MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The son of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos said Wednesday that Filipinos are no longer concerned about human rights abuses committed under his father's rule, angering activists who said he wants people to forget his father's dictatorship, which a popular revolt ended 29 years ago.
Speaking to reporters two days after announcing he is seeking the vice presidency in next year's elections, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. said Filipinos these days are more concerned about their livelihood, crime and other day-to-day problems.
Retired Commission on Human Rights Chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales, who was tortured and detained under President Marcos, said Marcos Jr., a senator, was glossing over a law passed in 2013 recognizing and compensating victims of human rights abuses during Marcos' 14-year strongman rule.
In a wide-ranging forum, the 58-year-old senator acknowledged Wednesday that there have been many allegations of human rights violations against his father but that Filipinos "are not concerned about that" these days.
"They are concerned about their lives today," he said. "We want answers. Why are there drugs in our streets? Why is the crime rate going up at an alarming rate? Why is our educational sector miserable? Why is the distribution of wealth not happening? Why is the government not doing anything about it? Why is there no infrastructure development? Why is there no agricultural development? This is what people are worried about."
He said the Marcos name will not be a hindrance to his election campaign.
"I am the luckiest person that I know, and being a Marcos is part of that," he said. "I have never felt it to be a burden. I have only felt it to be an advantage, a blessing, and I am very thankful that I am a Marcos."
President Marcos declared nationwide martial law in 1972, a year before his term was to expire. He padlocked Congress, ordered the arrest of political rivals and left-wing activists, and ruled by decree until a "people power" revolt drove his family into exile in 1986.
He denied any wrongdoing, including charges of amassing and hiding hundreds of millions of dollars in Swiss banks, before he died in Hawaii three years later. His widow, Imelda, and their three children were eventually allowed to return home.
A Hawaii court has found the elder Marcos liable for human rights violations and awarded $2 billion from his estate to compensate more than 9,000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extra-judicial killings and disappearances.
More than 75,000 Filipinos have filed compensation claims under the law providing reparations for victims of human rights violations, according to the government board reviewing the claims.
Marcos Jr. said he leaves the events of 1986 to historians to judge while he focuses on being a public servant.
"In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that I was put on this Earth to serve, to be a public servant and that is what I will continue to do until the day that I die," he said.
Rosales said other laws to protect human rights, such as the Anti-Torture Act and the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act, were inspired by "the rich experiences of the people's struggle" against President Marcos.
"The mindset (Marcos Jr.) instills among the people is to keep them ignorant of the truth," she said. "It is the height of political arrogance and elitism, so much like his father."
In an interview with ABS-CBN television two months earlier, Marcos Jr. did not directly apologize to the victims of abuses.
"We have constantly said that if during that time of my father, there were people who were knocked down or who were not provided assistance or they were victimized in some way or another, of course we're sorry that that happened. Nobody wants that to have happened," he said.
Bonifacio Ilagan, vice chairman of Selda, a group of former political detainees, who was severely tortured by Marcos's military, said "much of the Marcos regime is still with us," alleging human rights are still being violated.
He said Marcos Jr.'s vice presidential aspiration shows the "Marcoses' delusion of returning to power to re-establish their brand of anti-people and fascist rule."