“I’m so lucky that I was born a Marcos,” Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jnr said last year as he threw his hat into the political ring.
In May, Bongbong came heartbreakingly close to winning the vice-presidency. Now he spends his time convincing the Supreme Court he was cheated of victory. Despite the 59-year-old’s loss by only 200,000 votes, President Rodrigo Duterte took the former senator along on his state visit to Beijing in October, telling a Filipino crowd that if Bongbong won his protest, “maybe we will have a new vice-president”.
Last week, Duterte, 71, conveyed to Vice-President Leni Robredo via a text message sent by an aide that she should “desist” from attending cabinet. Robredo resigned her housing brief, warning supporters that plans were afoot for Marcos to steal the vice-presidency.
Duterte has been quite open in showing his fondness for Marcos and insinuating he was cheated. He sees Marcos as his successor. During the campaign he said that if he failed to eradicate corruption, drugs and criminality in three months, “then I will hand over the presidency to Bongbong”.
Duterte said his father “was a close [political] ally of President Marcos until his death” and he considered Marcos Snr “the best and the brightest” president. He recently revealed that the Marcoses bankrolled his presidential campaign. During a television show last year, Duterte and Bongbong – despite their 12-year age difference – displayed an easy camaraderie and joked about which one of them would run for president. Duterte has made good on his election promise to bury Marcos’ body in the Heroes’ Cemetery. Reports abound that he will appoint Bongbong to his cabinet next year.
In short, Bongbong’s luck has not run out. Perhaps because Marcos’ middle child and only son really was born lucky. His father was elected president when he was only eight and for the next two decades he called Malacanang Palace home. The diaries his father unwittingly left behind in Malacanang in 1986 when they fled from an enraged throng now give a glimpse of the “lucky” life that Marcos Jnr had once led, and the he apparently continues to enjoy.
At 13, on September 4, 1970, Bongbong was sent away to Worth School in Britain because of a leftist threat to kidnap him. His father’s parting memento was his portrait with the words, “On your departure for an unknown land, come back not only as my son, come back as a man.”
His father, who had excelled academically, worried about his son’s grades. He confided to his diary that, “Father Bernard says in the last fortnight Bongbong has been lazy but well adjusted. He makes believe he knows but he does not. In history he has been observed to be ‘flippant’ and his ideas are not well thought-out.”
Later though, Bongbong told his father he would need to give up judo to have more time for coursework and – music to his father’s ears – he intended to study law at the same university as his father had.
He never did, though. He went to Oxford University, where he obtained a “special diploma in Social Studies”.
His father’s ambition for his only son to excel academically is revealed in one of the Swiss bank documents the family also left behind in the palace.
Dated August 28, 1970, the document pertaining to the Marcos couple’s secret Swiss accounts held by the dummy Trinidad Foundation laid out the following reward for their son: “The foundation’s council, may, however, dispose of part of the total assets, maximum one third, in favour of the son Ferdinand before his 21st birthday to assure his support at the standard of living he is used to and his education to the doctorate level at the foundation council’s discretion.”
In England, Bongbong not only learned to clean the bathroom but also to live the life of the rich and famous. When his sisters Imee and Irene were sent to boarding schools the following year, their parents got them two cars and two houses, “one in London and another smaller one in Mayfield where they [the three children] can meet on weekends and holidays,” Marcos wrote in his diary on April 24, 1971.
Although required to by law, President Marcos never publicly declared his Swiss assets nor the two houses and cars in England in his statement of assets and liabilities.
Charges of ill-gotten wealth dogged the Marcos family early on and did not spare the children. On April 19, 1971, Marcos wrote in his diary that he and his wife Imelda would file libel suits. He wrote: “The straw that broke the camel’s back was a nasty letter to Bongbong calling him a future thief and asking what kind of crook is your daddy”. Later, though, he thought the better of the lawsuits and simply arrested journalists en masse when he imposed military rule in 1972.
To this day, Bongbong Marcos has insisted that he knows nothing about his parents’ Swiss bank accounts, although he did concede to This Week in Asia that he once signed a letter of authority to have someone try to withdraw from the same accounts.
He has devoted the past three decades to raising his three sons and trying to get back the wealth which authorities have estimated to be worth at least
US$10 billion. In 1995, he nearly succeeded in pushing a settlement which would have allowed the family to keep a quarter of the contested money “net of taxes” and have all pending suits against them dropped. But the Supreme Court struck it down.
Bongbong did not inherit the keen mind of his father, who once said that while Imee was the dictator’s “intellectual twin”, Bongbong had “um, good muscle coordination”. But he has his father’s voice and charm. His father fondly observed the girls screaming at the sight of his teenage son and trying to kiss him. It is the same charm that propelled Bongbong to a Senate seat and nearly got him elected vice-president.
During the family’s exile in Hawaii, Bongbong tried to spend as much time as possible with his father but not his mother. He often clashed with his mother, according to Marcos’ former military aide Arturo Aruiza in his book, Ferdinand E. Marcos: From Malacanang to Makiki.
Only Bongbong was present at his father’s deathbed. Aruiza wrote: “Marcos opened his eyes and moved his lips, as though trying to tell his son something.” Then Marcos’ heartbeat spiked to 200 beats per minute before dropping. The man Bongbong idolised and claimed was “touched by God” died on September 28, 1989. Since then, Bongbong and his sisters have tried to revise the history of their father’s tyranny, cover up the rights violations and plunder, and project it as a “golden age”.
When Marcos’ body was interred in the Heroes’ Cemetery, thanks to a Supreme Court decision that there was no law to prevent this happening, Bongbong tweeted: “Twenty-seven years in the making! Finally, my father gets the rest he rightfully and legally deserves.”
But the battle is far from over for Bongbong. He is hoping the same Supreme Court justices who ruled in favour of his father’s burial will rule in favour of his electoral protest, thus unseating Robredo and placing him a heartbeat from the position his father once held. ■