Philippines: Marcos Win Exposes Weakness of Democratic Processes

By Kalinga Seneviratne

SYDNEY (IDN) — The landslide victory in the May 9 presidential polls in the Philippines by Ferdinand Marcos jr the son of the former dictator of the same name who was forced to flee the country with his family (that includes his young son) in 1986 by a “peoples’ power” revolution throws another spanner into the adage that democracy gives people a voice to choose people to serve them and the nation.

Marcos Jr was the clear winner in the presidential election on May 9th by a whopping 31,103,761 votes, or 58.74 per cent of the votes cast. Never in the political history of the Philippines has a presidential candidate garnered this big number of votes and with a lead over the next ranking candidate Leni Robredo by as much as 50 per cent in absolute numbers.

The election campaign and the results show once again that corruption and wealth thus amassed are a greater asset in a democratic campaign than principles and honesty.

Reflecting on the fact that Robredo’s campaign was backed by thousands of young volunteeres who wanted change and honest leadership, Clinical Psychologists and University of the Philippines Professor Anna Cristina Tuazon lamented in a column published by the Philippines Inquirer a day after the election asking “what do we tell our children?”

“A large number of youths—a lot of them being first-time voters—had participated in this election wholeheartedly: attending rallies, joining civic and advocacy groups, and participating in house-to-house campaigns,” noted Prof Tuazon. “After the general listlessness and meaninglessness experienced during the pandemic, it seemed that the youth were hungry for purpose and a source of hope. They saw in the Leni campaign the hope that, yes, they can effect change in the world”.

“What our youth bitterly learned, unfortunately, is that goodness doesn’t always win, at least not in each battle,” she argues. ”The wave of collective shock, disbelief, anger, despair, and hopelessness on social media was so palpable. The results gave our children very mixed messages”.

The President-elect’s father was ousted in a peaceful 1986 peoples’ revolt that restored democracy after years of brutal military rule when thousands were killed, tortured and detained without warrant by state forces. He and his family were accused of amassing huge wealth plundering the country. It is estimated that they had up to $13 billion stacked in overseas banks and other investments manly in the US, Switzerland, and British Virgin Islands.

Just two days after the Marcos family fled to Hawaii, new President Corazon Aquino established the Philippines Commission on Good Governance and asked the Switzerland Federal Police for assistance to locate and freeze their bank accounts.

Some $623 million were traced and sent back to the Philippines but most of it is blocked and held at the Philippines National Bank until the Marcos family exhaust their legal proceedings that are still in progress. In July 2003, Philippines Supreme Court reaffirmed an earlier decision that over 25 billion Pesos (USD 0.47 billion) are “ill-gotten wealth”.

It is unlikely most of these funds would come back to the Philippines national coffers. And Marcos Jr’s election campaign had ample funds to utilize using a slick and extremely professional social media campaign to glorify senior Marcos rule and present the son as a leader that would bring economic stability and progress to the nation of over 100 million people.

“We can’t just simply blame the return of the Marcoses to the political centre stage as simply a product of manipulation or disinformation,” sociologist Nicole Curato told Singapore’s Channel News Asia. She has conducted research on voter preference for Marcos Jr.

“A lot of people have been discontented with the way the Philippines celebrates democracy but doesn’t really deliver the results when it comes to better employment, when it comes to poverty alleviation. So, I would really not necessarily dismiss the Marcos Jr supporters as people who are manipulated, people who are not thinking, or people who are just taking intellectual shortcuts,” argues Curato.

The Marcoses’ political comeback has riled human rights groups, who fear a return of authoritarian and corrupt leadership under the son.

Human rights lawyer Joel Ruiz Butuyan argues that Marcos Jr has a historic chance to carve out his own name and not go down in history as a mere caricature of his father. 

“This means withdrawing his family’s opposition to the government’s claims on ill-gotten wealth that are still pending in court, paying estate taxes, and apologizing for the human rights abuses”.

But he believes that this could be wishful thinking. “Marcos Jr. may also take the posture that he has been given blanket authority to do whatever he wants because of the huge votes he garnered. “He may entertain thoughts that all his family’s sins were erased by the massive mandate he received,” adds Butuyan in a commentary published by Philippines Inquirer.

The huge social movement, mainly of youth that was billed up by the Robredo campaign may keep the pressure on the Marcos administration to be accountable to the people and not go back to the old ways of his father. But Manila Times’s columnist Rigoberto Tiglao dismisses this movement as “unrepresentative voices of the Filipino people”, who are funded and supported by the Church, Americans, and the international media.

“(The votes for Marcos) mean the majority of Filipinos judging that martial law wasn’t the ‘Dark Age’ the Yellows(liberals), and especially Robredo, have been shrieking against,” argues Tigalo, adding that “his personality itself, which many think make him an ideal president: articulate, knowledgeable, diplomatic and not quarrelsome politicians helped him”.

Nobel Peace laureate Maria Ressa (whose Rappler news portal supported the Robredo campaign) argues that in the Philippines social media has become a behaviour modification system and since the 2014 Presidential campaign when Marcos lost to Robredo narrowly in the Vice President race, the Marcos camp has cleverly developed a social media narrative of silencing the narrative of Marcos as a dictator and instead promoting the narrative of Marcos as the great leader.

In an interview with ‘’, Ressa said that the information system in the Philippines—as well as elsewhere—is corrupted and blames Twitter, and Facebook in particular for helping to spread hate speech and lies. In the Philippines she says that Rodrigo Duterte campaign used social media to good use to propel him to the presidency and now Marcos—as well as his daughter Sara Duterte who has won the vice presidency with even a bigger margin than Marcos—have shown the power of this media manipulation.

Ressa points out that Marcos Jr is the first president to be elected without answering any media question throughout his campaign because he did not give any interviews nor took part in election debates.

“If you have no facts, you can’t have truth. If you don’t have truth, you don’t have trust. If you don’t have any of these things, we have no shared reality,” argues Ressa. “Without that, there’s no rule of law and no democracy.”

Pointing out that this year there are going to be more than 30 elections all around the world. “If you don’t have integrity of facts, how can you have integrity of elections?” she asks. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 May 2022]

Photo: Bongbong Marcos presidential campaign in Makati. CC BY-SA 4.0

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