Philippines President Marcos defends father's martial law legacy

FILE PHOTO: Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers first State of the Nation Address

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippines leader Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Tuesday defended his late father's imposition of martial law when in power, saying it was necessary because he was simultaneously fighting communist and separatist rebellions at that time.

Marcos, son of Ferdinand Marcos Sr who was overthrown in a 1986 popular uprising, said his father declared martial law not to stay in power but because the "government had to defend itself."

"Martial law was declared because of the wars, the two wars we were fighting on two fronts," Marcos said in his first interview since his landslide victory in a May election.

"Those were the dangers, the perils the country was facing," Marcos said, as various groups including victims of human rights abuses, prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21.

His remarks are likely to bolster the concerns of critics that Marcos Jr has no intention of distancing himself from the tenure of his father and that this could pose risks to democracy in the Philippines.

In his televised interview, Marcos Jr denied accusations that he and his family were distorting history.

During the campaign, critics said his presidential bid was an attempt to rewrite history by whitewashing corruption and authoritarianism associated with his father's 20-year rule.

The elder Marcos and his family fled the uprising against his rule after he had overseen what many historians have described as one of the worst examples of a kleptocracy in Asia.

Marcos Sr died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, but his family later returned to launch a comeback that culminated in his son's election victory in May.

Decades later, more than 11,000 victims of martial law have received reparations from Philippines authorities paid for using billions of dollars of recovered wealth plundered by Marcos Sr.

Wiping away tears as he spoke, Marcos recalled visiting his father's grave a day after winning the election and calling on him for help. "I will use everything I learned from you to continue your work," Marcos recounted telling his late father.

Bonifacio Ilagan, who was jailed and tortured during martial law, said the late leader stayed in power for 14 years after imposing martial law, dismissing any suggestion it was due to an emergency situation.

"Marcos Jr became president on the wings of false narratives and negative historical revisionism," Ilagan said.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies and Mark Heinrich)