Marcos redux? The dictator’s son could win the Philippine presidency

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte smile and discuss their love of burgers and mango shakes on the campaign trail in a carefree YouTube video before launching into a short rap written for their campaign in the presidency and vice-president of the Philippines by a popular singer.

Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator who cheated the country out of billions and ruled for years with an iron fist, and Duterte, daughter of populist incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, whose brutal anti-drug campaign has opened an investigation on crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, like to keep things light.

Their carefully choreographed campaign whitewashes the past and lacks detail on their vision for the future, but it seems to resonate with the average Filipino, with the latest polls showing both seemingly insurmountable leads in their races, which run separately, in Les Monday’s elections.

The campaign made deft use of social media, primarily TikTok and YouTube, to push the simple slogan of “unity” – “Uniteam” as they call it – and frame them as beyond politics and disagreements, said Adele Webb, lecturer at Queensland University of Technology and author of “Chasing Freedom: The Philippines’ Long Journey to Democratic Ambivalence.”

“His message is really, really well crafted with that avoidance strategy,” Webb said. “Let’s stop talking about the past, let’s stop fighting to find out what those years of martial law were really like, and look to the future, let’s move on.”

Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was ousted in 1986 as millions took to the streets in the largely peaceful “People Power” uprising to force a return to democracy.

Some of the assets obtained by Marcos, his wife Imelda and their cronies were later seized and sold, with the money being handed over to the Philippine government. The President’s Commission on Good Government, created to recoup ill-gotten gains, says it has raised more than $3.3 billion so far.

But rather than apologize for his father’s excesses, Marcos Jr., who goes by his childhood nickname “Bongbong” or “BBM” in campaign posters, embraces his image. The 64-year-old describes his father’s decades in office as a time of prosperity and national pride, glossing over corruption and years of martial law with a harsh crackdown on dissent that scarred generations of Filipinos.

“He’s just projecting a youthful version of his father, because he’s really tapping into Filipinos’ longing for Marcos’ reign,” said political scientist Andrea Chloe Wong. “They want to visit the golden age of the Philippines – and that’s what Marcos propagates.”

With the median age in the Philippines around 25, Marcos took advantage of the fact that many voters have no personal memory of his father’s reign. He has avoided confrontation by refusing one-on-one debates, hand-picking reporters for the only press conference he has held since the start of his campaign, and limiting the number of interviews he has. granted.

In one – with CNN Philippines a week ago – Marcos defended his family’s opulent lifestyle, saying his parents always remind him that “any comfort or privilege we enjoy comes from the people, and that is why we must serve”. He brushed aside criticism of martial law, saying “there were people who wanted to overthrow the government and the government had to defend itself.”

“It’s actually true, that’s what really happened,” he said emphatically.

The rehabilitation of the Marcos name began decades ago, with the family returning to the Philippines – and politics – just a few years after Marcos died in 1989 in exile in Hawaii.

Imelda Marcos – whose vast collection of jewelry and 1,220 pairs of shoes shocked the world after they were discovered in the presidential palace which was stormed during the uprising – ran for president in 1992 and 1998 , losing both times.

The 92-year-old, who still lives in Manila, had faced some 900 civil and criminal cases after her return – from embezzlement and corruption to tax evasion. Most were thrown out for lack of evidence, and the few convictions were overturned on appeal. A 2018 bribery conviction remains on appeal.

Marcos Jr. has held several political positions, including being elected to the House of Representatives in 1991 and the Senate in 2010, despite ongoing legal troubles.

He was dogged by an earlier conviction for failing to file his income tax documents and a government demand for a huge inheritance tax payment, which opponents unsuccessfully tried to use to disqualify his candidacy for the presidency. The petitions against his candidacy remain on appeal and could reach the Supreme Court.

Outside the Philippines, a U.S. District Court in Hawaii in 2011 found him and his mother guilty of contempt of an order to provide asset information in a rights class action lawsuit. rights in 1995 against Marcos Sr., fining them $353.6 million. It was never paid, which could complicate possible future visits to the United States if he is elected.

Rodrigo Duterte, during the first year of his presidency in 2016, helped the family cover up their past, allowing Marcos to be buried in the Cemetery of National Heroes, which had been blocked by previous administrations. The funeral with full military honors was condemned by human rights and leftist groups.

By teaming up with 43-year-old Sara Duterte, Marcos was able to combine the support of her family in their home province in the north and his own in the south to their advantage.

At the same time, there have been allegations – which Marcos denies – that he enlisted an army of trolls and online commentators to smear his opponents and edit his family’s story.

The approach has worked so far, with Marcos and Duterte, who is Davao City’s mayor, each with around 55% support in the most recent polls.

Marcos’ biggest challenger, Leni Robredo – the current vice president who beat Marcos in her bid for the post in 2016 – rallied an outpouring of support against him and drew huge crowds with a message of reform and governance without corruption, but it still votes less than half its number.

The vast majority of the country’s 67 million registered voters are working class, and although both are part of long-standing political families, Marcos and Duterte voted just as well – or better – among them than in the upper classes.

Many bought into Marcos’ version of the story and also believe that the reform-minded governments that succeeded Marcos Sr. failed to deliver on their promises, Wong said.

About a quarter of the population lives in poverty, government agencies and courts are considered too weak to prosecute corruption, and the gap between rich and poor remains wide. For many, a good education is unaffordable and decent jobs found abroad.

Many of the ills besetting the Philippines can be traced to Marcos, who took out huge loans he couldn’t repay to keep the country afloat while his regime imprisoned and tortured opponents and spurred rebellions – but that is carefully avoided in his son’s electoral narrative.

“People are fascinated, not by him per se, but by the memory of his father’s reign,” Wong said. “A lot of young people haven’t experienced it, but because of the propaganda repeated over and over again, they think the Philippines was better off before.”

At a recent rally in a Manila suburb, Shirley Quirit, a 38-year-old mother of five, was one of thousands who turned out to see Marcos Jr. in a glitzy gathering with giant TV screens, celebrities and a rock band.

She dismissed concerns about her past as those of people “just trying to destroy them” and said nothing could change her mind to vote for him.

“If the allegations they’re throwing at BBM are true, they should have raised them a long time ago, not now when he comes forward,” she said despite the longstanding cases involving Marcos. “The Marcos has previous accomplishments that still benefit people, like hospitals, schools, walkways…and he can do so much more.”

Even though challenger Robredo’s “pink revolution” movement, named after the color worn by his volunteers, is lagging in the polls, it shows that if Marcos wins and slips into his father’s old ways, a significant part of the population could grow back, Webb says.

“There is a lot of energy in the country, there is a lot of spirit, there is a lot of hope and a sense of resurrected people power, where people are not yet ready to give up on the democratic project,” she said.

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Rising reported from Bangkok. Associated Press reporters Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila contributed to this report.

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