The election campaign is the latest chapter in an almost Shakespearean tale of feuding between the Aquino and Marcos families, two of the most powerful clans in a nation famed for elite dynasty rule.
Human rights groups say tens of thousands endured torture and imprisonment during the elder Marcos’s 20-year rule, and the government estimates the family plundered $10 billion from state coffers.
But pollsters say a young electorate is likely to install the charismatic and unrepentant Ferdinand Marcos Jnr as vice president in May elections.
“Mr. Marcos’s rule was not the golden age. It was a very painful chapter of our history,” Aquino told about 3,000 students and government workers at a ceremony marking the 1986 uprising.
Aquino’s late father and namesake was assassinated by pro-Marcos soldiers and police at Manila airport in 1983 as he tried to return from US exile to lead opposition to the dictator.
Public outrage over the murder lit the sparks for the revolution, which was led by the assassinated democracy hero’s wife, Corazon Aquino.
The People Power revolution forced the Marcos family into US exile as the soft-spoken and still revered Corazon came to power.
The Marcos patriarch died in Hawaii three years later.
But the Marcos family was allowed to return in the early 1990s and its controversial matriarch, Imelda, set in train a remarkable political comeback for herself and her children.
The clan held mostly local positions in its home provinces until Marcos Jnr won a seat in the national Senate in 2010, providing a platform for a tilt at the country’s second most powerful position.
‘A time of darkness’
“Martial law really happened. There was a dictator who, with his family and cronies, monopolised power in exchange for the very lives and freedom of Filipinos,” Aquino said on Thursday.
He criticised the younger Marcos for his failure to apologise for his late father’s actions.
“If he does not even realise what wrongs were committed by his family, what is our assurance that he will not repeat them?” Aquino said.
Addressing the electorate, where nearly half are aged 35 or younger, according to official data, Aquino said: “Let us work together to ensure the Philippines will no longer go through a period of darkness.”
Marcos Jnr has repeatedly said his family has nothing to apologise for and portrayed his father’s rule as a time of economic prosperity.
He has also gained popularity for helping to derail Aquino’s efforts to strike peace with Muslim rebels.
Aquino, who remains reasonably popular with the electorate, is barred by the constitution from standing for a second six-year term. Vice presidents are elected separately in the Philippines.
Aquino’s choices for president and vice president are widely regarded as lacklustre politicians, and are lagging in the polls.