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 cut short. The cautionary tale. But also the reminder of doing what was right, no matter the cost.
A rising leader in the youth-led opposition to President Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Manny Yap 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 into martial law, the moment in the country’s history when Marcos Sr. suspended civil government and effectively ruled as a dictator. After the meal, the 23-year-old grad student went off to meet a friend.
Days later, an anonymous caller delivered the news his family had dreaded: Manny had been picked up by the military and detained.
My uncle was never seen again.
Now his story is flooding back: The son of the man my family has held responsible for his death all those decades ago is set to become president of the Philippines.
“We were on the good side, the honor side,” Janette Marcelo, my mother and Manny’s younger sister, says to me by phone recently. Her voice is trembling but resolute. “You need to know that.”
Even now, nearly a half century later, her memories are vivid when she recalls her parents’ anguish as the days after his disappearance rolled into weeks, months, years.
Her mother, desperately trying to pass messages along to the nuns and priests granted entry to the notorious prison camp where they believed he was being held. Her father, eying each arriving and departing bus, hoping he might catch a glimpse of his eldest son.
But Manny’s body was never recovered. His heartbroken parents were never able to properly lay him to rest. The only markers of their loss are the monuments scattered across Metro Manila where his name is etched along with the more than 2,300 killed or disappeared during Marcos’ two-decade reign.
My mother is emphatic as she recounts the story my siblings and I heard countless times growing up.
“You had an uncle who believed so much in something that he was willing 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 truly believe that.”
Next week, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. will be inaugurated following his landslide victory in May’s Philippine presidential election, completing a stunning return to power for the Marcos clan, which ruled the country for more than two decades until being ousted by the largely peaceful “People Power” uprising 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 truly resonated among other Filipino Americans.
So I decided to ask.
In conversations with Filipinos across the country in recent weeks, I found outlooks ranging from my mom’s …read more
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