Rise of the son: On the landslide victory of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the Philippines

Marcos Jr. should disown his father's legacy if he is serious about restoring political accountability

Updated - May 13, 2022 01:06 am IST

Published - May 13, 2022 12:08 am IST

The landslide victory of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, in Monday’s presidential election, is a testimony to the structural change the Philippines’s politics has undergone in over three decades. The regime of the senior Marcos — he was President twice before declaring martial law — was known for thuggery and corruption, even accused of stealing billions from the state coffers. It took the years-long “People Power Revolution”, which was triggered by the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, to overthrow the dictatorship in 1986. Thirty-six years later, Mr. Marcos Jr., who has never disowned the abuses of his father’s regime, got 30.5 million votes out of 67 million votes polled (unofficial results), compared to 14.5 million votes secured by Vice-President Maria Leonor Robredo, his closest rival. However ironic it might seem, his victory is not surprising. The Marcos family, which returned to the country in 1991 after six years in exile, had immediately started to regain its lost glory. The dictator’s wife, Imelda, contested in the 1992 presidential election and lost. Mr. Marcos Jr. has been active in politics since the late 1990s. Now, with his thumping victory in one of the most consequential elections in the post-dictatorship era, the once-disgraced family is set to determine the Southeast Asian nation’s future once again.

Little is known about Mr. Marcos Jr.’s policy preferences. He skipped presidential debates and refused to give media interviews. Instead, he gave direct addresses to his supporters and his team ran a highly efficient online campaign focusing on repackaging the era of dictatorship as one of prosperity and opportunity. This appeared to have struck a chord with voters. He joined hands too with the outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, whose daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, became his running mate. Six years ago, Mr. Duterte ran a similar campaign. He blamed pro-democracy establishment parties for the poverty and widening inequality. Once in power, he attacked the country’s institutions, launched a “war on drugs” in which thousands of Filipinos were killed, and ordered the burial of the senior Marcos’s body at a heroes’ cemetery. Mr. Marcos Jr.’s refusal to distance himself from his family’s political legacy and his joining hands with the Dutertes have triggered concerns of a further erosion of democracy. Given the six years of Mr. Duterte’s rule, such fears were not completely baseless. In his first remarks after the election, Mr. Marcos Jr. asked the public to “judge me by my actions and not by my ancestors”. If he is serious, the presidency is his opportunity to prove his critics wrong. He can do so by recovering the billions looted during his father’s regime, strengthening institutional democracy and restoring accountability among the political class.

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