Former Dictator’s Family Members Lead Rowdy Philippine Election Circus

Luis Liwanag and Karl Romano
181016-PH-Marcoses-1000.jpg Imee Marcos, left, daughter of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, poses with her family upon arrival at the Commission on Elections in Manila to file her candidacy for a Senate seat in the May 2019 midterm elections, Oct. 16, 2018.

Updated at 9:35 p.m. on 2018-10-16

Amid much fanfare, the daughter of deposed leader Ferdinand Marcos filed her candidacy for the Senate on Tuesday, joining several politicians seeking electoral posts in the Philippines' rowdy brand of politics.

Midterm polls officially began late last week, with a slew of colorful “nuisance candidates” first submitting their candidacies for half of the 24-seat Senate and all 297 seats in the House of Representatives.

About 18,000 local posts across the country are also up for grabs during the elections that would take place in May next year.

The polls are seen as crucial for President Rodrigo Duterte, who won the presidency by a landslide two years ago, but whose popularity has taken a dent due to thousands of killings related to his drug war, a slowing economy and pervasive corruption.

On Tuesday, thousands trooped to the office of the Commission of Elections in Manila to cheer on their candidates, with blaring musical instruments and impromptu prayer rallies in this deeply religious Catholic country.

The day belonged to Imee Marcos, daughter of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who was accompanied by her mother, Imelda, and brother Ferdinand Jr.

The Marcos family has remained a force in Philippine politics, 32 years after a peaceful “people power” revolution ended the dictator’s two decades of presidency, much of it under brutal martial rule.

Marcos was chased into Hawaiian exile, where he died in 1989, Imelda and the rest of the Marcos family were allowed to return years later.

Imelda and her children eventually were elected in government posts and despite the numerous criminal and civil cases filed against them, none of the Marcos heirs have been successfully prosecuted.

Anti-graft investigators say Marcos and his cronies stole about $10 billion from state coffers, much of it hidden in bank accounts abroad.

But on Tuesday, Imee Marcos refused demands by rights groups to apologize for her father’s atrocities, two months after she publicly told the public to “move on” from what was considered the darkest period of modern Philippine history.

“If what they demand is admission of guilt, I think that cannot happen. Why would we admit guilt over something we did not do?” Marcos said.

“As we all know, these are political accusations that have not been proven in court. I think the country is really prepared to hear a new idea and our side of the story,” she said.

Marcoses contributed to Duterte’s campaign

Duterte has credited Imee Marcos for contributing to his campaign funds two years ago. He is also openly backing Marcos Jr., who lost his bid for the vice presidency in 2016, but has officially protested the results.

Imee’s mother, Imelda, plans to replace her as governor in the family’s home province. Imee’s son would be the former first lady’s vice gubernatorial running mate, local reports said.

Independent polls indicate Imee’s likely win, underscoring how the Marcoses went back to positions of political power decades after the military had turned against the former president as he was facing graft allegations and accusations of human rights abuses.

Ironically, Imee filed her candidacy at the same time that Chel Diokno, a human rights lawyer whose father was jailed during martial law, also submitted his bid to secure a Senate seat. Diokno has been condemning the thousands of deaths under Duterte’s regime.

“Marcos, Hitler, dictator!” dozens of Diokno’s supporters jeered as Imee walked to the election commission’s office.

Asked what she thought of Diokno’s candidacy, Imee said: “I didn’t recognize him. I am sorry I have poor eyesight.”

Another senatorial aspirant, opposition leader Mar Roxas, also joined the fray Tuesday, saying that “democracy is very much alive” in the country, albeit under threat.

“I don’t have a ‘quit’ on me. I don’t surrender. I don’t quit for our country. This campaign is not about 2016. This campaign is about today, about the future,” said Roxas, who lost against Duterte two years ago.

Jeoffrey Maitem in Marawi, Philippines contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version wrongly identified Chel Diokno's gender.

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