would amount to a vindication of his father.

Denied a state funeral on grounds that he plundered the nation and committed human rights abuses, Marcos' embalmed body, encased in a glass coffin, has been the top tourist attraction in Ilocos for the past 17 years. Three presidents, including Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, tried to bury him with state honours but public fury stopped them.

Bongbong, 52, said this week that his father did much better than his successor, the late Corazon Aquino. '[The uprising] was a failure! Poverty worsened and the government was not able to clean up the bureaucracy,' he said, referring to the highway on which hundreds of thousands of people blocked Marcos' tanks in a revolt.

In contrast, he said, 'the Marcos administration had direction. It had a clear programme and platform'.

His remarks reopened old wounds. Bongbong is on the Senate slate of Manuel Villar, who is neck and neck with Benigno Aquino III in the presidential race. The latter is the only son of Corazon Aquino, catapulted to the presidency after Marcos was ousted 24 years ago today, and Benigno Aquino, the opposition leader assassinated in 1983.

On burying Marcos inside the Heroes' Cemetery, Villar said: 'I don't see a problem with that.'

Another presidential aspirant, Gilberto Teodoro, said: 'I don't see anything wrong extending president Marcos a hero's burial. He deserves such rites as a former soldier who fought for the country during the second world war.'

Teodoro is the ruling Lakas-Kampi Party's candidate. He was once a youth leader under Marcos, and his parents and uncle all served Marcos.

On the face of it, Bongbong was right in saying the 1986 revolution on failed to benefit the poor, analysts said. The past 24 years produced three billionaires in the Philippines, according to the 2009 Forbes list, while 27.6 million people (a third of the population) still live in poverty, the Asian Development Bank says.

Bert Hoffman, the World Bank's country director for Manila, attributes the inequality to the lack of 'inclusive growth'. He said that by contrast, 'many countries including China ... have put a lot of emphasis on inclusive growth to sustain their reforms'.

Political analyst Wilson Flores, who studied economics under Arroyo when she taught in college, said only the wealthy enjoyed the fruits of 'people power'. He said the lack of antitrust laws made it worse. 'Businessmen will go where there is profit. They don't care what is good for the country,' he said.

The situation continued under Arroyo's reign, Australian risk analyst Peter Wallace said.

Last week, his report said poverty and inequality worsened under Arroyo. 'Some 30 per cent of the country's well-off families took more than 60 per cent of the total wealth,' he wrote. 'The poorest 50 per cent received less than 20 per cent of that wealth. GDP has grown on average 4.7 per cent in the past eight years. The poor have gotten no benefit from it. [The poor] are worse off, there are more of them.'

He blamed this on cronyism and state corruption reminiscent of the Marcos regime.