Philippine President Bongbong Marcos’ return to Honolulu draws mixed reactions

Philippine President Bongbong Marcos met with Filipino supporters and U.S. military leaders during 2-day visit in Honolulu
Published: Nov. 19, 2023 at 10:04 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2023 at 10:55 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There was an enthusiastic homecoming for Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. at the Hawaii Convention Center on Saturday night.

More than 30 years after he and his family lived in exile here, Marcos returned to Honolulu for a two-day visit and was met with the fanfare of a concert and election rally with about 1,000 Filipino community leaders.

This is Marcos’ first visit back to the islands since his family was forced to flee the Philippines in 1986 after his father, former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., was ousted following a nonviolent revolution.

Marcos Sr. died in Honolulu in 1989, and the family was allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991.

Marcos thanked those who helped his family during their time in Hawaii, including Joe Lazo, one of the most vocal Marcos supporters from the 1980s.

“When we moved to Makiki Heights, you were always there, we had nothing, they kept everything to inspect everything. These are the people who get body and soul together of the Marcos family,” Marcos said in his speech. “Even if I thank you every day for 1,000 years it is not enough for all of the things that you’ve done.”

“We as a family, we as individuals owe a debt of gratitude that we will never ever be able to pay.”

Marcos arrived Saturday night at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam greeted by Governor Josh Green, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and other Hawaii officials, fresh off the APEC summit in California.

“Hawaii welcomed him with open arms, especially the Filipino community. He said, ‘This is his second home,’ said Eddie Flores, co-founder of the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu.

Flores said he was happy to hear more about Marcos’ economic policy. Marcos thanked Filipino entrepreneurs in Hawaii for their ongoing trade missions and investments.

“I’m a businessman. I’m just looking at the economy. And the GDP increased by 5 to 7% for the last couple of years, and next year is going to be the same. I think he’s doing a great job,” said Flores, founder and president of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.

Marcos expressed sympathy for those who died in the Maui wildfires, asking for a moment of silence. During his visit, the Marcos administration announced a donation for Maui relief efforts, but the amount was not disclosed.

Some Filipino community leaders on Maui told HNN they asked the Marcos administration to cover airfare for wildfire victims to attend the Saturday event, but the request was declined. About 40% of those impacted by the Maui wildfires are Filipino.

Also in his speech, Marcos touted stronger ties between the Philippines and the U.S.

On Sunday, he met with Indo Pacific Command leaders, including Admiral John Aquilino, at Camp Smith. He then gave policy remarks and participated in a Q&A at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.

In that speech, Marcos focused on two main priorities in the U.S.-Philippines relationship, including a focus on innovation and emerging technology and concerns about rising tensions in the South China Sea. Without naming China, Marcos sent a strong message in a room of U.S. military leaders and international policy experts, saying “the Philippines will not give a single square inch of our territory to any foreign power.”

On the sidelines of the APEC Summit, Marcos met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, hoping to defuse tensions amid recent clashes in waters Beijing claims as its own. A 2016 international ruling invalidated China’s claim.

The meeting comes as the Marcos administration inked a nuclear energy deal with the U.S. and continues to expand America’s access to military bases in the Philippines.

While cheers and applause filled the convention center on Saturday, it was a different scene outside, where about 40 protesters wanted to send a message.

“The Marcoses, their family likes to erase their sordid history from the history books as in literally rewriting all of the atrocities of their father and their family and all of the crimes against humanity that they continue to commit in the Philippines against the Filipino people,” said Yoko Liriano, co-chair of the Hawaii Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines.

Critics point out the Marcos family ignored a 1995 Hawaii district court order to pay $2 billion in reparations to victims during Marcos Sr.’s rule.

Marcos told the crowd inside now’s the time for unity.

“Continue to be supportive of your government and the Philippines. You have worked hard to build your lives here. You are the glue that holds us together,” Marcos said.

Many Filipinos in Hawaii, like workers’ rights advocate Sergio Alcubilla, say they’re willing to give Marcos Jr. a chance as president, but national healing will take more effort and courage.

“I think until he addresses some of those court cases against them and against his family and really addresses that history truthfully. It’s hard for the country to just simply move forward and brush it aside,” Alcubilla said.