Understanding the Marcos victory

“As much as I do not like it, I wish presumptive President Ferdinand Marcos. Jr. the best in the years to come.”

When Ferdinand Marcos was booted out of the country, and together with family members and a few close associates were forced into exile in 1986 in the wake of the EDSA People Power Revolt, everybody thought the family, as a political force, was a goner. The record of the 21-year Marcos rule from 1965 to 1986 was simply too horrendous such that any political comeback, at least in the national political arena, by any member of the Marcos family or anyone closely associated with them was out of the question, if not a near impossibility.

With the exception of Marcos loyalists, mostly in the Ilocos region who remained loyal to Apo Marcos, the loathing and stigma associated with the Marcos name remained strong among the populace.

As soon as the Marcoses returned from exile, however, they wasted no time testing the political waters. Bongbong Marcos was among the first to arrive in the country in 1991, and in the following year he ran and was elected member of the House of Representatives for the Second District of Ilocos Norte (1992–1995). Imelda Marcos did the same when she ran for president but lost in the same elections. Imelda placed 5th of seven candidates, garnering 10.32 percent of electoral votes. Ramos was elected president.

In 1998 Bongbong Marcos ran and was elected Ilocos Norte Governor from 1983 to 1986. He served for three consecutive terms ending in 2007. In 2007, he again took a congressional seat previously held by his older sister Imee. In 2010, he ran and won a senate seat and in 2016 lost to Leni Robredo for the vice presidency by a mere 263,473 votes or by 0.64 percent.

Bongbong Marcos announced his presidential run in October 2021 and accordingly filed his candidacy soon after. Later, he teamed up with Mayor Inday Sara as his vice-presidential candidate to form the Uniteam. Bucking pressure from others, he refused to slide down and run for Vice-President. More than any factor, it is this successful team up with Sara Duterte that sealed both their victories. From the day this was announced, I had known it was a tall order for any candidate or other political coalition to defeat this formidable team from the North to the far South. This was a united front of two political clans, and their loyalist supporters, and one supported by most other political clans in the country.

Of course, the disinformation campaign by the Marcoses and their allies contributed to the landslide victory. Their propagandists and paid trolls who at every turn peddled lies and disinformation using social media, particularly Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, deodorized the Marcos narrative as well as distorted and trivialized the elder Marcos’ human rights record, ill-gotten wealth and other unpalatable issues against the family, while attacking political opponents especially Leni Robredo.

The youth were most vulnerable to this massive disinformation campaign; after all, for the younger and not so young generations, the atrocities of the Marcos regime are now part of the nation’s distant memory, and must be consigned to history books. This is not to say that the youth are not capable of critical thinking. Far from it. But understandably with no firsthand experience of the horrors of the Marcos rule, this demographic group, more than others, were more susceptible to historical manipulation and distortion.

A the chair and lead convenor of the Movement Against Disinformation, we tried very hard to counter the falsehoods. But we organized too late and found the social media companies to be uncooperative and not pro-active in addressing disinformation. Their profits, resulting from algorithms that incentivized disinformation, could not be sacrificed for the greater good.

I note the many observations that have been made about anomalies in the voting and the counting. But as an election law professor, I always ask my students to look at the big picture: if all these anomalies were true, would it matter for the result?

Whether a Bongbong Marcos presidency will be more like or different from that of his father, the late dictator, is too early to tell. After all, the character traits of father and son may be different, or that the political climate then and now are different. Indeed, Marcos Jr. is not Marcos Sr. The latter was brilliant, an outsider, a leader in the University of the Philippines, a bar topnotcher, the most ambitious politician of his generation with a grand if not distorted vision for the country.

In contrast, Marcos Jr. belongs to the political elite. His election is not an aberration but the culmination and the apex of elite control of Philippine politics. Nevertheless, one thing is certain – the long and dark shadow of the Marcos past, will haunt this presidency and how the son and the nation confronts that past will determine the success of the Marcos restoration.

As much as I do not like it, I wish presumptive President Ferdinand Marcos. Jr. the best in the years to come. I sincerely wish he will be true to his word about national unity as that would be good for the country.

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