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Life

The return of a dictator’s son

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr at Oxford in 1975

The election this week of “Bongbong” Marcos as the president of the Philippines “completes one of the most extraordinary political comebacks of all time”, says Richard Kay in the Daily Mail. Bongbong, 64, is the son of the “ruthless dictator” Ferdinand Marcos, who “plundered billions from his country while brutally suppressing dissent”. His mother Imelda infamously owned a whopping 3,000 pairs of shoes, and on one overseas shopping trip spent $9m in 90 days.

Bongbong was raised in English boarding schools, says Edward Stourton in Radio 4’s Profile. As a weedy teen at Worth School in West Sussex, he carried a flick knife on the rugby pitch – it was the one place his bodyguards couldn’t protect him. But “he liked a good time,” recalls one contemporary. “He had a huge Rolls-Royce with a chauffeur, and a small Mercedes sports two-seater, very much at his disposal.”

Bongbong scraped into Oxford and then Wharton Business School in Philadelphia. He graduated from neither – Oxford gave him a special “diploma” as a consolation – and went home aged 23 to “join the family firm”. When protestors booted his dad out six years later, military top brass rigged the presidential palace with bombs and handed young Bongbong the trigger, in case rioters broke into the compound. Luckily the Americans intervened, spiriting the Marcoses out of the country to live in luxurious exile in Hawaii.

More than 36 years later, “not one person has been jailed over their illegally acquired wealth”, says Richard Kay. Indeed, Bongbong’s victory was helped by online campaigns which portrayed his father’s rule in a rosy light. The Philippines’s new president is unrepentant about the past. When asked about his dad’s prodigious looting on the campaign trail, Bongbong responded: “What have I to be sorry about?”