Filipinos grapple with the fast approaching reality of another Marcos presidency

Jeoffrey Maitem and Camille Elemia
2022.05.10
Manila
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Filipinos grapple with the fast approaching reality of another Marcos presidency A university student protesting Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s lead in the presidential polls faces off with riot police outside the Commission on Elections in Manila, May 10, 2022.
Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews

Updated at 2 p.m. ET on 2022-05-10

Filipino human rights activists and other protesters faced off with riot police Tuesday as they gathered outside the election commission here to reject the likely landslide victory of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the namesake son of their country’s late dictator, in this week’s presidential polls.

The protesters turned out to vent their anger over the starkly real prospect that Marcos Jr. was poised to govern the country for the next six years and become the first Marcos to do since his father’s tyrannical rule ended 36 years ago. They accused the younger Marcos of whitewashing and legitimizing the atrocities and other abuses of power committed during the Marcos regime (1965-86).

Marcos and Sara Duterte-Carpio, his running mate who is the popular daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, epitomize bad politics, the activists alleged.

“The two represent the worst brand of traditional politics and governance in our nation’s history – one that promotes authoritarianism as a response to the legitimate exercise of political dissent [and] upholds mendicancy to foreign interests over national sovereignty,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, a local human rights group.

“As in previous years, Marcos Jr. has not only refused to publicly acknowledge the crimes of his father and his family’s role as direct beneficiaries of such crimes, [but] he has [also] whitewashed, even legitimized, the atrocities of his father’s dictatorship,” she said Tuesday.

The people who joined the non-violent protest outside the headquarters of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) included university students and supporters of Vice President Leni Robredo, the opposition’s main presidential hopeful in the May 9 general election, who was polling far behind “Bongbong” Marcos in second place, according to an unofficial tally of votes.

Late in the day, the Marcos camp issued a statement in which the presidential candidate urged the Filipino people to “judge me not by my ancestors but by my actions,” according to Reuters.

“This is a victory for all Filipinos, and for democracy,” the news agency quoted Vic Rodriguez, the spokesman for the Marcos campaign, as saying.

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An anti-Marcos protester holds up a placard in front of police in Manila, May 10, 2022. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

On Tuesday, both the presidential and vice-presidential candidate commanded big leads, according to unofficial vote counts, and appeared to be on the verge of winning in their respective races. In the Philippines, the president and vice-president are elected separately.

In the tally of unofficial counts that covered 95 percent of voting precincts nationwide, Marcos Jr. had obtained 30,367,737 votes by noon on Tuesday, while his close rival Leni Robredo, who defeated him in 2016 for the post of vice president, had garnered 14,478,817 votes.

Duterte-Carpio received 30,735,256 votes in the vice-presidential race, well ahead of her closest opponent with just 9,021,444 votes.

Later in the day, two of the other top five presidential candidates, Filipino boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao and Francisco Domagoso, the mayor of Manila, both bowed out of the race and conceded defeat, newswire services reported.

For many who voted against Marcos Jr., the win is a dark reminder of the times when his father, Ferdinand E. Marcos, ruled the country with an iron fist for 14 years under martial law before being forced from office in a popular revolt in 1986. 

During the dictatorship, Marcos is believed to have imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of his political critics. The Marcos family also deepened the general hardship of Filipinos by plundering billions of dollars from state coffers.

In 1989, the patriarch died in Hawaii, where he lived in exile. His wife, Imelda, and children were permitted to return home three years later, and where, little by little, they began to mount a remarkable political comeback in an effort to rehabilitate the name of a dynasty hated by many Filipinos.

The Marcos-Duterte tandem

Marcos Jr. strengthened his position in the 2022 presidential race, analysts say, after forming a coalition with Duterte-Carpio. Since taking office in 2016, her father has overseen the war on drugs, in which thousands of alleged drug users and dealers have been killed.

It has been internationally condemned, and Rodrigo Duterte faces an ICC investigation over the killings. While Marcos Jr. vowed to continue the drugs war, he has said he would do it differently and with fewer killings.

“He has committed to ensuring Duterte’s protection from accountability for his bloody drug war by his public expression of rejection of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction on the investigation of these crimes,” Palabay alleged, adding the president’s daughter has also remained unapologetic, defending and promising to continue her father’s policies. 

“We call upon the Filipino people to strongly reject the notorious tandem and to stand strong against possible and further suppression and violation of people’s rights,” Palabay said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said that Marcos Jr., once in office, “should declare an end” to the war on drugs and order an impartial investigation and appropriate prosecution of officials responsible for killings related to the crackdown. 

The incoming president should “fully cooperate” with the ICC investigation, Robertson said, and support the Philippines in rejoining the Rome Statute, which Duterte unilaterally withdrew the country from in 2018 after accusing the ICC of attacking him.

Meanwhile, the Comelec dismissed four appeals seeking to bar Marcos Jr. from the presidential race due to his tax conviction in the 1990s, according to online news Rappler. The ruling was released on Tuesday. The petitioners can take it to the Supreme Court. The election body has already dismissed several cases, while two more remain. 

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Anti-Marcos protesters face off with crowd-control police near the election commission in Manila, May 10, 2022. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

‘Mood of the times’

Ronnie Holmes, president of polling firm Pulse Asia, which had predicted the win, told online news Rappler that Marcos Jr.’s victory “defuses the extent” his opponents perceive him “as a polarizing figure.”

“By expressing himself as the unity candidate, what he does is tell people who are open to support him that I will not anymore be the person who will polarize the nation,” Holmes said.

Julio Teehankee, a political analyst affiliated with the De La Salle University, described Marcos’s apparent tsunami win as “part of the mood of the times.”

“Given the pandemic, we were thinking, after what we experienced ... and how the government handled the pandemic, we would [be longing] for a more technocratic good governance, reformist approach, but instead the opposite happens,” Teehankee said.

“People are tired. They don’t have patience, so what is the solution? Let’s unite. It may be illogical for us, but there’s that inherent logic; there’s a rationale with the masses.”

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Policemen guard form a line guarding the perimeter of the headquarters of the elections commission in Manila, May 10, 2022. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

For one leading politician from the opposition, Marcos Jr.’s victory is a sign of worse things to come.

“This is bad for the country. There would be no good governance as we know it. Cronyism and dynasty will thrive,” said Sen. Leila De Lima, a jailed arch critic of President Duterte.

De Lima is running for re-election from her prison cell. She has been incarcerated since 2017 on what she insists are trumped-up charges that she had received funds from illegal drug syndicates when she was the country’s justice secretary.

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