Global lens

Family politics in the Philippines: the return of the Marcos clan

Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr is the clear favourite to win next week’s election

The Philippines is poised to witness the “last phase of a startling resurrection”, said Cliff Venzon on Nikkei Asia (Tokyo). More than 35 years after the end of his father’s dictatorship, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr is clear favourite to win next week’s presidential election.

It’s quite a comeback for a family once regarded as “pariahs”. Marcos Sr and his wife Imelda stole some $10bn before being driven into exile in Hawaii in 1986; much of the money is still missing. Yet their son could be about to win power on a “unity” ticket with the party of the current president, Rodrigo Duterte.

It helps that most of the nation’s 67 million voters are too young to remember the dictatorship. The Marcos camp has exploited this by filling Facebook, TikTok and YouTube with “content glorifying the Marcos regime” – such as montages of infrastructure projects and clips of the late strongman’s speeches – which have “gone viral in a country regarded as one of the world’s heaviest users of social media”.

Just like the Russians, we Filipinos are being “enticed by the prospects of a return to the ‘golden era’ of a previous authoritarian society”, said Ramon R. del Rosario Jr in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Manila). Surely we’re not going to fall for it, and let the “forces of corruption and dictatorship rule once again”?

We shouldn’t assume that Marcos will repeat “past evils”, said Ricardo Saludo in The Manila Times. The Philippines has adopted a new constitution and a host of other laws since 1986 to prevent such abuses. And Filipinos wouldn’t stand for it today. It’s more likely that Marcos will seek to redeem his family’s reputation by governing with integrity and competence.

“Whichever way it goes, Marcos Jr’s run certainly adds a new page in Asia’s book of princelings,” said Lucio Blanco Pitlo III in the South China Morning Post. From China, Taiwan and Singapore to Japan and India, the continent is full of leaders who have followed their parents into the governing elite. But political dynasties have become particularly pervasive in the Philippines. Marcos would be the third child of a president to take that role since 2001. The exception is Duterte, the incumbent president – yet his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, is Marcos’s running mate.

A recent study found that 80% of the Philippines’ governors and 67% of its members of congress had other members of their family who also hold political office. The Marcos family itself now dominates much of Luzon, the nation’s largest island. None of this augurs well for reform.

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