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When Bongbong Marcos first arrived in Britain, he faced not just educational and cultural challenges but physical ones, too.
For not only was he the youngest boy at the fee-paying Worth School in West Sussex, he was also among the smallest on the rugby pitch.
But what he lacked in strength he more than made up for in guile — he took a flick knife to games which he is said to have brandished in scrums.
It was the only time in the school day that Bongbong could not be protected by his bodyguards, some of whom were disguised as kitchen staff, reputedly to taste his school meals in case they had been poisoned.
Ferrari-driving former British public schoolboy Bongbong Marcos is expected to become the 17th president of the Philippines. Pictured in 1975 at Oxford
Sometime later today, this Ferrari-driving former British public schoolboy, will — barring an electoral result that flies in the face of recent opinion polls that put him 30 points ahead of his nearest rival — be unveiled as the 17th president of the Philippines.
It will be a victory that completes one of the most extraordinary political comebacks of all time.
What makes Bongbong’s success so unlikely is that his father was the ruthless dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who plundered billions from his country while brutally suppressing dissent, and his mother Imelda, a former beauty queen, who was infamous for her vanity, materialism and her 3,000 pairs of shoes, half of which were left behind after the family fled a popular uprising in 1986.
Yet in a country of startling inequality, the Marcos legacy has been anything but a hindrance to the chances of Ferdinand junior — Bongbong’s real name — at the polls.
And while his triumph owes much to a web of dynastic politics, loyalties reaching back generations and exploiting social media, it was also forged on the playing fields of £36,000-a year Worth, a Benedictine boarding school near Crawley, where fellow pupils included comedian Harry Enfield and Cold Feet star Robert Bathurst.
The Marcos legacy has been anything but a hindrance to the chances of Ferdinand junior — Bongbong’s real name. Pictured, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda in 1985
At the time of his overthrow 36 years ago, Marcos senior was an international pariah.
He and his wife, dubbed the ‘conjugal dictators’, had amassed a staggering amount of wealth and Imelda’s shoe collection remains the most notorious symbol of the couple’s outrageous ostentation.
She loved luxury European brands such as Christian Dior and Gucci, but also had a standing order for ten locally made pairs of shoes to be delivered every week to the presidential palace.
Her footwear collection, however, pales into insignificance compared with the billions of dollars that were stashed in secret bank accounts around the world or spent on real estate, jewellery, artwork and stocks.
Only after the regime’s downfall did Filipinos comprehend the magnitude of their plunder.
The couple had carried off one of the greatest government thefts ever seen, stripping up to $10 billion from the country’s coffers to fund their lavish lifestyle.
The dictator and his cronies were found to have pillaged everything from foreign aid to World Bank loans, forcing outright takeovers of major companies and soliciting bribes for lucrative government contracts.
More than three decades after they were harried into exile in Hawaii — where Marcos died in 1989 — most of this hidden wealth is still missing or the subject of court proceedings that have dragged on for years.
With 64-year-old Bongbong as president, any lingering hopes of the Philippines recovering the family’s ill-gotten gains look slim.
Political opponents say Marcos Jr is running not only to redeem the family name but also to ensure that their immunity from prosecution remains in place.
When questioned about this toxic heritage, Bongbong has shown anything but repentance. ‘What have I to be sorry about?’ he demands.
Instead, he cites the thousands of miles of roads and power plants built by his father, while boasting that the Philippines has the highest levels of literacy in south-east Asia.
If, as the pundits predict, he secures victory today, Bongbong will not only be the first head of state to have played himself in a film, but also the first to claim he has been promised a ticket to ride on the first commercial flight to the moon.
The promise, he says, was made by disgraced former U.S. President Richard Nixon. When Nixon was in the White House, Bongbong was at Worth, where he had arrived in 1970.
Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his wife, Louise (left) and his sister Imee (right) pictured in 2018
A letter from the school to his father warns that young Ferdinand would find life very different to what he was used to. For a start, he would be sharing a dormitory with ten other boys.
‘I imagine that in sending Ferdinand to an English public school, you would like him to be treated as any other new boy,’ the school writes adding: ‘I would strongly recommend that until he has settled down, he does not telephone you or you him, as I have found from experience that the sound of parents’ voices on the telephone can make a boy very unhappy and homesick.’
Intriguingly Marcos senior, who is addressed as ‘Mr President’, appears to have got his son’s age wrong.
A letter of application had given the boy’s age as 11 but an accompanying birth certificate showed he was actually 12.
The president’s decision to educate his son in Britain was seen as having strategic value for the UK government.
When Mrs Marcos made a private visit to help her son settle in, civil servants planned an itinerary for her to visit orphanages and museums.
But it was scrapped when Britain’s ambassador to the Philippines said Mrs Marcos was ‘highly egocentric’ and would want to go to ‘functions which serve to show off her beauty in public’.
It was noted that she had been ‘as exigent, difficult, tactless and inconsiderate as it was possible to be’.
When told that the Queen would be at Balmoral and unable to see her, Mrs Marcos said she was being received by the Pope and President Nixon that year and expected equal treatment here.
Eventually, the Queen agreed to see her at Windsor Castle. Diplomats said the visit went off without incident perhaps because her final itinerary included shopping trips to Harrods, Selfridges and Bond Street.
Bongbong left Worth after four years, during which he passed seven O-levels and three A-levels in physics, maths and English.
He was awarded a place at Oxford, but envoys had to lobby officials at St Edmund Hall after the young Filipino twice failed examinations.
To avoid an embarrassing departure, the college’s principal asked the Philippine military attaché in London to come up with ‘any special circumstances’ which would permit St Edmund to ignore its own rules.
Bongbong will not only be the first head of state to have played himself in a film, but also the first to claim he has been promised a ticket to ride on the first commercial flight to the moon. Pictured, a reporter looks his mother’s shoe collection
A compromise was reached and Bongbong switched courses and received a special diploma in social sciences.
Not that this academic demotion stopped him claiming for years that he had graduated from Oxford in 1978 with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE).
He was even less successful when he went to the U.S. to study at the prestigious Wharton College — and failed to graduate.
While opponents have complained about his lack of honesty, political analysts describe it as typical of the Marcos family’s relationship with facts.
Said one: ‘They have a penchant for weaving their own truth into a version of reality which is glitzy and glamorous enough to appeal to some people.’
Take his father. He claimed to be ‘the most decorated war hero in the Philippines’, who was awarded three U.S. army medals from World War II.
But while Marcos had served in the U.S. Forces in the Philippines, the country’s National Historical Commission later declared his tales of heroism ‘full of lies’.
Bongbong’s father became president in 1965 and his wife soon became famous for her exorbitant spending.
On a single overseas trip in 1983, she apparently spent $9 million in 90 days, including $14,150 on bed sheets, $58,000 on sterling silver serving dishes and $611,000 on gems from Cartier.
In a recent Netflix documentary about her life, Imelda Macros said such spending was essential to be the perfect First Lady.
‘I had to dress up and make myself more beautiful because the poor always look for a star in the dark of the night,’ she explained.
Ferdinand Marcos’s 21-year rule was notorious for corruption, extravagance and brutality.
As he and his family lived in luxury on the state purse, the Philippines economy stagnated, the income gulf between rich and poor ballooned and thousands of political opponents were tortured or killed.
In 1972, as his two-term limit was nearing an end, Marcos declared martial law and then amended the constitution to allow him to stay in power indefinitely.
But even as their days of greed ended, they managed to scoop up millions of dollars’ worth of valuables — cash, jewels, gold and art, including works by the French painter Monet.
The estimated 300 crates loaded on to the two U.S. Air Force planes that carried the Marcos family to Hawaii also included weapons, bank deposit certificates and the deeds for numerous overseas property holdings.
More than 36 years after the family fled into exile, not one person has been jailed over their illegally acquired wealth.
The family was allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991, after the dictator’s death. Twice Mrs Marcos, now 92, ran for president and twice she failed.
Now the family’s fortunes and its rehabilitation looks secure in the hands of Bongbong, the boy who played rugby on the playing fields of England with a knife in his pocket.