The Philippines, one of the oldest democracies in Asia, goes to the polls this Monday to elect the successor to President Rodrigo Duterte, who is prevented by the Constitution from revalidating his mandate. Some 67.5 million out of 100 million Filipinos are called to decide between ten candidates, among whom a clear favorite emerges, with 57% voting intention, according to the latest Pulse Asia survey: Ferdinand bongbong Marcos Júnior, 64, son of the dictator of the same name. He is followed, with 23% support, by the current vice president, Leni Robredo. Both arrive at the electoral appointment after a campaign marked by polarization, misinformation and nostalgic revisionism of a dictatorship that Marcos presents as a supposed golden age. The favorite’s popularity has also grown thanks to his alliance with the outgoing president’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is running with him at the polls as a vice-presidential candidate.
This nostalgic discourse of the autocracy has permeated part of the most nostalgic electorate and among many young people who were not born during the Marcos regime. Contrary to these revisionist ideas anchored in the past, Robredo, a 57-year-old lawyer and economist, represents renewal in the eyes of many analysts with her promises of an “honest” and “clean of corruption” government, focused on improving social welfare. and with the focus on education, health, poverty and the promotion of equality.
As vice president, Robredo quickly fell out with Duterte for opposing his bloody “war on drugs” and has been particularly notable for taking the reins of the response to the pandemic, after criticizing the president’s lack of initiative. Unlike Marcos Júnior —who has avoided going to electoral debates and submitting to interviews that could question his narrative about his father’s dictatorship in the 70s and 80s—, Robredo has won support with his frequent appearances on television and his massive and colorful concentrations in the streets.
Other contenders for the head of state, with no real chance of being elected, are boxing star Manny Pacquiao and actor and mayor of Manila Francisco Domagoso, third and fourth respectively, according to forecasts.
The Philippine political analyst Julius Trajano considers that, despite the wide difference between these two candidates reflected in the polls, the duel is much closer than it seems and that Robredo continues with options: “Statisticians agree that traditional methodologies are biased and they favor a specific economic and social class, because it is from which more examples are taken. There are indicators that indicate that the gap is not that wide.” Robredo prevailed in the 2016 vice-presidential elections precisely over Marcos Júnior, after trailing behind in the polls on that occasion as well.
“It is the first time in the Philippines that ordinary people have turned so much in favor of a candidate,” says Trajano. “Two million volunteers are going door to door in order to stop the disinformation campaign launched against Robredo on social networks, and hundreds of thousands of people attend his rallies”, explains this researcher, who compares his “pink revolution” – for the color they have chosen during their appearances – with the yellow revolution that deposed Marcos in 1986.
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Robredo has been the target of a huge smear campaign on the Internet, in which her intelligence and abilities have been questioned, she has been accused of having several lovers and has been linked to terrorist groups. There are also those who argue that his victory could mean a return to strong US influence in both foreign and domestic policy, which would infuriate China, the Philippines’ main trading partner. Despite the fact that the Asian giant’s reputation is not especially good among Filipinos, the last five years have been characterized by a shift from Manila to Beijing, where Duterte found a potential ally with the capacity to help the country’s development.
The disinformation that has characterized the campaign has had another predominant discourse: the one aimed at erasing from the memory of the Filipinos the horrors of the dictatorship and that February 25, 1986 in which the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family fled to Hawaii (United States). States) leaving the country plunged into a deep economic crisis, after looting between 5,000 and 10,000 million dollars from public coffers. Some critics believe that the lack of debate about the recent history of the Philippines in the country’s schools is allowing an image wash of the Marcos dictatorship: videos are circulating on social networks in which it is said that it was a period in which the economy flourished, infrastructures developed and the nation breathed peace and stability, a discourse that also ignores the 3,257 extrajudicial killings, the 35,000 cases of torture and the 70,000 arbitrary arrests committed in the two decades that the dictatorship lasted, according to Amnesty International .
Along with this successful revisionist strategy, Marcos’ other great asset in the campaign has been his alliance with the popular Sara Duterte-Carpio. The daughter of the controversial leader who has governed the country with more than questionable methods for the last six years led all the polls last summer due to rumors about her intention to become the successor to Rodrigo Duterte, who continues to enjoy prestige despite having personally assumed responsibility for the crimes of the so-called war on drugs. The outgoing president has even confessed to having killed several alleged drug traffickers with his own hands.
The Marcos-Duterte tandem has reinforced the support of the favorite in these elections in the south, its historically weak point and stronghold of the Duterte. Human rights organizations, international analysts and even some religious leaders warn that the association of two of the most powerful political clans in the Philippines could end up undermining the democratic foundations of the country and aggravate the curtailment of freedoms that has occurred during the legislature of the current president. In September, the International Criminal Court authorized an investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed during its war on drugs, in which Human Rights Watch denounces the death of up to 30,000 people, including children.
“Duterte’s legacy is a painful lesson for Filipinos: a populist politician should never be believed, especially if his solution is ‘kill, kill, kill.’ Leadership based on the image of the male man, misogynist, without any respect for human rights”, condemns analyst Trajano. “It is time for the Philippines to have its third president and to take the progressive path,” he points out.