In the Philippines, Filipinos are faced with a critical juncture in their history as the son of the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., is currently leading the Philippine presidential polls against top incumbent opposition bet Philippine Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo ahead of a historical May 9 election day.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., a former Philippine senator who had disappeared from the public eye following his Vice-Presidential loss to Robredo in 2016, is now gunning for the seat of power in Manila to avenge his father. His critics claim that the Marcos campaign marks decades’ worth of authoritarian nostalgia, a frustration with democratic ideals and processes, and a massive disinformation campaign had led the Marcos scion to potentially revise history and clear his family name of their criminal past.

The Philippines is the oldest democracy in Asia, a form of government inherited from the Americans. In fact, many would say that democracy and freedom are the most important things the Americans taught Filipinos.

Former President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon (center) at the Manila International Airport with Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and their children Irene, Bongbong (Marcos Jr.), and Imee (White House Photo Office, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). Source:
Former President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon (center) at the Manila International Airport with Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and their children Irene, Bongbong (Marcos Jr.), and Imee (White House Photo Office, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Despite this, political scientists consider the Philippine brand of democracy as one of the most underdeveloped ones in the world despite its age, having been ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International. It ranks 117th out of 180 countries in the organization’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, scoring a measly 33 out of 100 as a result of the Duterte Administration’s cronyism.

Decades after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, the first bloodless revolution of its kind, which ousted a corrupt President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. after stealing $10 billion, the islands are now considering electing his son. Banking on his family’s last name, Marcos Jr. currently holds a 56% lead against opposition leader Philippine Vice President Robredo in the most recent Pulse Asia electoral survey.

This is not a surprise as decades worth of disinformation campaigns and a flawed education system have led the majority of Filipinos to forget the brutality and corrupt history of the Marcos name, most notably during the martial law era in 1972 that saw thousands of human rights activists and opposition leaders killed in cold blood. After being ousted, the Marcoses and their loot (notably Mrs. Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection) fled to Hawaii, where they were later hounded with criminal charges.

Philippine elections are notorious for being over the top spectacles. This is Marcos Jr.’s campaign rally:

What helps his popularity among Filipinos today is his running-mate, Inday Sara Duterte, who is running for Vice President. Sara is current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter. The elder Duterte, who enjoys a high approval rating in the Philippines despite claims of project failures and cronyism. Duterte did not initially like Marcos Jr. and described him as a “weak leader” and a “spoiled brat.” In an example of politics making for strange bedfellows, he did not directly endorse Marcos Jr. but did endorse his daughter amid speculation that doing so would help him avoid criminal charges after he left office. Collectively, Marcos Jr. and Duterte’s daughter form the “UniTeam.”

The duo ran on a message of “Unity” without stated economic or policy plans for the country or attending the national debates. Marcos portrays the so-called “golden age” of the Philippines, riding on the back of fantasies such as distributing Marcos-stolen gold back to Filipinos, to which disinformation campaigns portray that the gold was originally theirs via the fictitious “Maharlika Kingdom” from the “Tallano Royal Family.”

Carried By His Last Name

Marcos Jr., unlike his college-educated father, is a high school graduate. The elder Marcos was a lawyer, having graduated from the country’s top school, the University of the Philippines.

His son, on the other hand, never finished a degree as he was found to be “lazy,” as described by his own father. Marcos Jr. went to study at the prestigious University of Oxford in Britain, where he studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics but did not finish. This is not to say Marcos Jr. did not have any accomplishments.

He was vice governor, then governor of Ilocos Norte under his father’s dictatorship. He would later hold the governorship, congressman, and senatorial positions from 1992 to 2016 after members of the family were allowed to return to the Philippines. During this time, he did not pass any significant laws.

His election campaign heads have not let the duo participate in any national debates. Marcos Jr. has been prone to show his lack of eloquence, intelligence, and knowledge of Philippine culture and laws. Notably, during a radio show, he did not know the basic structure of government and did not know how much the minimum fare for a jeepney ride was – the most common form of public transportation in the Philippines.

Robredo and Other Presidential Candidates

Observers have noted that he actively avoids reporters, interviews, and hard-hitting journalists as opposed to other candidates such as world-famous boxing icon Manny Pacquiao who actively participated in debates, and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Domagoso, who has been the so-called “voice of the masses.” Other candidates who have not strayed from the Filipino public are labor leader Ka Leody De Guzman, Senator Panfilo Lacson, and of course, Vice President Robredo.

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Philippine Vice President Robredo’s campaign rally in Manila, amassing over 400,000-500,000 people in one day (Now You Know). Source: Philippine Vice President Robredo’s campaign rally in Manila, amassing over 500,000 people in one day (Now You Know/Facebook)

Robredo is widely seen as the top candidate to beat Marcos Jr. based on polls. Robredo is an economist, having graduated from the University of the Philippines, and a lawyer. She also holds several doctorate degrees and has worked traditionally as a public attorney and a professor prior to her government service.

She and her running partner, Senator Francis Pangilinan, accompanied by a coalition of opposition figures and their supporters called the “Pinks” (“Kakampinks” meaning “Team” and “Pink”) are taking to the streets and campaigning to prevent the Marcoses from taking Malacañan Palace, the seat of government in Manila.

Marcos Favors China over the US in the Indo-Pacific

The Philippines and the US have been widely considered allies for the majority of the two countries’ history. Rodrigo Duterte had earlier shifted to the Chinese sphere of influence following funding and loan promises that would fund the President’s infrastructure projects, of which minimal has been completed in the past six years.

Duterte would somewhat shift back to the US following former President Donald Trump’s win in 2017. Duterte had an extreme dislike for former President Barack Obama, who he called a “son of a whore” on national television. Duterte had also earlier offered the use of Philippine military bases to the US in case fighting from the Russo-Ukrainian war spilled over.

Marcos Jr. has been tremendously vague with his campaign, not revealing any plans he has for the country. However, he has been clear on one thing: His preference for China. He has echoed President Duterte’s rhetoric on the South China Sea dispute in the Pacific, where they think that the Chinese are the Philippines’ friends.

“I think we can come to an agreement. As a matter of fact, people from the Chinese embassy are my friends. We have been talking about that,” he explained. “That arbitration is no longer an arbitration if there’s only one party. So, it’s no longer available to us,” Marcos Jr. said.

Marcos Jr. and Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian (CNN Philippines). Source:
Marcos Jr. and Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian (Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huan Xilian/CNN Philippines)

He further said that he would not ask for US help in dealing with the Chinese. “No [I will not ask the US for help]. The problem is between China and us. If the Americans come in, it’s bound to fail because you are putting the two protagonists together.”

Marcos has also doubted the US capacity to help the Philippines in later interviews:

“What kind of help? Will they bring aircraft carriers and aim at warships? If war breaks out, who loses? The Philippines. So let’s not allow the problem to escalate to a shooting, to a war,” he said. “What is the other solution? Let’s say we allow the United States to come in and defend us. We can’t do that.”

But on other occasions, he has expressed that he will not terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, a policy that is highly controversial in the Philippines. He also further noted that he was not concerned about the Russo-Ukrainian war and believed that there was no need for the Filipinos to stand with the Ukrainians, which drew the ire of opposition leaders and activists.

His running-mate also shares the same sentiments as Sara Duterte’s father, President Duterte has been friendly with the Chinese and Russia in the past. Despite their stances, the Philippines voted in favor of a UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Economically, a UK-based think tank, Pantheon Macroeconomics, projects that a Marcos Jr. win would lead to a risk in the Philippines’ economy and investments as investors see Marcos as an investment risk due to their family’s corruption. As a result, it could be possible that foreign firms would pull out of the Philippines amid fears of instability and incompetence, as Marcos Jr. is running without an economic policy.

Currently, Marcos Jr. and the entire Marcos family are reaping the benefits of disinformation and frustration with the “Daang Matuwid” or “Straight Path Governance” popularized by the Aquinos (the Marcos’ sworn political rivals).

Quite interestingly, the Marcoses cannot enter the US as they have active US warrants of arrest because they did not comply with a Hawaii court’s ruling on their stolen assets which were supposed to be distributed to the families of the people killed during the dictator’s 20-year reign. They are considered criminals under US law, being wanted as they failed to comply with the law.

They also have a pending $353.6 million fine in contempt of the court, the largest contempt case ever on record in the US. In the Philippines, his mother, Imelda, has been convicted of 7 counts of graft as she stashed loot and billions in Switzerland and Swiss bank accounts. Marcos Jr. is also a convicted tax evader, evading P203.8 billion in taxes.

May 9th will be a decisive election for the Philippines. If Marcos wins, political scientists predict that further democratic backsliding may occur due to both Marcos and Duterte families being more about staying in power than governing the islands well. More so, human rights activists, journalists, and the majority of the public that belongs to the opposition fear the election of the Marcos-Duterte ticket will lead to brutal repression and violence against them.