TL;DR: The only son of the former Philippine dictator may win the vice presidential race on May 9th, and may reignite social divisions and corruption perceptions.
The Philippines is holding national elections in May and independent polls are trending towards a victory by Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (Bong Bong), the son of the former dictator no less, winning the vice presidential race. Of course, many things can happen between today and May 9th but his closest rival is a candidate with a much smaller political machinery. In a country known for Guns, Goons and Gold elections, money and political machinery speak louder than votes, giving Marcos the biggest edge of all.
The Family Returns to Power
This means that the family of a dictator who placed the Philippines under martial law for more than 10 years and plundered the country for as long as Ferdinand Marcos was president will be back in power. And winning the vice presidential race puts a Marcos within a stone’s throw away from the presidency. This is happening just 30 years after Marcos was overthrown in the famous People Power revolt and sent to exile in the US. This is actually happening in the lifetimes of many Filipinos who opposed the human rights abuses, corruption and excesses of the Marcos presidency.
Marcos’ lead in the vice presidential race, and his commanding lead in Metro Manila, the capital, is made possible by the emergence of young voters, many of whom were not even born when the Marcos family fled the country, and the yearning of the older generation for “order” and “stability”, the premises for the declaration of martial law in 1972. Marcos’s emergence as the lead vice presidential contender, therefore, reflects, among many other factors, the generational gap in the Philippines. Millennials versus Generation X and Baby Boomers. This is a failure by the educational system to integrate contemporary history in the classrooms. Indeed, Philippine history classes typically focus on the 333 year Spanish colonization, the brief Japanese occupation and the country’s “special relationship” with America. The Marcos family is still, of course, beloved in the northern Philippines that benefitted the most from patronage politics and this is the region that is expected to deliver solid votes for Bong Bong.
What does a Marcos Victory Mean?
Marcos’ candidacy is socially divisive and his vice presidency is likely to be even more so. Filipinos are already polarized by geographical, income and educational factors. His vice presidency is likely to reignite old animosities that impact the functioning of young democracies like the Philippines. This may even inflame the ongoing communist insurgency, which gained strength and popular support under martial law. The New People’s Army has degenerated into a criminal network whose members become hired guns during elections, extort “revolutionary taxes” from corporations, and attack those that do not yield to extortion. But a Marcos in power may give the group a political ideology under which it can couch its activities, and provides ammunition in its refusal to yield its political demands. By voting Marcos into power, the country may be waving goodbye to a peace deal with the communist party.
Marcos also represents an era where Philippine business was dominated by Marcos cronies. While many crony families are still in business many continue to control key industries, the business environment has been more open and more welcoming since 1986. Crony capitalism crowds out foreign investments and leads to perceptions that foreign businesses cannot operate in the Philippines without strong political connections. While this is true today, this may be magnified if he becomes vice president. Any sign that Marcos-associated businesses are favored in major investment opportunities, this is likely to significantly change the business climate and reverse years of economic growth.
Finally, a victory by Bong Bong does reflect the great irony of Philippine politics. Thirty years ago, his family and close associates fled the country in disgrace. Thirty years later, he may be in power with nary an acknowledgement of his father’s mistakes, much less an apology to a nation his family had wronged. If he is not his father’s son, I don’t know what he is.