BOSTON (AP) — He was the uncle I never met. But in my family’s origin story, Emmanuel “Manny” Yap always loomed large.
The life of great potential was cut short. The cautionary tale. But also the reminder to do what was right, regardless of the cost.
Manny Yap, a rising leader in the youth-led opposition to President Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, 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, the moment in the history of the country when Marcos Sr. suspended civilian rule and effectively ruled like a dictator. After the meal, the 23-year-old student set out to meet a friend.
Days later, an anonymous caller brought the news his family feared: Manny had been captured by the military and held.
My uncle was never seen again.
Now his story is flowing back: the son of the man who held my family responsible for his death all those decades ago ready to be president of the philippines†
“We were on the right side, on the right side,” Janette Marcelo, my mother and Manny’s younger sister, told me by phone recently. Her voice trembles but determined. “You should know that.”
Even now, nearly half a century later, her memories are vivid as she recalls her parents’ anguish as the days following his disappearance turned into weeks, months, years.
Her mother, desperately trying to pass messages to the nuns and priests, granted access to the infamous prison camp where they believed he was being held. Her father watched every arriving and departing bus, hoping to catch a glimpse of his eldest son.
But Manny’s body was never found. His heartbroken parents were never able to give him a decent rest. The only signs of their loss are the monuments scattered across Metro Manila where: his name is etched along with the more than 2,300 dead or disappeared during Marcos’s two-decade reign.
My mother is emphatic when she tells the story my siblings and I heard countless times growing up.
“You had an uncle who believed in something so much that he wanted 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 much. I really believe that.”
Next week, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. inaugurated after his landslide victory in the Philippine presidential election in May, 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 ‘People Power’ Rebellion in 1986 .
The moment has been a reckoning for my family, our painful past, and the values we forged. But given everything else going on in the world, I’ve wondered how much it really resonated with other Filipino Americans.
So I decided to ask.
In conversations with Filipinos across the country in recent weeks, I found prospects ranging from my mother’s simmering anger to unbridled excitement about the future.
It’s not entirely surprising. In the US — where more than 4 million Filipinos de third largest Asian groupafter Chinese and Indians – the victory of Marcos Jr. was much smaller than in the Philippines.
According to the election results, he claimed nearly 47% of the more than 75,000 votes cast by dual citizens and other Filipino nationals in the US, compared to 43% by his main opponent, outgoing Philippine Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.
One of the first people I spoke to was Rochelle Solanoy, a 53-year-old state worker in Juneau, Alaska. She voted for Marcos Jr. because she believes he can bring a return to the “golden years” when the country was an emerging power in Asia and his charismatic first family was jealous of rivals.
Solanoy, who left the Philippines in 1981, said she marched as a youth against the Marcos dictatorship but now feels she was lied to.
“When the revolution ousted Marcos, it went downhill. Then the corruption happened,” she says on the phone. “Now I’m learning these things that I didn’t know when I was younger. Our minds were poisoned all the time.”
In California, Susan Tagle, 62, of Sacramento, said the election made her question everything she had experienced as a young college activist while imprisoned for months by the Marcos regime.
Marcos Sr. died in Hawaii in exile in 1989. His widow, Imelda, whose… huge shoe collection became the symbol of the excess of the family during the dictatorship, has served in the Philippine Congress for years, while her children have served as governors and senators.
“We nurtured the idea of ousting a dictator,” said Tagle, who voted for Robredo. “Then we moved on with our lives. We went back to school, raised families, built careers and thought the worst was over.”
Constantino “Coco” Alinsug, who earlier this year de first Filipino-American elected city councilor in New Englandsays he is willing Marcos Jr. a chance, even if he has strong reservations.
Massachusetts native Lynn, 50, who came to the US in his twenties, marched as a youth against the Marcos dictatorship. But he is also a staunch supporter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody crackdown on illegal drugs has sparked its own international human rights concerns. Duterte’s daughter Sara becomes Marcos Jr.’s vice president.
“I want to give this man a chance, but I honestly have no idea what he’s talking 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 machine and money do the work.”
Brendan Flores, president and president of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, was similarly guarded.
“I know very well what the history books say. There is no doubt a lot of baggage,” said the 37-year-old Sarasota, Florida resident. “The main difference this time is that the world is watching. We will not stand idly by when things go wrong.”
I wish I could say my mom is just as hopeful.
For her, there is a new urgency in the lessons she has tried to teach over the years. As she sees it, the past has been rewritten to cast the villains of her childhood as today’s saviors.
After the elder Marcos was deposed, my grandfather, Pedro Yap, joined the Philippine government commission charged with recovering the ill-gotten assets of the former first family.
He worked for Freeze Swiss bank accounts and confiscate property Los Angeles, New York City and elsewhere to repatriate wealth back to his impoverished nation. Still reeling from the loss of our uncle and fearing Marcos’ revenge, the family begged him to stop.
Grandpa, who was also a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights, eventually did – when he was appointed to the country’s Supreme Court and briefly served as chief justice until retirement.
I ask my mother: Does it mean that Grandpa’s work and Uncle Manny’s death were in vain to see the Marcos family return to power? She doesn’t hesitate.
“All I can say is that there were good people who tried and there are still good people who will continue to try,” she says. ‘But it’s pointless. It will never change.”
Philip Marcelo is a reporter in the AP’s Boston office. Follow him on Twitter twitter.com/philmarcelo