Filipino-Canadians worry about the return of Marcos family to power

The first Ferdinand Marcos was president of the Philippines when Wendy Arena left the country for Canada more than 50 years ago. It was his first term and Arena said things seemed to be going well when she left.

But in the following years, Marcos would become infamous as a dictator, human rights abuser and kleptocrat who declared martial law and maintained it for more than a decade. His reign was ended when the public ousted him in a largely peaceful revolt in 1986; Marcos died in 1989 in exile in Hawaii.

Now, however, decades after the first Marcos was booted from power, voters in the Philippines are waiting for official results of their election Monday and, so far, indications are another Marcos could end up as president of the Pacific nation.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., nicknamed “Bongbong,” is set to win the country’s leadership for six years with 30.8 million votes in the preliminary count with his closest competitor coming in at 14.7 million.

The prospect of Marcos, 64, becoming president — with outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter Sara his vice-presidential running mate — has Filipinos here in Canada concerned, said Arena, now a director of the Filipino Centre Toronto.

“Other members of my community are really disappointed that he got in,” she said.

Filipinos are one of the largest ethnic communities in Canada, with particularly large populations in Toronto and Vancouver.

Arena’s worries aren’t just about another Marcos in the seat of power. In 1995, Marcos Jr. was convicted of not filing tax returns from 1982 to 1985. He has called accusations that his father illegally looted billions of dollars from the country “lies” — though before the elder Marcos’s death, a court in Hawaii found him liable for human rights violations and awarded $2 billion to 9,000 people who filed a lawsuit against him for abuses including extrajudicial killings.

The Marcos family still refuses to pay a sizable estate tax, according to the Associated Press, and Arena fears that if elected, the younger Marcos could repeat his father’s embezzlement.

“I’m hoping that he will not do the same thing as what his father did,” she said. “They already have all the money, maybe they’ll do good now.”

Her concerns were also demonstrably shared in the Philippines — last year, activists launched petitions meant to prevent Marcos Jr. from running due to his tax conviction and the family’s alleged tax debt.

Despite his having previously held the posts of provincial governor, congressman and senator, the group argued law prohibits those with such criminal records from holding public office. The petitions were dismissed by election officials and Marcos Jr.’s spokesperson dismissed the challenge as “propaganda” when it was launched.

Rod Cantiveros, the Winnipeg-based publisher of the Filipino Journal, said he’s skeptical of the legitimacy of the win, considering the technology used to tally the votes. Cantiveros said many he’s spoken to are also worried about the integrity of the election, due to a history of bribery and other voting irregularities in the country which he calls a vicious cycle.

Small protests contesting the way voting was handled have already broken out in the Philippines, and Cantiveros also said he’s questioned those who have voiced support for Marcos Jr. during the campaign.

“Are we suffering from collective amnesia?” he asked.

Cantiveros said the hope is that Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte will continue with projects started by the previous government aimed at improving the country.

Those include promises to improve lives for farmers and build adequate housing.

“I hope and I pray the Bongbong and Sarah will follow their promises,” Cantiveros said. “Especially in agriculture, especially in housing and, of course, fight poverty.”

News of Marcos Jr.’s imminent election has already sparked concerns about the erosion of democracy in the country and those who suffered human rights abuses under the elder Marcos have already sounded the alarm.

As well, Amnesty International has said it is concerned by the incoming president and vice-president’s reluctance to talk about human rights issues.

With files from the Associated Press