A new leader in the Philippines and old family wounds

BOSTON (AP) – He was an uncle I never met. But in my family’s origin story, Emmanuel “Manny” Yap has always figured prominently.

A life of great potential was cut short. Instructive tale. But also a reminder to do the right thing, no matter the cost.

A rising leader of the youth-led opposition to President Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Manny Yap joined his parents and siblings for lunch at his mother’s favorite Chinese restaurant in their hometown of Quezon City.

It was Valentine’s Day in 1976, a few years after martial law was declared, the moment in the country’s history when the elder Marcos suspended civilian government and effectively ruled as a dictator. After eating, the 23-year-old graduate student went to meet a friend.

A few days later, an anonymous caller broke the news that his family feared: Manny had been picked up by the military and detained.

My uncle was never seen again.

Now his story is back: the son of the man my family held responsible for his death all those decades ago, going to be president of the Philippines.

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“We were on the good side, the honor side,” Janette Marcelo, my mother and Manny’s younger sister, recently told me over the phone. Her voice is trembling, but determined. – You should know that.

Even now, almost half a century later, her memories are vivid as she recalls the suffering of her parents as the days after his disappearance turned into weeks, months, years.

Her mother, desperate to get a message across to the nuns and priests, allowed entry into the infamous POW camp where they believed he was being held. Her father, looking over every bus that comes and goes, hoping he’ll catch a glimpse of his eldest son.

But Manny’s body was never found. His heartbroken parents were never able to give him a proper rest. The only sign of their loss are the monuments scattered across Metro Manila, where his name engraved with over 2,300 killed or missing during the two decades of Marcos’ reign.

My mother expressively tells a story that my siblings and I have heard countless times growing up.

“You had an uncle who believed in something so much that he was ready to die for it, and it was a big loss,” she says. “Not only for us, but also for the country and the world. He could do so much. I truly believe in it.”

Next week will see the inauguration of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. after his landslide victory in the Philippine presidential election in May, ending the stunning return to power of the Marcos clan, which ruled the country for more than two decades before being overthrown by a largely peaceful people. People Power uprising in 1986.

This moment was payback for my family, our painful past, and the values ​​we forged. But given everything else that’s going on in the world, I wonder how much it really resonated with other Filipino Americans.

So I decided to ask.

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In conversations with Filipinos across the country in recent weeks, I’ve found opinions ranging from seething mommy rage to rampant excitement about the future.

It’s not entirely surprising. In the US, where over 4 million Filipinos represent third largest Asian groupafter the Chinese and Indians, Marcos Jr.’s victory was much narrower than in the Philippines.

According to the election results, he received almost 47% of the more than 75,000 ballots cast by dual citizens and other Filipino citizens in the United States, compared to 43% of his main opponent, outgoing Philippine Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.

One of the first people I spoke to was Rochelle Solana, a 53-year-old government worker from Juneau, Alaska. She voted for Marcos Jr because she believes he can bring back the “golden years” when the country was a rising power in Asia and her charismatic first family was the envy of rivals.

Solanoy, who left the Philippines in 1981, said she opposed the Marcos dictatorship as a young woman but now feels she has been lied to.

“When the revolution overthrew Marcos, then things went downhill. That’s when corruption happened,” she said by phone. “Now I learn things that I didn’t know when I was younger. Our minds have been poisoned all this time.”

In California, Susan Tagle, 62, of Sacramento, said the election made her question everything she went through as a young university activist when the Marcos regime spent months in prison.

Marcos Sr. died in exile in Hawaii in 1989. His widow Imelda, whose an extensive collection of shoes has become a symbol of family excess during the dictatorship, she served in the Philippine Congress for many years, and her children were governors and senators.

“We basked in the idea of ​​overthrowing the dictator,” said Tagle, who voted for Robredo. “Then we went about our business. We went back to school, started families, built careers and thought the worst was over.”

Constantino “Coco” Alinsug, who earlier this year became first Filipino American to be elected to the New England City Councilsays he is ready to give Marcos Jr. a chance, even if he has serious doubts.

Lynn, 50, a Massachusetts resident who came to the US at the age of 20, opposed the Marcos dictatorship as a young man. But he is also a vocal supporter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody fight against drug trafficking raised its own international concerns about human rights. Duterte’s daughter Sarah will become vice president of Marcos Jr.

“I want to give this guy a chance, but honestly I have no idea what he’s about,” said Alinsug, who couldn’t vote because he doesn’t have dual citizenship. “He didn’t argue. He didn’t campaign. He just let his car and money do the work.”

Brendan Flores, chairman and president of the National Federation of Philippine American Associations, was under similar protection.

“I am well aware of what the history books say. There is no doubt a lot of luggage,” said the 37-year-old resident of Sarasota, Florida. “The key difference this time is that the world is watching. We’re not going to sit back if something goes wrong.”

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I wish I could say that my mom is just as hopeful.

For her, the lessons she had been trying to teach all these years had taken on new urgency. In her mind, the past has been rewritten so that the villains of her childhood become today’s saviors.

After the elder Marcos was overthrown, my grandfather, Pedro Yap, joined a Philippine government commission tasked with recovering the ill-gotten property of the former first family.

He worked to freeze swiss bank accounts and confiscate property Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere to repatriate wealth back to their impoverished nation. The family, still reeling from the loss of their uncle and fearful of Marcos’ retribution, begged him to leave.

Grandpa, who also served on the UN Commission on Human Rights, eventually did so when he was appointed to the country’s Supreme Court and briefly served as Chief Justice before retiring.

I ask my mother: does the fact that the Marcos family returned to power mean that grandfather’s work and the death of Uncle Manny were in vain? She doesn’t hesitate.

“All I can say is that there have been good people who have tried, and there are still good people who will keep trying,” she says. “But it’s useless. This will never change.”

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Philip Marcelo is a reporter for the Boston bureau of the AP. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/philmarcelo

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