A Marcos Returns to Power in the Philippines

Eunice Barbara C Novio

May 16, 2020


On May 9, 2022, approximately 31 million Filipinos voted for the 17th president of the Philippines. Their choice was Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the son of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose family plundered and left the Philippines almost bankrupt during their 21-year reign in power from 1965 to 1986. Marcos defeated incumbent vice president Leonor “Leni” Robredo, who received only around 14 million votes. Robredo is a human rights lawyer, an economist, and, before serving as a vice president, she was a House Representative. Ferdinand Marcos Jr is a former senator who is known for having faked his Oxford degree. While many will be tempted to read Robredo’s defeat at the hands of such a man in terms of a return to populist right-wing values, this election result is better understood as a restoration-continuation of elite power, rather than some kind of radical shift. In the Philippines, the old elites have discovered in social and digital media new tools to maintain power.

The Filipino people peacefully ousted the Marcos family in the People’s Power Revolution of 25 February 1986, two weeks after the snap election that saw Corazon Aquino, the widow of Marcos’ archenemy Benigno Aquino Jr., elected the first female president. The events that led to EDSA Revolution included massive electoral fraud before and after the February 7 snap election. The Commission on Election (COMELEC) tabulators walked out when they noticed the manipulation of results. Millions flocked to the streets for three days in a peaceful revolution that was universally lauded by the rest of the world. However, the victory against Marcoses excesses and atrocities was brought to an abrupt end. During the transition period, a new constitution was drafted by the elite. Nothing in it declared that the family of the dictator would be prohibited from “democratically” returning to power. And no provision in the electoral or legal systems prohibits such a return. People indicted for plunder, and people in the process of being convicted of crimes, are not ineligible for election to high office. The elite were protecting their own when they drafted the constitution. The return of the Marcos political dynasty has long been in the works. The dictator’s remains were buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of the Heroes), while the rest of the family, including a new generation, are elected officials. Filipino elections have always been dominated by three Gs – guns, goons, and gold. And now gizmos and gaming may be added to the list, which is to say technology and social media. Despite the Election Modernization Act of 1997 authorizing the COMELEC to use an automated election system, it was not until the 2010 Philippine general election that the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) was implemented. Benigno Noynoy Aquino became president, and the electoral process has remained computerized since that time. In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte became the president. During his regime, he ensured that the next leader would be favorable to him. Marcos’ running mate Sara, is Duterte’s daughter. The proximity between the political options could hardly be closer. In 2019, aside from the questionable multinational corporation, Smartmatic, COMELEC also signed a contract with F2 Logistics, a company linked to Davao businessman Dennis Uy, a Duterte crony. The midterm election that year cemented Duterte’s power in the Senate, ensuring that his executive powers would not be contested. Marcos’ victory was by billions of pesos, a questionable COMELEC, and state forces intimidation of the people, yes, but also by an army of social media deodorizers busily at work tidying up the Marcos family image. Social media giants like Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok undeniably play important roles in helping to turn out the vote. In a zoom session entitled “Filipino Pasts and Futures: Life and Work in Japan,” Mimi Dumalaog shared her research about why Filipinos in Japan voted for Marcos. They were motivated by how the Marcoses’ are portrayed negatively in documentaries about martial law atrocities and the family’s plunder. They see Marcos as an underdog. They see in Marcos’s bid for exoneration their own chance for redemption. Jose Maria Sison is the founder of the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines who now works as a National Democratic Front (NDF) consultant based in the Netherlands. He argues that there are three general categories of voters: the politically advanced, middling, and backward. The politically advanced are anti-imperialist and democratic, those in the middle are mixed up and vacillate, and the backward uncritically follow the dictates of the imperialists and exploiting classes as delivered through the state, schools, and mass media. If this position is true, the education system has failed miserably. History is commonly taught by rote. It is never explained why we should remember the names and dates of history. Despite the efforts of historians, social media “influencers” effectively subvert Filipinos’ memory by distorting the facts of the period of martial law, which they represent as golden years—peaceful, with cheap and abundant commodities, with the Marcoses as royals who selflessly bestowed benefits on their subjects. School syllabi, particularly in basic education, do not mention that during the dictatorship there were 3,257 known extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented tortures, dozens of disappearances, and 70,000 incarcerations. But, perhaps, Sison doesn’t fully account for contemporary political dynamics. Perhaps those vacillating between democracy and imperialism can’t be explained merely by the lack of education. Even when people have the capacity to doubt state media and official lies, through a combination of digital information systems, the elites in power are able to maintain influence on the discourse. The idea of social media as a democratic means of revolution seems a far cry from how we see it functioning in the Philippines today. Today, it is the ally of those in power seeking to manufacture consent. For Filipino survivors of martial law, president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr is a grim reminder of the past repeating itself. Elite power that may have new tactics but remains consistently exploitative.