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Philippine election: How did Marcos win the presidency?

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/12/2022 Sammy Westfall
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. raises arms with running mate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the daughter of the current President, during their last campaign rally on May 7. (Aaron Favila/AP) © Aaron Favila/AP Ferdinand Marcos Jr. raises arms with running mate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the daughter of the current President, during their last campaign rally on May 7. (Aaron Favila/AP)

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of disgraced Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, won the country’s presidential elections in a landslide victory Sunday, propelling his family back to power after 36 years.

The family’s comeback has taken some around the world by surprise. But analysts say that for those who have followed Philippine politics, the development is hardly shocking.

Marcos, a former senator, succeeds President Rodrigo Duterte, a tough-talking populist whose brutal “war on drugs” left thousands of Filipinos dead. Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, was elected vice president as Marcos’s running mate.

Here’s what has happened in the Philippine election and what could come next.

Why is the Marcos family controversial?

The elder Ferdinand Marcos was elected president in 1965 but later consolidated power and declared martial law in 1972. Human rights abuses were rampant during his tenure — they included arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, torture and killings, especially against dissidents.

The family was also known for its corruption and its excess, with frequent jet-setting, large spending sprees and, of course, first lady Imelda Marcos’s thousands of pairs of shoes. Even today, there are efforts to recoup as much as $10 billion reportedly plundered by the Marcos family.

They also face other legal and financial controversies, including more than $3 billion in unpaid estate taxes and a graft conviction for Imelda. They also face a nearly $2 billion class-action award and contempt order handed down by a U.S. district court compensating thousands of victims of rights violations under the Marcos government.

In 1986, Filipinos ousted Marcos in what is now known as the “People Power Revolution,” with massive crowds flooding the main highway around Manila. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos fled to exile in Hawaii soon after. They also brought with them their son, Marcos Jr., who was 28 years old at the time.

The Marcos family poses for an official portrait following Marcos inauguration on June 30, 1981, in Manila. (Jeff Robbin/AP) © Jeff Robbins/AP The Marcos family poses for an official portrait following Marcos inauguration on June 30, 1981, in Manila. (Jeff Robbin/AP) How the Philippines’ brutal history is being whitewashed for voters

Why did Marcos Jr. win so big?

The younger Marcos has done little to distance himself from the legacy of his parents, instead opting to lean into it. He’s called his father a “political genius.”

On Tuesday, he visited his father’s tomb, now located at the national Heroes’ Cemetery in Metro Manila. For decades, the family and its supporters campaigned to have his remains transferred there, but past presidents refused. Duterte agreed in 2016, after making a campaign promise to do so while stumping in an old Marcos stronghold in Ilocos Norte.

Video: Marcos rule to return to Philippines after election landslide (Reuters)

“Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions,” Marcos said in a statement Tuesday. “It is [my] promise to be a president for all Filipinos.”

Analysts point to several factors that helped elevate Marcos ahead of his extraordinary comeback.

Among those is a years-long strategic disinformation campaign on social media that helped rehabilitate, even polish, the family’s image. Pro-Marcos propaganda has proliferated — from glossy filtered TikToks framing archival images of the Marcos era as amusing, to YouTube videos declaring there were no martial law arrests.

Baseless accusations now swirl claiming that the Marcos family inherited large amounts of gold, which they’ll distribute among Filipinos once they return to power. Troll operations have also been launched to handle criticism of the family online.

But Marco Garrido, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, says disinformation campaigns can’t wholly account for why voters have been “so willing to believe these lies.”

Garrido points to a more foundational reason: A “serial disappointment” in the political establishment and democratic rule over the past three decades, which have seen presidential impeachment trials, political protests, corruption and more.

“The faith they had in liberal democracy has dried up … and they’ve developed this taste for illiberal rule over the course of the Duterte administration,” Garrido said. “This nostalgia for the Marcos period wouldn’t make sense unless you put it in the context of 36 years of disappointment.”

What can we expect from the Marcos presidency?

Marcos will take charge of a country of 110 million for one six-year term, though much of his platform and policies remain unclear. He’s skipped out on election debates and interviews with the media, instead surrounding himself with social media personalities and vloggers.

“We don’t know enough in terms of how they will govern,” Nicole Curato, a sociologist and professor at the University of Canberra in Australia, said. “They control the way they disseminate information.”

He’s spoken of plans to strengthen public-private partnerships, agriculture and tourism to boost economic recovery, and has rested the Marcos-Duterte ticket on a message of “unity.”

He is expected to continue Duterte’s war on drugs but said he would have a more “focused” strategy that would better emphasize rehabilitation and prevention.

With long-standing ties with China, Marcos is expected to continue Duterte’s friendly stance toward China. He’s previously said he would not seek help from the United States on the South China Sea islands dispute.

Vocal opposition against another Marco presidency among rights groups has been strong through the campaign.

After the election, human rights group Karapatan called on Filipinos to reject the Marcos-Duterte alliance, saying Marcos “[spits] on the graves and sufferings” of thousands of martial law victims. “Worse, he has portrayed the victims of human rights violations as money-seeking opportunists,” said Cristina Palabay, the group’s secretary general.

Should Robredo’s campaign maintain its momentum, it is expected to take on an opposition role during the new administration.

Is the Philippines ready for another Duterte?

What happens to Duterte, and his ICC trial now?

In September of last year, the International Criminal Court authorized a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed during the Duterte administration’s bloody “war on drugs.”

Official figures count around 6,000 dead, but the ICC prosecutor has estimated between 12,000 and 30,000 civilians killed between July 2016 and March 2019.

The Philippines withdrew from the ICC in 2019, and Duterte administration officials have argued that the nation is not under the court’s jurisdiction. Duterte last year also spoke of seeking a vice-presidential bid — a move analysts say was motivated by a desire to shield himself from prosecution. Duterte has said he would not cooperate with the ICC’s drug war probe.

With his daughter in the vice-presidential seat, and Marcos in charge, Duterte seems set to be shielded from accountability for his role in the extrajudicial killings.

“We have a functioning judiciary, and that’s why I don’t see the need for a foreigner to come and do the job for us, do the job for our judicial system. Our judicial system is perfectly capable of doing that,” Marcos said in January. “What is their jurisdiction to come here to the Philippines and conduct an investigation? Is that not a violation of our rights as a sovereign nation in the community of nations?”


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