Philippines' Aquino tells voters to end surge of dictator's son

 Philippines' Aquino tells voters to end surge of dictator's son
Blindfolded actors depicting human rights victims during martial law lie next to a projection of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos making a televised announcment declaring martial law, at an experiential museum at a military camp in Manila on February 24, 2016, ahead of the 30th anniversary of people power that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Aquino urged voters Thursday to stamp out the stunning political resurgence of Ferdinand Marcos' family, as the nation marked 30 years since a "People Power" uprising toppled the late dictator.

The election campaign is the latest chapter in an almost Shakespearean tale of feuding between the Aquino and Marcos families, two of the most powerful clans in a nation famed for elite dynasty rule.

Human rights groups say tens of thousands were thrown in prison and tortured during the elder Marcos' 20-year rule, and the government estimates the family plundered US$10 billion (S$14 billion) from state coffers.

But pollsters say a young electorate is likely to help the charismatic and unrepentant Ferdinand Marcos Jnr become vice president in May elections.

"Mr. Marcos' rule was not the golden age. It was a very painful chapter of our history," Aquino told about 3,000 students and government workers at a ceremony marking the 1986 uprising.

Aquino's late father and namesake was shot dead by pro-Marcos soldiers and police at Manila airport in 1983 as he tried to return from US exile to lead opposition to the dictator.

Public outrage over the murder ignited the revolution, which was led by the assassinated democracy hero's wife, Corazon Aquino.

It forced the Marcos family into US exile as the soft-spoken and still revered Corazon came to power.

The Marcos patriarch died in Hawaii three years later.

But the Marcos family was allowed to return in the early 1990s and its controversial matriarch, Imelda, set in train a remarkable political comeback for herself and her children.

The clan held mostly local positions in its home provinces until Marcos Jnr won a seat in the Senate in 2010, gaining a platform for a tilt at the country's second most powerful position.

"Martial law really happened. There was a dictator who, with his family and cronies, monopolised power in exchange for the very lives and freedom of Filipinos," Aquino said on Thursday.

"If he (Marcos son) does not even realise what wrongs were committed by his family, what is our assurance that he will not repeat them?"

Addressing the electorate, where nearly half are aged 35 or younger, according to official data, Aquino said: "Let us work together to ensure the Philippines will no longer go through a period of darkness."

Hundreds of Marcos regime torture victims vowed on Monday to hound the son's electoral effort. Their spokesman said they hoped to stop the attempt to "rewrite history and bring back his father's abusive leadership framework".

Marcos Jnr has repeatedly said his family has nothing to apologise for, portraying his father's rule as a time of economic prosperity.

He has also gained popularity for helping to derail Aquino's efforts to strike peace with Muslim rebels.

Marcos campaign manager Jonathan de la Cruz criticised the campaign against him, urging foes to instead solve problems faced by the electorate including poverty, lack of jobs, crime, and bad rail service.

"Instead of focusing on the problems now before us and which, if left unresolved, will hound and hobble our future generations, they have chosen to demonise Senator Marcos," Cruz said in a statement.

Aquino, who remains reasonably popular, is barred by the constitution from standing for a second six-year term. Vice presidents are elected separately in the Philippines.

Aquino's choices for president and vice president, both lagging in the polls, are widely held as lacklustre politicians.

The race to succeed Aquino has Vice President Jejomar Binay holding a slim lead over rookie Senator Grace Poe and Rodrigo Duterte, a tough anti-crime regional politician.

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