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The Son of Ferdinand Marcos May Be Hours From Returning the Family to Power

When Filipinos thronged Manila’s streets in February 1986 calling for an end to Ferdinand Marcos’s despotic regime, Guia and Hugo Yonzon joined the hundreds of thousands of protesters marching down the main highway girding the city. For the Yonzons, as for many who joined the protest that toppled Marcos and came to be known as the “People Power Revolution,” the cause was personal. Both artists in their 30s, the Yonzons had been anti-Marcos activists since college. They contributed to information-sharing networks that were forced underground after Marcos declared martial law in 1972, and had friends among the tens of thousands who were killed, tortured, or disappeared by his administration.

So in 2016, when Marcos’s only son, Ferdinand Jr. (popularly known as “Bongbong”), ran for vice president of the Philippines, Hugo was shocked to learn that Guia supported him. Years after the revolution forced the Marcoses into exile, Bongbong had returned to the Philippines in 1991. He became a congressman, senator, and provincial governor before his vice presidential bid, running on nostalgic platforms that portrayed his father’s presidency as a golden age.

Guia, meanwhile, had grown disillusioned after Marcos’s liberal successors failed to stamp out government corruption. Her cynicism was stoked by online articles and videos that began circulating in the mid-2010s, depicting Marcos as a well-intentioned but misunderstood leader. One narrative especially stuck with Guia: the idea that the 1986 protest that ousted Marcos—the one she and Hugo joined—had been orchestrated by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

“I felt like I had been manipulated,” Guia, now 70, said in a recent interview. “And maybe, in a way, that is why in 2016 I voted for Bongbong.”

Although Bongbong lost that race, Guia’s support for him and Rodrigo Duterte, who won the presidency, strained the tight-knit Yonzon family. Their daughter sided with Guia, while their sons agreed with Hugo. Political topics became off-limits at family gatherings.

Tensions rose further after Bongbong announced his presidential candidacy in October 2021. Like many Philippine families, the Yonzons were riven by dueling versions of reality. One remembered Marcos as a brutal dictator who presided over a kleptocratic regime defined by intimidation, torture, and killing. The other, informed by largely baseless online content, portrayed him as a benevolent leader who had been unfairly maligned and deposed by foreign powers. The gap between these views had already begun to widen under Duterte—whom many Filipinos accuse of having a Marcos-like disregard for human rights and others embrace as a “tough on crime” leader—but it yawned into a chasm during Bongbong’s seven-month campaign. As the nation goes to the polls on May 9, the election is as much a battle between those versions of history as it is a race between Bongbong, who leads by a wide margin in the polls, and his rivals.

The stakes are enormously high. Should Bongbong win, he has vowed to continue Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, albeit with more focus on preventing drug use, and to refuse to “recognize” or cooperate with an ongoing International Criminal Court investigation into the killings that have already occurred. In an echo of his father’s rhetoric, he has also said he would prioritize fighting anti-government rebels, advocating more funding for a public task force that has become infamous for tagging dissidents as Communist insurgents.

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