The Philippines, a US neo-colony in Southeast Asia, had just concluded its presidential elections, and the results are deeply troubling.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., son of the ousted dictator Marcos, has claimed victory. With the majority of the ballots counted, Marcos garnered an overwhelming 31 million votes – more than double that of rival Leni Robredo.
History frowns at him, however, as his supposed victory has been met with widespread protests and defiance with many Filipinos vowing to reject another Marcos regime. As the Philippines enter the post-election period, what does a highly polarized political situation mean for the country’s already fractured future?
Winning through lies
The Marcos family, despite being disgraced and ousted from power, are officially back in the highest seat in the country. This news caught the world by surprise, with some foreign analyses of the elections going as far as ridiculing the Filipinos for electing another Marcos. Before we blame the majority of Filipinos, we first have to veer away from our orientalist positions and understand what happened in the 36 years since the people toppled the patriarch, Marcos.
Not only was the recent electoral process marred with anomalies, fraud, vote-buying, and violence, but it was also defined by gross deception campaigns. The Marcos camp was able to mount a years-long, sustained, and massive disinformation campaign to revise history and pave the way for their return to power.
As early as the 90s, the Marcoses started their return to power. Wife of the senior Marcos, Imelda was elected congresswoman of a province in 1995 despite multiple charges of graft and corruption. Since then, members of the Marcos clan have vied for public office consolidating their wealth and power. They have done this with the ill-gotten wealth amassed during the 21 years of the first Marcos regime. From there, they have systematically peddled lies of achievements, denials of gross human rights abuses, and corruption.
In a study by scholars from the University of the Philippines, it was found that Marcos apologists and allies have been manufacturing and distributing propaganda with the intention to portray a “well-researched scholarship to Marcos lies.” Strong evidence suggests that their online disinformation operations have been widespread since 2014. This was in preparation for Bongbong Marcos’ bid for the vice presidency in 2016 which he narrowly lost.
Flash forward to the recent national elections, Marcos Jr has been successful in unleashing lies and vitriol across all platforms. According to non-profit news organization Vera Files, majority of Marcos propaganda’s top sources and shares came from Facebook pages run by Marcos loyalists all of which have vowed to support Marcos Jr. ‘s bid for the presidency.
Though Marcos continues to deny allegations of funding troll farms to spread disinformation, findings of a local fact-checking project by academics and civil society reports that he has benefited the most from all the deceiving messaging online. One of the tactics previously identified is the saturation of all sorts of content to the point that it appears organic and untraceable to the Marcoses themselves.
With no surprise, it was revealed in 2020 that Marcos commissioned Cambridge Analytica to “rebrand” their family’s image on social media. The now-defunct British political consulting firm has been involved in the data scandal with Facebook that led to the use of personal profiles to influence foreign elections.Research reveals a deeply troubling phenomenon of how politicians and governments are increasingly employing shadow PR firms to do propaganda operations and manipulate online discourse in underdeveloped countries like the Philippines. In a recent exposé, an employee of a supposed think tank anonymously came forward to bare the system of online troll farms. The whistleblower whose main client is Marcos claims to have received a contract worth 2.5 million pesos (47,600 USD) to buy Facebook accounts and create scripts to fuel online engagements.
We have to understand that these systematic and sophisticated political trolling and disinformation campaigns would not have been possible without Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth and sponsors from the big business and local elite. Right after election day, shares of companies owned by relatives and friends of the Marcos family and the outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte have received a glaring boost. An indicator of who will benefit first from the spoils of Marcos’ electoral victory.
Dynasties like Marcos and Duterte are here partly because of the previous governments’ failure to address poverty and inequality. They have both capitalized on the longing for change and have weaved narratives presenting themselves as the solution.
“We have to understand that these systematic and sophisticated political trolling and disinformation campaigns would not have been possible without Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth and sponsors from the big business and local elite.”
The Marcos victory is but the latest in the rise of fascism in the Asia Pacific. Hiding under the veneer of so-called democratic states, corrupt fascist leaders and right-wing groups have gained legitimacy in the poorest of countries. Similarly, they have employed tactics of disinformation and vitriol both online and offline while preying on the unaddressed grievances and discontents of the people. This ongoing trend can be seen not only in the Philippines but in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, West Papua, and other least developed countries in the region.
Vilest political dynasties, imperialist anointment
The comeback of the Marcoses was also paved by the Duterte administration which greatly supported the kleptocrat clan. It was Duterte, in 2016, who allowed the body of the late dictator Marcos to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (National Heroes Cemetery) with military honors. It was also Duterte who signed into law a holiday memorializing the tyrant Ferdinand Marcos.
Sara, the daughter of Duterte and Marcos’ vice-presidential candidate, has also claimed victory in this year’s election. This has made the two families the most powerful political clans in the Philippines. The partnership now represents the bureaucrat capitalists, landlords, and local elite that will continue to dominate the country.
Hidden in the background is former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was believed to have brokered the Marcos-Duterte electoral tandem. Arroyo has been accused of electoral fraud herself in 2011 and the malversation of 366 million pesos ($7.8 million) of funds intended for charities. It was in fact Duterte who offered Arroyo a pardon but was later acquitted of plunder under his term. Since then, Arroyo has been rehabilitated back to power and remains an important player in the Duterte government and for sure, in the upcoming Marcos regime.
Even with the vilest of the political families aligning with each other, imperialist powers have been quick to affirm the election results and anoint the Marcos presidency. Three days after election day, United States President Joe Biden phoned and congratulated Marcos underscoring his intent to continue “strengthening the U.S.-Philippine Alliance.” The White House statement mentioned the expansion of bilateral cooperation between the two countries for “broad-based economic growth,” and on issues of climate and human rights. Historically, the Philippines is a former US colony and remains persistently subordinate to the superpower’s economic and military expansion.
On the other hand, China President Xi Jinping also congratulated Marcos and expressed his readiness to “build a good working relationship” with the new administration. The Chinese leader said that the two nations are ‘partners through thick and thin’ and “stand at a critical stage of development.” Beijing also emphasizes the bilateral relations that are now facing “important opportunities and broad prospects” for the neighboring countries. In recent years, the West Philippines Sea has been claimed by China with multiple clashes between Filipino fisherfolk and Chinese vessels.
In one of his elusive interviews, Marcos has expressed his intention to come to an agreement with China akin to his predecessor Duterte. He was caught saying that “people from the Chinese embassy are my friends. We have been talking about that.”
China’s imperialist interests in the Philippines can also be seen in its funding of big infrastructure projects and increased foreign direct investment (FDI) amounting to $1.67 billion in the period of 2016 to the first quarter of 2021.
“On the other hand, China President Xi Jinping also congratulated Marcos and expressed his readiness to “build a good working relationship” with the new administration.”
The fact remains, the Philippines is at the center of the rivalry between the US and China. Seemingly thrilled with the prospect of a Marcos president, the two superpowers consider the archipelagic state geopolitically significant as it is situated in a strategic and resource-rich trade and military route. Even though Marcos’ foreign policy is crucial in the turn of events, his administration is expected to continue a policy of subservience to imperialist powers. Be it China or the US. For the Filipinos, this only means further maldevelopment and destitution.
What to expect in a Marcos presidency?
With the spoils of the electoral victory already being divided amongst allies and friends, the Marcos-Duterte-Arroyo clique will be leading the worst of the fascists and corrupt bureaucrats in the country. Less than a week since the elections, the Marcos offered presumptive Vice President Sara Duterte a cabinet position as head of the Department of Education (DepEd). With Marcos’ running mate leading the civilian agency in charge of public education, teachers and researchers fear that facts about the Marcos dictatorship will be erased if not revised. Even before winning, Marcos has been vocal against history textbooks depicting their family in a “bad light.”
Marcos has also vowed to continue the controversial “legacy” of the Duterte government. The six-year reign of Duterte has been notorious for the massive human rights violations and subservience to neoliberal policies.
A global investigation commission Investigate PH has looked into Duterte’s drug war policy which killed tens of thousands of mostly urban poor civilians. State terror under Duterte has worsened to Marcosian-level and has resulted in thousands of harassment, unlawful arrests, and murders of activists and human rights defenders. The commission has reported the lack of local judicial redress which led the Filipino people to seek accountability and justice from the international community. Though the case against Duterte in the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been on hold, the global court’s prosecutor said that crimes against humanity may have been committed.
A Duterte-apologist himself, Marcos is expected to protect Duterte from being held accountable in both local and international courts.
In fact, the mechanisms for further political repression have already been laid down by the outgoing administration. The Anti-Terror Law signed by Duterte and upheld by the country’s highest court has given the state forces more power to target critics and even ordinary civilians through expanded surveillance, freezing of assets, and arbitrary arrests.
Already prevalent is the massive red-tagging or the dangerous labeling of civilians and organizations as being left-leaning and terrorists. Even on election day, opposition groups running for office have been red-tagged along with a massive distribution of bogus materials claiming their supposed disqualification from the elections.
Under a Marcos-Duterte regime, any critic, any opposition group, anyone that questions the government can now be called a “terrorist.”
Having one of the most militarized pandemic response in the world, the Duterte government has also been performing the worst economically with the highest unemployment and inflation rates in Southeast Asia. For a fact, the country’s current debt crisis includes the Marcos dictatorship debt totaling 470 billion pesos (8.97 billion USD) which Filipinos continue to carry. Bureaucrat capitalism under Marcos Sr. was undoubtedly world-class and contributed to the country’s current economic problems. True enough, loans including those for pandemic recovery from international financial institutions and banks have increased consumer taxes and eroded Filipinos’ access to government services under Duterte.
With the outgoing government’s national debt ballooning to historic numbers of 13.42 trillion pesos (255.99 billion USD), Marcos is poised to carry on with debt servicing at the expense of Filipino citizens. This was backed up by economic analysts saying that the incoming Marcos administration “would likely raise taxes, especially on consumption, to manage the huge debt his administration will inherit.”
The looming Marcos government is not only set to restore their family’s image but will be defined by repressive and elite-serving politics. Moreso, like his father and the regimes after the dictatorship, Marcos is bound to continue the neoliberal policies and obedience to imperialist powers.
But hope is not lost
Both children of tyrants, Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte will carry on their families’ crimes. Rising to power through an election that is defined by violence, fraud, and deceit, we can only expect the worst.
Not only does the Marcos-Duterte clique represent the foulest of all state bureaucrats but also the subservience to imperialist masters. The late dictator Marcos, before being ousted by the Filipino people, greatly enjoyed the support of American presidents. The same goes for Rodrigo Duterte whom Biden rehabilitated by inviting him to the US Summit for Democracy last year. This is despite the US state department’s report about crimes committed by Duterte.
Now, that China and the US are both wooing the incoming Marcos administration, they bare their true face and imperialist interests. In a multipolar world, the stakes are high for these powerful nations as the Philippines remain a geopolitically significant base, a source of cheap labor and resources, and a growing market for their goods. They couldn’t care less about genuine democracy and the rights of Filipinos. These superpowers will continue to support tyrant dynasties as long as their economic and geopolitical goals are met.
The Filipino toiling masses and other marginalized sectors will be on the losing end of this consolidated ruling elite and further foreign control. Bound to take the brunt of further neoliberalization that comes with debt servicing, social services will continue to be privatized as livelihoods are destroyed. On top of that, the next six years of the Marcos regime are expected to be a period of heightened political repression.
But hope is far from lost as peoples organizations and movements in the Philippines continue to arouse, mobilize and organize to intensify their fight for genuine democracy.
To many Filipinos, the return of the Marcoses exposes the limitations of elections and the need to exercise their democratic rights beyond voting. This realization has been spreading to the millions of youth and sectors who tirelessly supported the opposition candidate against Marcos. People are finding creative ways to combat historical revisionism and defy Marcos’ ploy to further rehabilitate his family. There are ongoing campouts and protests in the Philippines, US, Canada, Australia, and all over the world to reject the impending Marcos government. More and more Filipinos are coming to terms that the Philippine political system is moribund to the core. They are looking for an alternative and they are bound to struggle beyond the elections.
“But hope is far from lost as peoples organizations and movements in the Philippines continue to arouse, mobilize and organize to intensify their fight for genuine democracy.”
More than ever, solidarity must be forged amongst peoples of the world. Now is the time to link arms for genuine democracy and against tyranny. Deepening our understanding of the rise of tyrants is equally important as supporting the people’s struggles. The international community should make a stand and reject fascists and fascism in all its forms including the upcoming Marcos regime. In times like these, we need to strengthen our solidarity and unfaltering trust in the masses’ aspiration for genuine social change.#