Bongbong Marcos: Into politics out of necessity
He did not want to enter politics, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., said. “I wanted to have a private life. The subjects I enjoyed most in school were Math and Science. That’s why I don’t understand how I ended up in politics,” he laughed.
He was actually thrust into politics out of necessity, he said. “I had very little choice. Because in 1991 when I came home, we (the Marcoses) were still the issue. I knew our political enemies would try to destroy us so we had to be able to defend ourselves.” He added: “Since the issue was political, we had to enter politics to have some kind of protection for me and my family.”
Watching the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos’ political career made him initially reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I did not want to do the same things [that] my father [did]. I told myself that everything anyone can possibly do in politics, my father had already done. He was President and had a very noteworthy presidency,” the younger Marcos said.
But Marcos Jr. gradually accepted politics and public service as part of his life. “Because I cannot imagine not doing anything. My life as a public servant has been established for 27 years now,” he said.
His father may have been described by both critics and admirers in terms superlative or execrable, but for the young Marcos, the late dictator was just “Dad,” the man who gave him the nickname “bumbong” after the bamboo segment used as a water container that was usually slung over a person’s back.
President Marcos had joked that his only son was like the bumbong, because as a child, he would cling playfully on his father’s back. The pet name stuck and evolved into “Bongbong.”
“I was 7 years old when we moved to Malacañang Palace [from our San Juan home]. It was completely different from the life we used to have. Malacañang was dark and old and we were sure there would be ghosts from how it looked. It was also very formal but I would say, as much as it was possible to have a normal childhood, we had one,” the senator said, referring to himself and siblings: incumbent Ilocos Norte Gov. Maria Imelda Josefa (Imee), and younger sister, Irene Marcos-Araneta.
“It took me a while to realize that my life was not the same, that not everybody was living the same life as I did,” Marcos Jr. said. He soon noticed that his classmates’ fathers did not have to make a speech, nor were they required to go to Quirino Grandstand on Independence Day. He was then in kindergarten at the Institucion Teresiana. He later went to La Salle Green Hills for his primary studies.
“To tell you the truth, he was just dad,” Marcos said of the late President, adding, “But, of course, you knew he was a different person because when he walked into a room, the room stops and everybody would defer to him. He was in control. He was the boss.”
The young Marcos was sent to England in 1970, where he eventually earned a degree in Social Studies from Oxford University. His sisters Imee and Irene were also sent in 1971 to the United Kingdom for their education.
In earlier interviews, Marcos Jr., said they were sent abroad because of an intelligence report that a group was plotting to abduct them.
Marcos Jr., soon enrolled for a Masters in Business Administration at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He had already submitted his dissertation and was close to completing the postgraduate course when he was elected Ilocos Norte vice governor in 1980. He was 23.
At the height of the Edsa People Power Revolution in February 1986, the then governor of Ilocos Norte was put in charge of the defense of Malacañang Palace, following reports of an invasion by an armed group. “In the end, it did not happen,” he recalled. “That was the situation then. You never really had a moment to think, ‘Whoa. What’s going on?’ There were so many things to take care of, like the defense of the Palace.”
He admitted to having been taken aback when told that they had to leave. “I said, ‘What? Why?’ I told them we didn’t have to, but the decision had been made and we had to make preparations to leave.”
He added: “I’m sure people knew we were supposed to go to [Paoay], Ilocos, but the Americans took us to Clark and eventually took us away…In fact my friends and advisers and people I worked with will attest to that because in Clark, I talked to them on the phone and asked them to go to Paoay.”
His mother, Imelda Marcos, describes their exile in Hawaii as a “kidnapping” because “in the middle of the night, the Americans informed us that we needed to go and we ended up in Guam,” Marcos Jr. said of their six-year exile.
President Marcos died in Honolulu on September 28, 1989, from kidney, heart and lung ailments.
In 1991, Marcos Jr. would be the first of his family to return to the Philippines where, he said, there were so many people welcoming him back.
“The first thing I said was, I needed to call my mother and tell her I was safe. When I called her, she was angry. She was asking, ‘What are you doing there? Why are you there?’ I told her, ‘Mom, come home [to the Philippines].’ She asked me ‘Isn’t it dangerous?’ and I said, ‘Mom, It’s not true what they’re saying. Nothing’s going to happen to us here. Come home.’” The former first lady did go home soon after, followed by the rest of the family.
“They kept telling us, ‘Don’t come home because it is dangerous for you. They might hurt you.’ The news said everyone was angry with the Marcoses so we had to consider that,” Marcos Jr. recalled. “But we were in Hawaii for six years already. I told myself I would amount to nothing there so I needed to come home. So I went home and the first impression I got was, not everything [we heard] was true. There were a lot of people who love us here,” he said.
In 1992, the younger Marcos was elected representative of the second district of Ilocos Norte, coauthoring some 90 House bills, including those that created the Department of Energy and the National Youth Commission.
He married lawyer Louise Araneta, whom he met in New York, on April 17, 1993. The couple have three sons: Ferdinand Alexander, Joseph Simon, and William Vincent.
Marcos Jr. twice tried for a Senate seat, running under his father’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan in 1995 and losing, and trying again in 2010, landing seventh.
Meanwhile, he bided his time as Ilocos Norte governor and served three terms.
Marcos Jr. authored 34 Senate bills and coauthored 17 others, out of which seven became laws, including the Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, and the National Health Insurance Act.
Marcos’ decision to run for Vice President was the result of a confluence of factors. “I had to take many, many things into consideration,” he told the Inquirer, explaining that he had to look at the political situation, the issues, and the things that needed to be done.
He also sought the people’s advice, including his mother’s. But the former first lady and incumbent Ilocos Norte representative wanted him to run for President, which he did not heed. “I just did not think it was the right time,” he said.
Marcos Jr., believes he has a good chance of clinching the vice presidency as the only economist in the lot.
“I have a lot of ideas that I think will be of benefit to our people. I am the only one who has training in Economics and I think that’s what is needed now,” he said.
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