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A new leader in the Philippines, and a family’s old wounds

A new leader in the Philippines, and a family’s old wounds

BOSTON (AP) — 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.”

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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…

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