Marcos redux? The son of a dictator may win the Philippine presidency

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Sara Duterte smile as they chat about their love for burgers and mangoshakes on the election trail in an unscripted YouTube video.

Marcos redux? The son of a dictator may win the Philippine presidency

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Sara Duterte smile as they chat about their love for burgers and mangoshakes on the election trail in an unscripted YouTube video. Then, they break into a short rap written by a popular singer for their campaign for vice president and president of the Philippines.

Marcos Jr., the son and dictator of the late dictator, who stole billions from the country and ruled for many years with an iron fist and Duterte (daughter of populist President Rodrigo Duterte), whose anti-drug campaign was so brutal that it has led to an investigation by the International Criminal Court into crimes against humanity. We like to keep things light.

Their meticulously choreographed campaign focuses on the past but is lacking details about the future. However, it seems to be resonate with the average Filipino with recent polls showing that both candidates have seemingly insurmountable lead in their races.

Adele Webb, a Queensland University of Technology lecturer and author of "Chasing Freedom": The Philippines' long journey to democratic Ambivalence, stated that the campaign made smart use of social media (primarily TikTok, YouTube) to promote the slogan of "unity".

Webb stated that Webb's message was very well-crafted using this avoidance strategy. Let's not dwell on the past. Instead, let us stop fighting over what those years of martial law looked like. Instead, let us look forward and move forward.

Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was expelled in 1986 when millions took to the streets to protest against the peaceful People Power uprising for a return to democracy.

Marcos, Imelda, and their cronies seized some of the assets and had the money remitted back to the Philippine government. The Presidential Commission on Good Government was created to recover ill-gotten profits and has collected more than $3.3 million.

Marcos Jr. doesn't want to apologize for his fathers mistakes. He embraces Marcos Jr.'s image. Marcos Jr. goes by the nickname of his childhood, "Bongbong", or "BBM", in campaign posters. The 64-year old portrays his father’s years in office as a time for prosperity and national pride. He doesn't mention the corruption or years of martial law that resulted in a brutal crackdown on dissent, which has left scarring generations of Filipinos.

Andrea Chloe Wong (political scientist) stated that he is projecting a younger version of his father because he is really banking on the Filipinos’... nostalgia for Marcos rule. They want to see the golden age of the Philippines, and Marcos is encouraging them to do so.

Marcos took advantage of the fact many Filipino voters don't have any personal memories of his father's rule to make the most of his age. He has avoided confrontation by refusing to engage in head-to-head discussions, hand-selecting journalists for his sole press conference since the campaign began, and has restricted the number of interviews he gives.

Marcos, speaking with CNN Philippines about his family's wealth, said that his parents had always reminded him that any comfort or privilege he enjoys comes from his family. He also stated that there were those who wanted to overthrow the government, but the government had to defend its own.

He said, "This is really true, that's what actually happened."

The Marcos family's rehabilitation began decades ago. It was only after Marcos' death in exile in Hawaii in 1989 that the family returned to the Philippines and became involved in politics.

Imelda Marcos, a woman whose vast collection of jewelry and 1,220 shoes stunned the world when they were found in the presidential palace stormed by the uprising, ran for president in 1992 and 1998. She lost both elections.

She was 92 years old and still lives in Manila. After her return, she had been involved in nearly 900 civil and criminal cases, ranging from corruption and embezzlement to tax evasion. Many were dismissed because of lack of evidence and a few were overturned by appeal. An appeal against a 2018 conviction for graft remains open.

Marcos Jr. held many political offices, including being elected in 1991 to the House of Representatives and 2010 to the Senate, despite legal challenges.

A past conviction for failing to file income tax papers has kept him from filing them and a demand by the government for an enormous estate tax payment. Opponents tried unsuccessfully to disqualify him for the presidency. His candidacy petitions are still on appeal and could be heard by the Supreme Court.

In 2011, a U.S. District Court found Marcos Sr. and his mother guilty of failing to comply with an order to provide information about assets. They were being held responsible for a 1995 human right class action lawsuit against Marcos Sr.. The fine was $353.6 million. This has not been paid and could make it difficult for him to visit the United States in the future, if elected.

Rodrigo Duterte helped the family to forget its past in 2016's first year as president. He allowed Marcos' burial in the country's veterans' cemetery. This was previously blocked by previous administrations. Left-wing and human rights groups condemned the funeral with full military honours.

Marcos and Sara Duterte (43 years old) have been able to work together to their mutual advantage.

Marcos also denies that he has recruited an army of commentators and trolls online to discredit his opponents and revise the family's past.

This approach has been successful so far with Marcos and Duterte (who is also the mayor of Davao) each receiving about 55% support according to the most recent polls.

Marcos' greatest challenger, Leni Robertredo, the current vice president, who defeated Marcos in his 2016 bid for that office, has mobilized massive support against him. She has drawn large crowds with a message about reform and corruption-free government, but is still polling below half of his numbers.

The majority of the country’s 67 million registered voters belong to the working class. Despite being part of long-standing political families, Marcos and Duterte poll as well or better among these people than the upper classes.

Wong stated that many have believed Marcos' version history and feel that reform-oriented governments who came after Marcos Sr. did not deliver.

Around 25% of the population lives below the poverty line. Government agencies and courts are too weak to prosecute corruption, and the gap between the rich and the poor is still wide. Many people find it difficult to afford a good education and can only look abroad for decent jobs.

Many of the problems plaguing the Philippines can be traced back to Marcos. He took large loans that he couldn't repay to keep the country floating while his regime tortured and imprisoned opposition and sparked rebellions. However, this is avoided in the election narrative of his son.

Wong stated that people are fascinated by him, but more so the memory of his father’s rule. "A lot of young people didn’t experience it, but because of the propaganda being repeatedly repeated, they believe the Philippines is better off than before."

Shirley Quirit (38-year-old mother with five children) was at a recent rally in Manila. She was among many thousands who attended the rally that featured Marcos Jr. and large television screens, celebrities, and a rock band.

She dismissed her concerns about his past, saying that they were from people "just trying destroy them", and that she could not change her mind about voting for him.

She said that if the accusations they are making against BBM are true they should have raised them long ago and not now, when he is running." This despite several longstanding cases involving Marcos. "The Marcoses have achievements from before that still benefit people like hospitals, schools and foot bridges... and they may do more."

Webb stated that even though Robredo's pink revolution movement, named after the color worn by her volunteers in the polls is trailing, it does indicate that Marcos could win and slide into his father's ways.

She said, "There's lots of energy in the country. There's a lot spirit. There's a lot hope. People aren't ready to give up on their democratic project yet."

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