It was the uncle I had never met. But in the story of my family’s origins, Emmanuel “Manny” Yap has always held an important place.
The life of a great potential cut short. The cautionary tale. But also the reminder to do what was right, 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 the start of martial law, the moment in the country’s history when Marcos Sr. suspended civilian government and effectively ruled as a dictator. After the meal, the 23-year-old graduate student left to meet up with a friend.
A few days later, an anonymous caller broke the news his family feared: Manny had been arrested by the military and detained.
My uncle was never seen again.
Now his story is resurfacing: the son of the man my family blamed for his death all those decades ago is about to become president of the Philippines.
“We were on the good side, on the side of honor,” Janette Marcelo, my mother and Manny’s younger sister, told me recently over the phone. His voice is quivering but resolute. “You must know it.”
Even now, nearly half a century later, her memories are vivid as she remembers her parents’ anguish as the days following her disappearance turned into weeks, months, years.
His mother, desperately trying to convey messages to nuns and priests, allowed entry to the notorious prison camp where they believed he was being held. His father, watching every bus that came and went, hoping he might catch a glimpse of his eldest son.
But Manny’s body was never found. His heartbroken parents were never able to get him to rest properly. The only markers of their loss are the scattered monuments in Metro Manila where his name is engraved with the more than 2,300 dead or missing during Marcos’ two-decade reign.
My mother is adamant when she tells the story that my siblings and I heard countless times growing up.
“You had an uncle who believed in something so much he was willing to die for it, and it was a great loss,” she says. “Not just for us, but for the country and the world. He could have done so many things. I really believe it.
Next week, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. will be inaugurated after his landslide victory in May’s Philippine presidential election, completing a stunning return to power for the Marcos clan, which ruled the country for more than two decades until ousted by the largely peaceful government. People Power uprising in 1986.
This moment was a judgment call for my family, our painful past and the values we have forged. But given everything going on in the world, I wondered how much that really resonated among other Filipino Americans.
So I decided to ask.
In conversations with Filipinos across the country in recent weeks, I’ve found insights ranging from quivering fury at my mother to unbridled excitement for the future.
It’s not entirely surprising. In the United States – where more than 4 million Filipinos make up the third-largest Asian group, after the Chinese and Indians – Marcos Jr.’s victory was much smaller than in the Philippines.
He won nearly 47% of the more than 75,000 ballots cast by dual citizens and other Filipino nationals in the United States, compared to 43% by his main challenger, incumbent Philippine Vice President Maria Leonor. “Leni” Robredo, according to the election results.
One of the first people I spoke to was Rochelle Solanoy, a 53-year-old government employee in Juneau, Alaska. She voted for Marcos Jr. because she believes he can bring back the “golden years” when the country was a rising force in Asia and its charismatic first family was the envy of its rivals.
Solanoy, who left the Philippines in 1981, said she had marched as a youth against the Marcos dictatorship but now felt like she had been lied to.
“When the revolution overthrew Marcos, that’s when things went downhill. That’s when the corruption happened,” she said by phone. “Now I’m learning these things that I didn’t know when I was younger. Our minds had been poisoned the whole time.
In California, Susan Tagle, 62, of Sacramento, said the election made her question everything she had experienced as a young college activist, when she was imprisoned for months by the Marcos diet.
Marcos Sr. died in exile in Hawaii in 1989. His widow, Imelda, whose extensive shoe collection became a symbol of family excess during the dictatorship, served for years in the Philippine Congress while her children were governors and senators.
“We were bathed in the idea of ousting a dictator,” said Tagle, who voted for Robredo. “Then we went on with our lives. We went back to school, started families, built careers and thought the worst was over.
Constantino “Coco” Alinsug, who earlier this year became the first elected Filipino American alderman in New England, says he’s willing to give Marcos Jr. a shot, even though he has strong reservations.
The 50-year-old Lynn, Massachusetts resident, who came to the United States in his twenties, marched against the Marcos dictatorship as a youth. But he is also a strong supporter of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody crackdown on illegal drugs has sparked his own international human rights concerns. Duterte’s daughter, Sara, will serve as Marcos Jr.’s vice president.
“I want to give this guy a chance, but honestly I have no idea what he’s doing,” said Alinsug, who couldn’t vote because he doesn’t have dual citizenship. “He didn’t argue. He did not campaign. He just let his machine and his money do the work.
Brendan Flores, president and president of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, was also being watched.
“I am well aware of what the history books say. There’s a lot of baggage, no doubt,” the 37-year-old Sarasota, Florida resident said. “The main difference this time is that the world is watching. We are not going to sit idly by if things go wrong. »
I wish I could say my mom is so hopeful.
For her, there is a new urgency to the lessons she has been trying to impart for all these years. According to her, the past has been rewritten to make the villains of her childhood the saviors of today.
After the elder Marcos was deposed, my grandfather, Pedro Yap, joined the Philippine government commission to recover the ill-gotten assets of the former first family.
He worked to freeze Swiss bank accounts and seize properties in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere to repatriate wealth to his impoverished country. The family, still reeling from the loss of our uncle and fearing reprisals from Marco, begged him to resign.
Grandfather, who also served on the United Nations Human Rights Commission, finally did – when he was appointed to the country’s Supreme Court and briefly served as Chief Justice until on his retirement.
I ask my mother: Does seeing the Marcos family back in power mean that Grandpa’s work and Uncle Manny’s death were in vain? She does not hesitate.
“All I can say is that there were good people who tried and there are still good people who will keep trying,” she says. “But it’s futile. This will never change.
Philip Marcelo is a reporter at the AP’s Boston bureau. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/philmarcelo
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