By Rachel C. Barawind, Angelo G. Garcia, Jaser A. Marasigan and Ivy Lisa | Manila Bulletin
Notwithstanding all that has happened to us, all the pain and difficulty that we went through, I still consider myself the luckiest person I know.
FAMILY PRIDE — Senator Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos, Jr. shows off the past and present generations of Marcoses.
MANILA, Philippines — Twenty-five years ago, he was on the other side of the battlefield, the one who firmly stood by the side of his father, former President Ferdinand Marcos, until the very end of the latter's 20-year rule brought about by the world’s first peaceful people uprising.
Today, amid the commemoration activities for that uprising that has come to be known as EDSA Revolution, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. has chosen to move on and reduce the experience to a painful memory.
“I have found myself a career. Once in a while your thoughts go back to the things that happened but only in a nostalgic sense. Tapos na so you get on with your new life and that’s really where we are.
Those after effects have become ripples in a pond, becoming smaller and smaller as time goes on. Today, it doesn’t affect me anymore because it really has no bearing on the things that I do,” shares the 54-year-old senator.
So whenever people would compare the similarities and exploit the parallelisms between the political paths taken by Ninoy Aquino and his son, President Noynoy Aquino on the one hand, and of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and his son Ferdinand Marcos Jr., on the other, Sen. Bongbong could only shake his head in exasperation.
“It’s redundant and the answer is I don’t see the irony. I’m a senator and I will do my job as a senator and he will also do his job as the President. If I agree with him, I would support him. If I don’t, I will not. What does it have to do with mga malalim na kahulugan?” he says.
From the eyes of the fallen leader’s only son though, there was never a need to vindicate his father who only wanted the best for his people.
“My father does not need me to defend his administration. If my father was a good President and I’m a bad senator, he’s still a good President. The only person you can redeem is yourself. So the best vindication is to just do a good job,” stresses Sen. Bongbong.
That was exactly what Sen. Bongbong has been doing throughout his 17 years in government. His accomplishments during his terms as governor and congressman of Ilocos Norte, have made breakthroughs for the province and the country. Among them are the windmills that provided alternative source of energy, a tourism boom that yielded more jobs and strengthened local economy, the increase in agricultural productivity, and the provision of health insurance for each and every constituent.
But while he was born and raised in the world of politics, being in it was not part of his grand plan at all. In fact, Sen. Bongbong went to school in Oxford University in England where he would have wanted to pursue a science course, and live an ordinary life away from the limelight.
“I’ve always had an interest in numbers and science. I remember when I was going to Oxford, I told my father that I wanted to take up this course which dealt a lot with logic. He said 'No, you won’t make any money from this. You will be poor. You study something practical.' So I studied politics, political science and economics. I went on to study at Wharton. You can see I’m heading to private business, 'yun ang plano ko talaga. Eh nung nasa Wharton ako second year palang ako napatakbo akong vice governor na. Wala na. From then on, I was heading towards politics na,” he recalls.
So fate and his father’s wish carved his path to politics. And while he is in many ways like his father, Sen. Bongbong says he has become his own person – a quiet, low profile, and even shy politician and family man.
In this 60 Minutes interview, the senator shares his thoughts on the country, post-EDSA, the role of the youth in nation-building, those happier times with his legendary parents, on the joys of raising his three boys, and that strangely funny, decades-old myth of not being the real Bongbong Marcos. (Rachel C. Barawid)
STUDENTS AND CAMPUSES BULLETIN (SCB): Twenty-five years ago at this time, EDSA happened. What are your thoughts about it?
FERDINAND MARCOS JR. (FMJ): Right now, no more. That is past, we’ve looked at it through the after effects. Your thoughts go back to the things that happened, but only in a nostalgic sense. It doesn’t affect me today because it really has no bearing in the things that I do.
It’s not something that we think about because we’ve discussed it enough amongst ourselves — the family, the supporters, etc — that we’re able to learn the lessons that needed to be learned. It comes up, especially the President is an Aquino and I’m in the Senate. For the first six months of being a senator, there was only one question “What do you think about the irony that your father was President and now the President is an Aquino....” that same question over and over.
SCB: Do you get irritated already by the question?
FMJ: It’s redundant, and because the answer is — nothing. No, I don’t see the irony. Nothing. I’m a senator and I will do my job as a senator and he will also do his job as the President. If I agree with him, I would support him, if I don’t, I would not. Tapos! What does it have to do with mga malalim na kahulugan. In the general conduct of your everyday life, those historical juxtapositions do not really impact on the things that you do on a regular day.
The best thing I can do to achieve many things is to be a good senator. Ultimately, to paraphrase the saying “The best revenge is to live well,” the best validation is to work well, then you can at least vindicate yourself, not anyone else but yourself.
SCB: Is there pressure on the Marcos children to vindicate yourselves?
FJM: Ourselves. But I always scratch my head when I’m asked “Do you feel the need to vindicate your father?” Palaging nakadikit sa question about the irony of the Aquino-Marcos.
Since the very beginning, I don’t understand the question because what is it that I will do that would change my father? If my father was a good President and I’m a bad senator, he’s still a good President. If my father was a bad President and I’m a good senator, he’s still a bad President. So what I do has nothing to do with anything, siguro sa pangalan lang. Maybe sasabihin at least may Marcos na magaling, may Marcos na mahina.
But the only person you can redeem is yourself. That’s why I said earlier that the best vindication is to just do a good job. At least sasabihin ng tao, he worked hard, he did a good job, nakakaintindi ‘yan but that opinion is of you. I always say it, my father does not need me to defend his administration.
My father’s record, he did for himself, nobody can change that, not even us. So I don’t see how what we do will have any effect on their opinion on the history of my father.
SCB: There was one time we spoke with a taxi driver who said if he could, he would bring Marcos back because life was better during his time...
FMJ: Kasi mahirap maging mahirap, kasi hindi maayos ang takbo ng gobyerno eh. Government should lead and provide services but we’ve not been doing it. The services are not good, they have in fact diminished. That is why perhaps we go back, at least maliwanag, at least may nangyayari, talagang tinutulungan tayo.
You have to construct a framework that is conducive to ordinary citizens being able to work and support themselves. That I think was to much greater extent, achieved in my father’s time than now, and I think ‘yun ‘yung sinasabi ng taxi driver.
SCB: Are you saying that there has been no successor that has done their job better than your dad did?
FMJ: Oh definitely! Forget the surname, pangalan ko Ferdinand Marcos Jr. maybe I’m biased ano? Just look at the objective test — literacy rate, road-kilometer per capita, energy policy, infrastructure.
It’s very clear, what he did in his time, you put all of his successors together, it’s not even half of what he did. Maliwanag na mas marami siyang nagawa.
Tapos ‘yung mga systems that has been put in place. What did they do because they are all anti-Marcos? Sinira ang mga system that are helping people up to now, like the Pag-Ibig Fund. It was working very well hanggang sa pinakialaman. These are actually good systems but because everything that was associated with my father was destroyed or removed, whether or not it was good, there is no continuity.
But we’re slowly maturing politically, baka magbago naman ‘yan. Maybe if we make the necessary changes in the Constitution and restructure the political system somewhat, then maybe we can remove that kind of thinking that you destroy everything your predecessor did and make everything your own.
SCB: Looking back, do you agree with everything that your dad did as far as running the country is concerned?
FMJ: Many of the things I didn’t really involved myself with until very close to 1986. But I knew my father, I knew his character. I knew what went on behind the scenes. Nakita ko ‘yung nagdudusa siya, nag-iisa siya dahil may problema, may nahihirapan.
I remember, when fighting broke out in Mindanao, it was a painful thing for him. I asked why do you consider that? Sabi niya, wala akong ginawa, buong buhay ko I risked my life to protect the Filipino people. Filipinos fighting each other. That’s the most painful thing to watch, especially if you’re the President. I could tell whatever decisions he made, he did not do flippantly. He always took everything that affected the country very, very, very seriously.
So because I trust him, and even if I didn’t know the details of the decisions he makes, I know that they were correct for the context that he was in, knowing what he knew.
SCB: Including Martial Law?
FMJ: You talked about discipline, you talked about order, when did that happen? That happened after 1972. That’s when our economy started. He thought that was necessary. We could see that it was beneficial to the country. He was facing two fronts. There was the war in Mindanao, and then in the countryside there was the communist insurgency, hindi makaahon ang bansa.
But never mind Martial Law, maybe I’m not completely aware of all the factors that entered into it, but I’m sure he was completely aware. And he applied good judgment to the knowledge that he had to come up with the right decision. So because I know that man, I trust the decisions he made.
SCB: The older people know about your father, about your family but the young ones don’t. If you’re faced with a group of college students, most of them are born in the ‘90s, how do you want them to know your father and the things that he has done?
FMJ: Just remember what he did.
SCB: Which they learn from history books?
FMJ: What’s being taught in school is propaganda. ‘Wag na tayong mag dahilan dito, maliwanag na maliwanag naman. Just look at the Constitution, the three-year term limit para ‘yan palitan nang palitan para hindi tatagal. Ang dami dun para kasi para hindi makabalik si Marcos so even the Constitution of your country is politically-motivated, even your history is tainted.
Lessons froms a supreme politician
SCB: People are saying that it was good before because people had discipline. Your father was known for his discipline campaign and now, Filipinos clearly lack discipline.
FMJ: It’s clear. Look at the most successful countries, let’s say US, why do Filipinos do well in the United States? Because they’re disciplined. Why are they disciplined? If lumabag ka sa batas, ikukulong ka talaga, walang pakiusap.
SCB: Then how did the Filipinos lose that? Because of too much freedom after EDSA?
FMJ: Everyone said that it’s too much freedom, it’s too much democracy. No, it is too much politics. Everything now is about politics. All decisions made are based on politics. Again, we’re shooting the messenger. If we see somebody with a good idea, ay hindi natin kapartido ‘yan, ‘wag nating tulungan. Somebody with a bad idea, uy tinulungan tayo niyan nung eleksyon, sige. The merits of the situation are not being examined, it’s all politics. Kasama sa laro ‘yan but it shouldn’t be the whole game. It shouldn’t be everything that you do.
My father was a supreme politician but besides playing the political game, the nation-building part was also there. When I was little, I would listen to my father puro nation-building ang pinag-uusapan, palakihin natin ang industriya, pagandahin natin ang sistema dito, that’s the way to build the nation, a strong and stable society. You put a building in place, create the institution, make them strong. We don’t hear that anymore. It’s only about who won the last elections.
SCB: Was it a burden, at any point, to be the son of your father?
FMJ: No. I could never say it was a burden.
FMJ: There’s always pressure. Any anak ng presidente, there’s pressure, even just the attention on your private life, the complete lack of anonymity and privacy. It’s not a small sacrifice to make. But it comes with the job. We’ve been around politics long enough that kung papasok kami, it is with open eyes.
The pressure comes from, you better get this right kung hindi, kawawa naman ‘yung mga maaapektuhan. That kind of pressure should always be present. If you lose that, you should leave the job already because wala ka nang pakialam.
Burden? Never. I’ve always felt it as a huge advantage. Notwithstanding all that has happened to us, all the pain and difficulty that we went through, I still consider myself the luckiest person I know. Maybe my mother is luckier than me. Suwerte ‘yun. Kaya kapag nahihirapan ako, dinidikitan ko siya. Baka may osmosis, mahawa din ako sa swerte (laughs).
SCB: Your parents are legendary, how much of an Imelda are you and how much of a Marcos, Sr. are you?
FMJ: I cannot tell. Physically, noong bata ako, everybody said I look like my mom. And then as I grew older, they say I look just like my father.
SCB: And you sound like him sometimes?
FMJ: That one I always get, apparently I’ve always had his voice. In terms of habits, it’s hard to differentiate. Like my mom, I move around a great deal. It’s not my style to sit in an office from nine to five. Si Mommy, magaling ang feel niyan, nakukuha niya sa instinct. Ako inaaral ko talaga. That part came from my father. Ang ambisyon ko is to be as well-read, as well-informed and as well-prepared as my father for everything.
SCB: How about valuable lessons you learned from them?
FMJ: So many. Some of them I cannot even verbalize. For example, parang alam ko ‘yung kailangang gawin, and kung minsan iniisip ko, paano ko nalaman ‘yun. And I can never get the answer. Siguro meron akong nakita noon na somehow in my subconscious, naalala ko kaya nalaman ko.
‘Yung itinuturo naman ng mga magulang ko sa akin are universal life lessons, do your duty, be good, work hard. All of those things. From my father, especially in a professional setting, he said to be always prepared. Kaya kaming lahat basa kami ng basa because if you walk into a room and you know more than the next guy, you’ll win that argument.
SCB: What did you learn from your dad about fatherhood?
FMJ: (Laughs) I’m laughing because dysfunctional yata pamilya ko. No, we’re really a funny family. First of all because of the pressures, we were never together. Hindi kami nakakabuo ng lima.
Somebody was always somewhere else doing something. The rare times that we were together, we would be like an ordinary family, having a meal, going to the beach. I cannot remember a time that I was with my father na malungkot kami.
SCB: Did he have a sense of humor?
FMJ: (Laughs) Kaya ako natatawa, you have no idea. My father, ‘yung humor niya pang-abogado that you will take everything to its logical extreme. Pinatawa niya kami nang pinatawa, from the time we were young. We were always joking around and laughing. Always. Kahit naging seryoso kami for about half-an-hour, babalik din sa kalokohan, and then magtutuksuhan kami. I tried to do that with my children.
The other thing that I learned from my father is that my father never said, halika upo ka rito, pangangaralan kita, ganito ang gagawin natin, the lesson for today is, wala, never. Everything I learned, I learned from his example. You just live the life, and your children will look at you and they will try to live the same life because that’s their model. ‘Yung father ko, that’s always been his style.
SCB: What about from your mother?
FMJ: That ability she has to connect with people. Ang galing ni Mommy! She’s not trying to be charming, she just loves being with people. She just likes making kuwento with people. She’d rather do that than anything else.
May nagagawa rin si Mommy minsan, tinitignan pa lang niya ‘yung tao, alam niya na. Kasama ito, kalaban ito, ayaw nito sa akin. I’m learning, I’m getting better at it.
In a way, you can say that the real politician in this family is my mother, ‘yung that instant connectivity with ordinary people, no one beats my mom.
SCB: Are you a mama’s boy?
FMJ: Not really. My mother always said that when I was six years old, nilalayo na niya ako sa kanya because she said she should not be my role model because babae siya at lalaki ako. She says it all the time.
SCB: So you were closer to your father?
FMJ: I’m very close to both of them. Iba lang siguro ang relationship. Ang tatay ko was not emotional, halos hindi masyadong nagsasalita, not demonstrative. But it didn’t make any difference to us.
The 40-year old myth
SCB: What’s the most rebellious thing you have ever done? Did you wear long hair?
FMJ: ‘Yun, naku madaming away ‘yan (laughs)! Sa England, ang hahaba ng buhok nila, early 70’s, talagang hippie ‘yung mga tao doon. Siyempre pag-uwi dito, gusto ng father ko clean cut. That was the rebelde part.
SCB: Pero bawal ang long hair nung panahon ng tatay mo...
FMJ: Hindi ako pauuwiin. Bago pa ako pumasok ng Palasyo, may naghihintay na na maggugupit sa akin. I’m not joking. He would tell me, that’s unbecoming, that’s not very dignified.
Meron din akong hikaw. Wala na ngayon, sumara na (laughs)! Nung umuwi ako, ano ‘yan, why are you wearing an earring? Sabi ko, dad puwede na ‘yan.
SCB: What about the myth that you're not the real Bongbong?
FMJ: Ay naku! Wala nang kamatayan 'yung myth na 'yan! (laughs) Ewan ko ba! (shakes his head) Ang tagal na niyan and it has passed on through generations in 40 years.
SCB: How did it start anyway?
FMJ: That started when I was still in school, in England, early 70's. Napaaway daw ako sa England tapos nasaksak ako sa away, patay! So imbes na nilibing ako, naghanap sila ng kamukha ko. Tapos 'yun ang nagpapanggap na ako (laughs). But when you think about it, even just for one minute it makes no sense. Why would one do that? What would they gain from doing that?
SCB: Did you ever go out of your way to prove that it was not true?
FMJ: How do you prove a negative, that I am the real one? Eh may DNA na ngayon. Pero sabi ko I like being an urban myth. Maybe, let's just maintain that (laughs). At least interesting di ba?
SCB: Then why not go get a DNA test?
FMJ: But it's really easy to prove because my life has been documented from the time I was three years old siguro, may mga pictures. If you look at my father’s hands and if you look at my hands, they’re exactly the same. My voice, his voice, they’re exactly the same. We are exactly the same size, the same height, the same weight, the same everything. That’s my father. So at least there is that.
But definitive proof? Eh di nawala yung kuwento di ba! And what did Oscar Wilde say, that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. So hindi na ako matsitsismis 'pag ginawa ko yun.
I don’t know what caught the imagination of the people, talagang hindi na binitawan. When I go to speaking engagements, even in colleges and universities, talagang tinatanong, ikaw ba talaga si Bongbong?
Talking to young people
SCB: What do you tell your children about their grandfather?
FMJ: Anything they ask about — what was he like. Sometimes when we go around the country, people would tell them, Lolo mo nagpatayo niyan, or kung hindi sa lolo mo walang ganyan. Again, it’s not a lesson. Alam kong marami kayong naririnig, sige makinig kayo but also know the other side, what really was done.
SCB: Did they ever ask you about EDSA? What do you tell them?
FMJ: I explain this is what happened. I try to paint not a pretty picture if it’s not a pretty picture. I say in my opinion. Again, it’s more of what they can see themselves than what you say. Sometimes they ask, why did people oppose Lolo. I tell them that in politics, somebody will oppose you whatever you do. That in itself doesn’t mean anything. It’s the political process. They understand.
I suppose my eldest will start to go into the details of politics because he’s 17. ‘Yung mga philosophical, political arguments and theories he's going to start running across them in school. So I’m sure I’ll be getting more questions and in greater detail. But for now, teenagers silang lahat, we’ve had quick discussions. You can see pino-process nila, hindi ordinaryong tao itong mga ‘to.
SCB: What do you tell young people in your speaking engagements?
FMJ: I always tell them there is no specified role for them but they should get involved. Are we part of this process? Do we have a role to play or not? That’s always the question. And it’s a great question. I say you have to define your own, the way you are going to do it.
Before there was an organization called the Kabataang Barangay. The KB had only one slogan. It was makialam. Makialam kayo basta pakialamanan niyo lahat. Kung magkamali kayo eh di mag sorry kayo. Pero makialam kayo, be involved. That’s the way you learn. Pag natalisod ka, pick yourself up again, and learn something from yourexperience. Everyone forges their own way. But you cannot find that unless you’re in the mix, unless nakialam ka.
Just doing his job
SCB: Why are you in politics?
FMJ: Diyan kami lumaki. People ask me, since when have you been in politics? Since I was born. May picture pa kami na baby pa nasa function na kami. As a child, papasok ako sa kuwarto na may ka-meeting ang tatay ko. Puro pulitiko ang nandun. 'Pag magdi-dinner kami, puro pulitiko ang bisita namin. So it came so naturally. And people are always a little surprised when I tell them, when I was out of university, I really did not want to enter politics.
SCB: What did you want to become?
FMJ: A simple life, be a businessman. Why? Because mahirap ang buhay ng pulitiko. You make many, many sacrifices.
Secondly, my father was such a dominant political figure. Lahat ng gagawin ko would be suspect. Nagawa lang niya ‘yan kasi tatay niya presidente. Or, kasi Marcos ‘yan. Or if you don’t do well, anak na nga ng presidente wala pang nagawa, napakahina. It’s a no-win situation. Whatever you do, it’s only because you’re the son.
But life’s funny. Napadpad ako sa pulitika. It came naturally, I understood what the issues were, I had at least an instinctive understanding of political dynamics. When I finally entered politics, it was a choice.
SCB: People elected you in the Senate expecting fireworks from you, being a Marcos.
FJM: I don’t know why anybody would expect fireworks from me. First of all, the first few months, kumakapa ka pa. But I’m just going about business, if you listened to my campaign speech, I promised that I would not speak out unless I have really something to say. I’m trying to get involved in those things that for me are important. If you say I’m low profile, that is not criticism but good, I’m just doing the job at hand. You should be a little bit suspicious of the people who worry about their PR because bakit ‘yun ang iniisip nun?
SCB: With all your experiences, do you have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of your father?
FMJ: Pangatlong question na 'yan. Sa 2016, I don’t know. First of all, you cannot really plan. With politics in the Philippines planning six or five years ahead is a little bit immature. And I always cite the example of Noynoy. In August 2009 he wasn’t even talked about as a candidate. By May, he was President. In eight months, everything can change. Ganyan ang pulitika sa atin eh.
SCB: You don’t believe in destiny?
FMJ: I do. There’s this joke, if you want to make God laugh, make plans (laughs). For me, its not yet time to be talking about those things. I’m still learning this job, still trying to get the most out of it.
The politics of 2016 will be defined by 2013. So let’s watch that, let’s see how the alignments will be, what the parties will do, how the president himself will do, if he’s going to be very aggressive in supporting his candidates. Will the very strong resolve in 2010 apply also in 2013? Until that becomes clear, it's very hard to see what will happen.
SCB: When your family went to the wake of President Cory, maraming natuwa sa inyo for making that effort. What was your intention there?
FMJ: There’s no objective. It’s common courtesy. Even if you’re engaged in the most heated political issues with the person, 'pag namatay 'yung tao, you have to pay your respects. Makiramay ka sa pamilya kasi kahit paano namatayan sila, malungkot sila. This is not politics anymore.
In our case, that was the natural thing to do for us. We were on opposite sides but that is the President, a family that you know. Imee was Ballsy’s classmate sa Teresiana, together with Rina Roxas, mga anak ng senador kaya malapit sila.
But I think the reason why the reaction was so strong is that we were not here from 1986 to 1991. These people probably never imagined to see an Aquino and a Marcos in one room. Pero kasi ganito ang turo sa amin, kahit naman sino sila, namatayan 'yan eh masakit para sa kanila. Kami namatayan din so we know how hard that experience is.
Choosing his parents well
SCB: What's the biggest misconception about you?
FMJ: That I'm aloof, that I'm hard to approach. But what I am really is shy (laughs). People don't recognize that. It's funny for somebody who's in public life but i'm actually shy, a very private person. I have the potential to be a recluse. Kayang-kaya ko mag-isa.
SCB: What do you enjoy doing with your sons?
FMJ: Ah with the boys, it doesn’t matter what we do. Whether its just sitting around or eating on the table. We also like to travel, we go around and learn about the place, the history, the culture.
SCB: What’s the secret to your youthful looks?
FMJ: I chose my parents well (laughs) Kasi yung father ko naman mukhang bata talaga hangga’t magkasakit eh. Yung mother ko tingnan niyo 82 na eh. Sabi nga ng dalawang kapatid ko, “We wish we’d look like mom.” Sabi ko “At her age?” “No, now!”
FAMILY PRIDE — Senator Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos, Jr. shows off the past and present generations of Marcoses. (Photo by RICHARD VIÑAS)