Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

In Hawaii, ‘vocal minority’ pushes back on Marcos return decades after exile

Dwight de Leon

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In Hawaii, ‘vocal minority’ pushes back on Marcos return decades after exile

Arcy Imasa prepares on November 17, 2023, a paraphernalia that her group will show during their demonstration on the day that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. arrives in the island-state of Hawaii.

Dwight de Leon/Rappler

Hawaii is known to have a Filipino diaspora that is strongly supportive of the Marcos family. But some migrants want to show there are still voices of dissent as the President marks his return to the island.

HAWAII, USA – Three graduate students of the University of Hawaii were preparing protest paraphernalia on a weekday afternoon a few days before the arrival in Honolulu of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

It was an effigy – still a work in progress that day – that was a humble effort from migrant activists who have hardly any experience in creating such a makeshift dummy.

That protest artwork is expected to be a visual draw when they hold a demonstration on Saturday, November 18, the day that Marcos meets with the Filipino community in the Pacific island-state of the US.

“We are planning to illustrate Bongbong as a vampire who is sucking on FIlipino people’s blood and their resources,” said Dianne Deauna, a member of Anakbayan in Hawaii.

Steep with symbolic context

The visit of Marcos here is steep with symbolic context. It will be the return of a man who fled from the Philippines to this island in 1986 with the rest of his family after his dictator-father – Ferdinand E. Marcos – was ousted by the Filipino people in a popular uprising known as the People Power Revolution.

Over the course of nearly four decades, that man in exile was able to come back to the Philippines, return to public office, rebuild the family’s machinery in local and national politics, and become president just like his dad.

His trip to Hawaii underscores a rare political comeback arc achieved by the son, who admitted having bad memories of his time on the island. His father died on the island in 1989, taking to the afterlife the unfulfilled ambition to once again see the Philippines before succumbing to numerous illnesses.

But a minuscule opposition is fighting back, refusing to remain silent amid a Marcos return to Hawaii.

“We have not forgotten the crimes [of the Marcos family]. And we are not oblivious to what’s happening in the Philippines,” said Arcy Imasa, co-chairperson of the Hawaii Filipinos for Truth, Justice and Democracy (HFTJD).

Ilocano dissidents

Imasa’s group was formed in the aftermath of the 2022 presidential election in the Philippines – an exercise that saw Marcos become the first majority president since the restoration of democracy in 1986.

Hawaii was no exception, delivering a Marcos landslide victory after the ballots were tallied. Marcos garnered 82% of over 2,800 votes cast in the state.

For Filipinos in Hawaii, the result was hardly surprising, since the island is known for its large population of Ilocanos, of which Marcos also is.

Even supporters of Marcos election rival – former vice president Leni Robredo – had been aware that it was an uphill battle. They remember the past election season as a hot-button issue that divided the Filipino diaspora in the state.

But since then, the outnumbered opposition insists not all Ilocanos in Hawaii are supportive of the incumbent administration in the Philippines.

“I am an Ilocano from Pangasinan. There are many Ilocanos here who do not support the Marcoses because we know what the situation has become in the Philippines since he became president,” Imasa said.

“We cannot deny that Marcos has many supporters in Hawaii, but there is really no ‘solid north,'” added Andrian Gajigan, another UH graduate student and Anakbayan member.

Mobilizing people

In Hawaii, critics of the Marcos administration have their work cut out in increasing their numbers.

“A lot of them grew up raised by parents who actually idolize Marcos and speak about him in good terms. So initially, when you approach someone like that, it’s hard to kind of convince them of the real story and get them to understand that there’s more to that of the story they are fed,” Deauna said.

“We have Anakbayan members who go against their parents who are pro-Marcoses,” Gajigan added. “It’s difficult to mobilize, but we also see potentials.”

Last month, Marcos’ sister – Senator Imee – also visited Hawaii for the first time in decades. Her visit was also met with a demonstration attended by a few dozen people.

Protesters are hoping that the turnout on the demonstration against the President’s arrival would be bigger.

“We care about our country even if we are in Hawaii. We believe we can do something to help improve the conditions of our countrymen in the Philippines,” Imasa said.

Aside from the meet-and-greet event with the Filipino community, Marcos will also visit the US Indo-Pacific Command before he flies back home on Sunday, November 19. – Rappler.com

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.