Who is ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr and why are some Filipinos worried about his family’s return?

Despite his popularity among millions of voters, many Filipinos are shocked by his victory and what it means for democracy in the Philippines.

Marcos Jr. is a member of one of the most notorious political families in the country. Analysts say his win is the successful culmination of a decades-long rebranding campaign that revived the Marcos family name and image.

Critics pointed to a widespread disinformation campaign, recently supercharged by social media, that has whitewashed the story of the Marcos era, when Marcos Jr.’s father ruled the Philippines through a brutal and corrupt dictatorship that turned ended with a popular uprising in 1986.

Here’s why some are worried about a presidency of Marcos Jr.

Global reactions

US President Joe Biden spoke with Marcos Jr. on Wednesday, congratulating him on his election victory, according to a reading of the call from the White House.

“President Biden stressed that he looks forward to working with the President-elect to continue to strengthen the U.S.-Philippine alliance, while expanding bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues, including the fight against Covid-19, solving the climate crisis, promoting broad-based economic growth and respecting human rights,” the minutes read.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also praised Marcos Jr., saying the two countries “will stand together through thick and thin”, according to state media Xinhua. The bilateral relationship has recently frayed over dueling claims over areas of the South China Sea, although Marcos Jr. has been building a relationship with the Chinese ambassador in recent months.

But lawmakers in Southeast Asia have expressed concern about human rights under a Marcos administration and the impact of online misinformation.

“The widespread spread of misinformation has created an environment that has made it difficult for many voters to make informed decisions at the polling station,” said Charles Santiago, Malaysian lawmaker and chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights. ‘male.

“Even though the electoral process was conducted in a formally correct manner, we are concerned that voting choices based on lies and prejudicial narratives seriously undermined the integrity of the election and democracy itself.”

Human Rights Watch called on Marcos Jr. to end incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” and to “order an impartial investigation and proper prosecution of those responsible” for the extrajudicial executions.

“Marcos should publicly order the army, police and other security forces to stop targeting activists, human rights defenders and journalists for murder and other rights violations. end the practice of ‘red labeling’ – accusing government activists and critics of being communist fighters or sympathizers,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.

The Marcos era

Ferdinand Marcos Sr. ruled the Philippines for 21 years from 1965 to 1986, with the country living under martial law for about half of that time.

Tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned, tortured or killed for perceived or actual criticism of the government, according to human rights groups.

In addition to his restrictions on citizens’ rights and a brutal military police, the Marcos regime was marked by widespread corruption, with an estimated $10 billion stolen from the Filipino people.

Ferdinand Marcos, with his wife Imelda by his side and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., far right, on the balcony of Malacanang Palace February 25, 1986 in Manila.

The Marcos family led a lavish life when in power, spending money on expensive artwork, overseas properties and jewelry, even as debt soared and millions of people suffered from poverty. Former first lady Imelda Marcos was known for her extravagance and overspending, which included an extensive collection of designer shoes.

Their supporters say the Marcos years were a boon to the country, with the construction of major infrastructure projects like hospitals, roads and bridges. Critics say these projects were built on the back of widespread corruption, foreign loans and ballooning debt.

Funds from institutions such as the World Bank have disappeared, with the average Filipino reaping no benefit. Lucrative construction contracts went to friends and family.

Who is Marcos Jr?

Marcos Jr. has not acknowledged abuses committed during his father’s dictatorship, and the family has repeatedly denied using public funds for their own purposes.

But analysts say son Marcos benefited from this ill-gotten wealth. “My parents would never let us forget: it is not yours, it comes from the people. Everything we have, all the advantages we have obtained, all the successes and any comfort or privilege we enjoy comes from the people. “, did he declare. in a recent interview with CNN affiliate, CNN Philippines.

Marcos Jr. was 23 when he became vice-governor of the northern province of Ilocos Norte in 1980, running unopposed with his father’s party.

He was governor when, six years later, his family was driven into exile in Hawaii following a people-power revolution that overthrew his father’s regime in 1986. Marcos Sr. died in exile three years later. late, but his family returned in 1991 and became wealthy, influential politicians, with successive family members representing their dynastic stronghold of Ilocos Norte.

Former first lady Imelda Marcos, second from right with her daughters Imee Marcos, right, and Irene Marcos Lopez, left, and her son Ferdinand Marcos Jr., second from left July 7, 2007 at the National Library in Manila.

Upon their return to the Philippines, Marcos Jr. became a Congressman in his home province. He was again elected governor of Ilocos Norte before completing another term as a representative. In 2010, Marcos Jr. became a senator.

In 2016, he ran for vice president and was narrowly beaten by Leni Robredo, a former human rights lawyer and his closest rival in the 2022 presidential race.

Personalities and dynasties dominate Philippine politics, with power concentrated in the hands of a few influential elite families. Marcos Jr.’s sister, Imee Marcos, is a senator, his mother Imelda, now 92, was a four-time congressman, and her son, Sandro, was elected congressman in 2022. Marcos’ son ‘Imee, Matthew Marcos Manotoc, was also re-elected as Governor of Ilocos Norte in 2022.

The May 9 election also saw the partnership of another great political dynasty: the Dutertes.

Marcos will replace incumbent populist leader Rodrigo Duterte but the Dutertes will not be far from power. Marcos Jr.’s running mate, Sara Duterte Carpio is the outgoing mayor of Davao and the former president’s daughter. Partial and unofficial results have her as the landslide winner for Vice President.

Why people are worried

The Marcos regime may have ended in the 1980s, but activists say the Marcos were never held accountable for the extent of their wrongdoings and fear that Marcos Jr. could undermine efforts to settle the past injustices.

As president, Marcos Jr. would head the institutions created to investigate allegations against his family’s former regime.

The Presidential Commission on Good Governance has recovered less than half of the stolen wealth and active cases remain. An unsettled Marcos family estate tax is estimated at $3.9 billion, but it’s feared Marcos Jr. will clear it. Imelda Marcos was convicted of corruption in 2018, but an appeal to the Supreme Court is still pending and she has never been to jail.

Although Marcos Jr. has said he will expand the PCGG and tackle bribery and corruption, many fear justice will not be served.

Opinion: Imelda Marcos' shoe collection was a glimpse into a spooky reign

About 11,000 victims of martial law abuse have received financial compensation, but activists say they represent a fraction of all victims. “There is no more justice to be hoped for if Marcos Jr. becomes president,” said Bonifacio Ilagan, co-organizer of the group Campaign Against the Return of the Marcos and Martial Law.

President Duterte’s administration cracked down on civil society and the media, accusing independent local media of tax evasion that challenged government policies and claims, and arresting editors.

Some worry that Marcos will continue on Duterte’s path and that misinformation will further obscure the truth, making it harder to hold those in power accountable.

Duterte also faces an International Criminal Court investigation into his “war on drugs” that killed more than 6,000 people, police say, and his successor could influence investigators’ access to the Philippines.
“I will let them into the country, but only as tourists,” Marcos Jr. said in January, according to Reuters.

Sociologist Jayeel Cornelio said: “While one side celebrates, the other side worries about the economy, education and civil liberties.”

“The biggest concern for Filipinos is for the next six years. What will the economy look like in the next six years? What will happen to civil society? Will there be a crackdown on freedom of the press? And will the administration eliminate martial law from the program? These are just some of the questions – and they are fundamental questions – for those who have resisted the return to power of the Marcos,” said Cornelio, associate professor and director of development studies at Ateneo de Manila University.

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