Son of dictator poised for Presidency | Sunday Observer
Philippine polls

Son of dictator poised for Presidency

8 May, 2022
 Ferdinand Marcos Jr
Ferdinand Marcos Jr

Six years after losing the race for vice president, the son of Philippines’ dictator Ferdinand Marcos is taking on his old rival Leni Robredo -- and this time they’re both aiming for the presidency.

A win for Ferdinand Marcos Jr on May 9 would return the Marcos dynasty to the Malacañang Palace, more than three decades after the family plundered the country’s coffers before fleeing a mass uprising against their corrupt and brutal rule.

That a Marcos could once again take power is almost unthinkable to people still scarred by torture and the death of their relatives, but polls suggest Marcos Jr will win -- and by a considerable margin.

Known as “Bongbong” in the Philippines, Marcos Jr is running on a platform of “unity” and has promised more jobs, lower prices, and more investment in agriculture and infrastructure. His running mate for vice president is Sara Duterte Carpio, the daughter of tough-talking outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte, and their supporters see them as continuing his policies, including his controversial “war on drugs.”

Presidential frontrunner and former senator, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, graces the stage during a campaign rally in San Fernando, Pampanga, on April 30.

Robredo, who is running as an independent supported by an army of citizen campaigners dressed in pink, has promised transparency in government, to improve the education system and ensure free access to doctors.

While a grassroots movement has recently galvanized around her, analysts say Marcos Jr’s push for the presidency is the culmination of a decades-old rebranding campaign to revive the Marcos family’s name and image.

Marcos Jr has tied his campaign to his father’s legacy, with his slogan “rise again” tapping into people’s nostalgia for his father’s time as a so-called golden era for the country. In a recent interview with CNN affiliate CNN Philippines, Marcos Jr praised his father, calling him a “political genius” and his mother -- the family matriarch and four-time Congresswoman -- a “supreme politician.”

Supporters of the Marcos family say the period was a time of progress and prosperity, characterized by the building of major infrastructure projects like hospitals, roads and bridges. Critics say that was an illusion and those projects were driven by widespread corruption, foreign loans and ballooning debt.

The Marcos legacy still haunts the survivors of martial law atrocities. They ask how the country could be so quick to forgive the Marcos years and fear what will happen if a Marcos is once again allowed to rule.

CNN has reached out to Marcos Jr and his campaign for comment on the allegations into the family’s “ill-gotten wealth,” court cases and on the martial law-era atrocities but has not received a response.

The Marcos legacy

The only son of the authoritarian leader, Marcos Jr entered politics early, becoming vice governor of northern Ilocos Norte province in 1980 at the age of 23.

At the time, the Philippines had been living under martial law for almost a decade, a period of time when rights groups say tens of thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured or killed for perceived or real criticism of the government.

Hundreds of their names are inscribed in gold lettering on a Wall of Remembrance in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) in Quezon city, near the capital Manila. As Bonifacio Ilagan walks alongside the monument, he pauses at his younger sister’s name.

Rizalina P. Ilagan was abducted by a special intelligence unit of the military in the mid-1970s, her brother said. “She went missing together with nine other activists. And we never got to see her again.”

Bonifacio Ilagan was 23 when he said he was detained and tortured in prison for protesting against the Marcos regime.

Bonifacio ‘Boni’ Ilagan, a Filipino director and playright who was detained during the martial law era, poses for a portrait in an office for human rights activists in Quezon City, Philippines on April 27.

“The worst part of the torture was when they ordered me to pull down my trousers and my underwear and tried to insert a stick through my penis,” said Ilagan, now 70, who is co-convenor of the group Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law.

“They never cared about human rights. They impressed upon us they had the power of life and death over us because it was martial law. Because they were backed by no less than President Marcos.”

Marcos Jr was 29 when his family were chased into exile in Hawaii following a People Power Revolution that toppled his father’s regime in 1986. Marcos Sr died in exile three years later, but his family returned in 1991 and became wealthy, influential politicians, with successive family members representing their dynastic stronghold of Ilocos Norte.

The Marcos family lived a lavish lifestyle while in power, spending money on expensive artworks and overseas properties, even as debt spiraled and millions suffered in poverty. Former first lady Imelda Marcos was famously known for her excess spending, which included an extensive designer shoe collection. She fled the country with a stash of jewels, including a rare 25-carat pink diamond and Cartier diamond tiara, which was seized by US customs and later valued at $21 million. Almost 40 years after their fall, the Philippines government is still trying to claw back billions of dollars in stolen funds.

The Philippines’ Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG) tasked with recovering the family and their associates’ ill-gotten wealth estimates about $10 billion was stolen from the Filipino people -- it has so far recovered about $3 billion and dozens of cases remain active.

The family has repeatedly denied using state funds for their personal use -- a claim challenged by multiple court cases.

“When I was young, we were battling against the misgovernance of Ferdinand Marcos Sr,” said Ilagan, now a filmmaker and playwright. “Now I am nearing the departure era, as they say, I find myself fighting against Ferdinand Marcos Jr.”

The rebrand

Supporters of presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr record the presentations during a campaign sortie in San Fernando City, Pampanga, on April 29.

Marcos Jr’s rise to presidential favorite follows a social media campaign to revise history, analysts say.

Fatima Gaw, co-covenor of the Philippine Media Monitoring Laboratory, says YouTube is a “breeding ground” for videos that she says deny, distort or even justify the atrocities under Marcos Sr.

“They’ve been using a lot of influencers or content creators on YouTube, to peddle this fabricated narrative about the Marcos era being the golden age of the Philippines, that there was peace and order during the time,” said Gaw, who is also assistant professor of communication research at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. TikTok is also being used to appeal to younger or first-time voters -- those too young to remember the martial law period. “It’s an arsenal of tools in denialism, distortionism and cherrypicking,” Gaw said.

Marcos Jr has denied using disinformation and told CNN Philippines that his social media presence is organic.

The Marcos rebrand has also been made possible by the failure of the Philippines government and institutions to protect the history in the public’s consciousness, Gaw said.

In 2016, President Duterte announced the reinterment of Marcos Sr in the National Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila, a move approved by the Supreme Court. The surprise decision triggered protests by opponents who had launched a court challenge to have the burial stopped.

Gaw said the disinformation campaign has “primed the public now, in 2022, to feel for Marcos Jr, that he’s actually the victim of a big cover up by the media.”

Other analysts say Marcos Jr simply appeals to Filipinos tired of the political bickering and promises of progress and economic reform from successive administrations that many feel have failed to benefit ordinary people.

Personalities and dynasties dominate Philippines politics, with power concentrated in the hands of a few elite, influential families. Marcos Jr may be part of one of the country’s most notorious dynasties, but unlike Robredo, he has managed to reposition himself as separate from the liberal elites that have long ruled the Philippines’ political landscape.

“The return of the Marcos name is expected mainly because after 1986 revolution gave so much expectation to the Philippine people -- to the point of substantial changes in the way politics is practiced and governance is provided to the people,” said Philippines-based political analyst Edmund Tayao.

“But after the revolution, there was a return of the same elites in politics. Expected far reaching institutional reforms did not happen.” -CNN