The two decades that Ferdinand Marcos Sr. ruled the Philippines were dramatic, marked by his propaganda-fueled rise to power in the 1960s and an overnight escape from the country in the 1980s after an unconventional uprising. violent overthrew his authority.
While the name Marcos was once reviled by many Filipinos who associated it with cronyism, rights abuses, excess wealth and shoes – Marcos’ wife Imelda had an infamous shoe collection – the political dynasty seems to have recovered the highest office in Southeast Asia. nation, a longtime ally of the United States.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the second child of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, is the presumptive winner of the Philippines presidential election, with US President Joe Biden calling him Thursday to congratulate him. He beat nine other opponents by a wide margin in an election that experts say has been marred by widespread social media misinformation.
Monday’s unofficial election results show Marcos Jr., 64, garnering more than 31 million votes, double his closest rival, current Vice President Leni Robredo, with other candidates far behind, including retired boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.
“To the world: don’t judge me by my ancestors, but by my actions,” Marcos Jr. said as he declared victory, according to a statement from his spokesperson.
But historians say any analysis of the Philippines’ future with a descendant of Marcos at the helm would ring hollow without a critical look at the past.
What is the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos?
Marcos Jr. was 8 years old when his father was elected president in 1965.
The elder Marcos, a lawyer, used his military service during World War II to climb the political ranks of the country. As he ran for office, he relished his stories as a self-proclaimed war hero, although U.S. government records later discredited the account that he led a guerrilla force against the Japanese.
Still, Marcos has won favor with Filipinos with his populist agenda. Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, entered into an alliance with Marcos that extended into his own presidency. He and First Lady Nancy Reagan counted Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos as friends, supporting the Philippines as a rare democracy in Southeast Asia.
But from 1972 to 1981, Marcos also controlled the Philippines through martial law, which he said was necessary to combat perceived threats to the country from communists and Muslim separatists. Meanwhile, dissidents and political opponents have been imprisoned and have been described as having been tortured and sexually abused by soldiers.
Then in 1983, the assassination of Marcos’ main political rival, Benigno Aquino Jr., led the United States to distance itself from the Marcos regime. (Pro-Marcos military personnel would later be found guilty of Aquino’s death.)
Three years later, Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, challenged Marcos for president in an election marred by fraud. When Marcos was declared the winner, protesters filled the streets of the capital, Manila, for days in what is being called the People Power Revolution. Military officers defected to support Aquino, who was sworn in on February 25, 1986. That night, at Reagan’s urging, Marcos relented to Aquino and fled with his family to Hawaii.
What happened to the Marcos family after he was deposed?
The end of the Marcos era was only the beginning of the family’s troubles.
When the Marcoses and their entourage fled the Philippines, it was with staggering wealth, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1986: $7.7 million in cash and $4 million in gems and jewelry, including a gold crown and three tiaras set with diamonds. .
But that was only a tiny fraction of what they amassed, and over the next few decades Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos would be hit with criminal and civil fraud charges filed in the United States and government charges. Filipino reports that the couple looted billions of dollars from their home country, hid millions in Swiss and Hong Kong bank accounts, and attempted to profit from clandestine investments in New York real estate.
Imelda Marcos and Marcos Jr. are still facing a $353 million contempt judgment in the United States in a class action lawsuit over violations of the rights of elder Marcos, and members of the Marcos family are also charged in at least 40 lawsuits related to their wealth, Reuters reported. this month. They have long maintained their innocence.
Ferdinand Marcos died in Honolulu in 1989 at the age of 72. Two years later, Imelda Marcos was allowed to return to the Philippines, where she ran for president twice unsuccessfully before winning a seat in the country’s Congress four times, most recently in 2016.
This week, all dressed in red and clutching a rosary, the 92-year-old matriarch Marcos voted for her son in the presidential election.
How did Marcos Jr. become the presidential favorite?
Marcos Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps by serving in various public offices, including governor and congressman.
His presidential hopefuls have benefited from name recognition and family and regional loyalties as well as a deep-pocketed campaign that has propagated a form of “revisionist history”, said Lily Ann Villaraza, chair of the studies department. Filipinas at City College of San Francisco.
Social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok, where many Filipinos consume their news, have been inundated with content portraying martial law and life under the elder Marcos as a “golden age”.
“It directly informed many people’s understanding of martial law under his father – casting this story in a positive light,” Villaraza said. “More than half of the country’s population was born after 1986 and therefore has no personal memory of martial law or the catalysts for the downfall of the Marcos. Politics is personal in the Philippines and vice versa; no felt connection to this period, coupled with the lack of learning about martial law in the school curriculum, has created a chasm waiting to be filled by the loudest prospects.
Marcos also received a boost from his alliance with Sara Duterte-Carpio, the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, who won the vice-presidential election by a landslide victory after choosing not to run herself. to the presidency.
What did Marcos Jr. run on?
His campaign has portrayed him as a champion of the poor – about a fifth of Filipinos live in extreme poverty. His promise of better roads, a more accessible internet, lower utility and food costs and a desire to unite the Philippines appeared to sway voters, Villaraza said.
The shine of fame also didn’t hurt. “If you mention ‘Marcos’ anywhere in the world, for better or for worse, there’s at least some vague knowledge — maybe on the shoes,” Villaraza said. “And the desire for closeness with this celebrity is real.”
But there was also little to distinguish during the campaign, said Vicente Rafael, author of “The Sovereign Trickster: Death and Laughter in the Age of Duterte” and professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Marcos Jr., as well as Duterte-Carpio, refused to give interviews to international media or participate in debates.
They “wrapped themselves in this very weird bubble where only their supporters would hear what they had to say, which was nothing,” Rafael said. “It was very empty references to the unification of the country.”
What does this mean for US-Philippine relations?
The tie between Washington and Manila has been strained over accusations of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses as part of President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, although former President Donald Trump has maintained that the relationship was still “excellent”.
With Marcos Jr. having studied abroad — he took programs at Oxford University in England and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, but didn’t finish either, according to Reuters — he is likely to take a softer stance with the United States and other Western nations. allies, Rafael said.
But a major question remains whether Marcos Jr. will continue many of the policies under Duterte, who is a close ally, and potentially appease Chinese leader Xi Jinping amid the two countries’ territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Despite billions of dollars of Chinese investment in the Philippines, the country still relies on the United States as its main financial backer, with the US military a major source of weapons and training.
Marcos “is going to have to be very careful when it comes to connections with the United States,” Rafael said.
Xi and Biden were among the first world leaders to congratulate Marcos Jr. on his apparent election victory, suggesting the two rivals view the Philippines as a central pivot in the strategically important Indo-Pacific region.
Whatever the future, it’s obvious, Rafael said: Marcos Jr. was able to apply his father’s “propaganda toolkit” to climb the political ladder and orchestrate a comeback for his family who 36 years ago years, would have seemed inconceivable.
“If you look at how he designed his campaign,” Rafael said, “they were very good at playing the long game.”