A Filipino raises a placard during a rally marking the anniversary of the 1986's People Power Revolution that overthrew the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, near the EDSA People Power monument in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 25, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Manila: Protesters took to the streets of the Philippine capital on Friday as church leaders called on the faithful to prevent a return to the abuses of the Ferdinand Marcos era on the anniversary of his ouster and months before a presidential election in which his son is heavily favoured.

Police in the Catholic-majority country said about 1,100 mostly young protesters gathered on the same Manila highway where millions assembled 36 years ago to end the dictator’s two-decade rule.

“Bring back the loot, not the thief”, they chanted, hoisting a streamer that read: “No to MarcosDuterte2022”. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Junior is running alongside vice-presidential hopeful Sara Duterte, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Marcos, 64, has sought to steer public discourse away from the torture, killings and embezzlement of state funds that took place under his father’s rule, instead focusing on the nation’s need to dig itself out from under the coronavirus pandemic.

The capital’s Epifanio de los Santos Avenue was the site of four days of peaceful street protests in 1986 that followed the elder Marcos being accused of stealing the vote from rival Corazon Aquino in a snap presidential election.

Catholic bishops at the time mustered millions of people to protect a small group of military rebels who had holed up at an army base after Marcos uncovered their coup attempt. The protests eventually forced the Marcos family into US exile.

“We don’t want a repeat (of a Marcos presidency), because the Marcoses have been proven corrupt,” Jandeil Roperos, 25, one of Friday’s protesters, told AFP.

Former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. gestures as he speaks to his supporters during a proclamation rally promoting his presidential bid in the 2022 national elections at the Philippine Arena, Bulacan province, north of Manila, Philippines on Tuesday. February 8, 2022. Image Credit: AP

No ‘golden age’

On Friday, bishops were again at the fore of the anti-Marcos movement.

In a pastoral letter, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said it was the duty of voters to reject “historical revisionism” they say seeks to whitewash the abuses committed under the elder Marcos.

Polls show the predominantly young electorate is set to send the former dictator’s namesake back to the Malacanang presidential palace.

“I think it is obvious from our tone we do not want the dark age of martial law repeated,” the 86-member group’s president, Bishop Pablo David, told reporters when asked if the document alluded to Bongbong.

“People have no business saying that was a golden age because that is a lie.”

While stressing it was not the bishops’ intent to choose for the people, the letter said it was the duty of Catholics “to use their free vote to further the common good”.

“But we are appalled by the blatant and subtle distortion, manipulation, cover-up, repression and abuse of the truth,” it said, including the proliferation of fake news to create an alternative narrative of the country’s history.

The Marcos camp did not reply to a request for comment.

After he died in Hawaii in 1989, Marcos’ heirs were allowed to return to the Philippines in the 1990s. Bongbong has since been elected governor of his father’s home province, congressman and senator.