Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Family Wins Signal Marcos Revival in Philippines

Nearly a quarter-century after Imelda Marcos and her dictator husband fled the Philippines in disgrace -- leaving a debt-ridden country but a lavish collection of shoes -- the 80-year-old former first lady and two of their children are poised to revive the family's political fortunes.

At first sight, the outcome is surprising in an election that also looks set to award the son of the Marcoses' nemesis, ''people power'' President Corazon Aquino, the country's top office. Benigno ''Noynoy'' Aquino III campaigned heavily against corruption -- endemic in the Philippines and allegedly practiced by the Marcos dictatorship on a massive scale.

But their family name still holds clout.

Imelda Marcos won a seat in the House of Representatives, where she also was elected in 1995, and her eldest daughter, Imee, also a former member of Congress, was elected governor in the family's northern bailiwick, Ilocos Norte province. Her son, former governor and current Congress member Ferdinand ''Bongbong'' Marcos Jr., likely won his Senate race, according to almost-complete results of Monday's vote.
With Marcos Jr.'s rise to the Senate, the Marcoses would claim their highest nationally elected post since their patriarch was ousted in a 1986 ''people power'' revolt.

Marcos is forever remembered for her collection of eye-popping diamonds and 1,220 pairs of shoes discovered in the abandoned presidential palace after Ferdinand Marcos and his family were sent into U.S. exile, ending his 20-year dictatorship and leaving the country's economy faltering under huge debts.

He died in 1989, and his widow returned to the Philippines in 1991 with her children, twice ran unsuccessfully for president and won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1995.

She retained her supporters despite her reputation for extravagance, including shopping trips to the world's poshest boutiques and lavish beautification projects in an impoverished nation where a third of about 90 million Filipinos live on $1 a day.

Despite some 900 civil and criminal cases she has faced in Philippine courts since 1991 -- ranging from tax evasion to embezzlement and corruption -- she has emerged relatively unscathed and has never served prison time. All but a handful of the cases have been dismissed for lack of evidence and a few convictions were overturned on appeal.

The Marcoses and the Aquinos are the most prominent of the Philippines' wealthy political dynasties and are inextricably linked.

A court found that Aquino's father, an opposition leader, was assassinated in a military conspiracy during Marcos' rule. Aquino's mother then led the mass protests that swept away the strongman and restored democracy. Only after his mother died last year of cancer did Aquino, a quiet senator and former House member, decide to seek the presidency.

Her husband and his associates allegedly amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion in ill-gotten wealth while he was in power. The Presidential Commission on Good Government, created to recover the money, has found cash and assets totaling 85.1 billion pesos (around $1.9 billion).

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