By Eunice Barbara C. Novio
On May 9, some 31 million Filipinos voted for the 17th president of the Philippines. Their choice was Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of the late Ferdinand Marcos, whose family plundered the Philippines during their 21-year reign and left it almost bankrupt.
Marcos Jr won against incumbent Vice-President Leonor “Leni” Robredo, who only got around 14 million votes. Robredo is a human-rights lawyer and an economist, and was a House representative of Camarines Sur’s Third District before serving as vice-president. Ferdinand Marcos Jr is a former senator who holds a fake Oxford degree.
This election result is better seen as a continuation of elite power than as a radical shift. The elites in question do have new tools to maintain power: social and digital media.
The Filipino people ousted the Marcos family in the peaceful EDSA People’s Power Revolution on February 25, 1986, two weeks after a snap election that saw Corazon Aquino, the widow of Marcos’ arch-enemy Benigno Aquino Jr, become the country’s first female president.
The events that led to the EDSA Revolution were massive electoral fraud before and after the snap election on February 7, 1986. The Commission on Election (COMELEC) tabulators walked out when they noticed the manipulation of results. Millions of people flocked to the streets for three days in a peaceful revolution lauded by the rest of the world.
However, the victory against the Marcoses’ excesses and atrocities eventually ended in 1986. During the transition period, a new constitution was drafted by the elite. There was nothing in the constitution that declared that the family of the dictator would not have an opportunity to return. There was no provision prohibiting political dynasty or electing a person despite facing plunder cases or being convicted of crimes.
It was a case of the elite protecting their own.
The return of the Marcoses and the political dynasties had been mapped out long before 2010 and 2022. The dictator’s remains were buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of the Heroes) while the rest of the family and their progenies became elected officials.
The Philippine electorate is characterized by the three G’s – guns, goons and gold (money). Aided by technology and social media, politics has become an opportunity for the family political dynasties to continue.
These political families of monopolize power and public offices from generation to generation and treat public elective office almost as their personal property, according to Professor Teresa Tadem of the University of the Philippines’ Faculty of Political Science.
Despite the Election Modernization Act of 1997 authorizing the COMELEC to use an automated election system, it was only in the 2010 general election that the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) brought Benigno Noynoy Aquino into office as the 15th president of the Philippines. Since then, the electoral process has been computerized.
In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte became president. During his regime, he ensured that the next leader would be favorable to him. Marcos’ running mate Sara Duterte was Rodrigo’s daughter; she will become vice-president on June 30 when the new administration is sworn in.
In 2019, aside from the multinational company SMARTMATIC, COMELEC also signed a contract with F2 Logistics, a company linked to Davao businessman Dennis Uy, a Duterte crony. SMARTMATIC had a “supposed data breach” that was exposed in January. Despite that, COMELEC still used its services, claiming that it would not affect the 2022 national election.
The 2019 mid-term election cemented Duterte’s power in the Senate, ensuring that his executive powers would not be contested.
Marcos’ victory was a vote of the majority abetted by billions of pesos, a questionable COMELEC, and state forces used to intimidate the people and the army of social media aiming to deodorize the family’s image.
Social media like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok also undeniably played essential roles in the voters’ turnout.
On May 12, I attended a Zoom session titled “Filipino Pasts and Futures: Life and Work in Japan,” in which Mimi Dumalaog shared her research about the Filipinos in Japan who voted for Marcos and could not separate themselves from how the Marcoses are portrayed negatively by the documentaries about Martial Law atrocities and the family’s plunder.
They saw him as an underdog, someone who sacrifices, and most importantly their chance of redemption if he can prove his innocence of his family’s plunder.
Professor Jose Maria Sison, a consultant to the National Democratic Front (NDF), a Philippine left-leaning umbrella organization, based in the Netherlands, claimed there are three general categories of voters: the politically advanced, middling, and backward sections.
Sison explains that in the Philippines, the politically advanced are those who are anti-imperialist and truly democratic, those in the middle are mixed up and vacillate, and those who are backward uncritically follow the dictates coming from the imperialists and exploiting classes through the reactionary state, the schools, media and other institutions and agencies.
On the other hand, the education system has also failed miserably. History is commonly taught by rote memorization instead of explaining the reasons we have to remember the dates and the people who were in the history.
Despite the efforts of patriotic historians, social-media “influencers” in effect destroyed the psyche of Filipino voters by distorting the facts about the Martial Law era, that it was the Golden Years of abundant, cheap commodities – and most of all portraying the Marcoses as royals.
Teachers, particularly of basic education, do not teach that during the dictatorship there were 3,257 known extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented tortures, 77 “disappeared,” and 70,000 incarcerations.
I do not entirely blame the teachers. They are also the victims of the weak education system focusing on labor exports rather than learning about the dark years of Martial Law.
For Filipino survivors of the Martial Law period, President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr is a grim reminder of the past repeating itself.
Eunice Barbara C Novio is a Thailand-based freelance journalist. Her articles have appeared on Asian Correspondent, America Media, and The Nation. She is also a contributor to the Bangkok Post and Thai Enquirer and a stringer to Inquirer.net’s US Bureau. She won a Plaridel Award from the Philippine American Press Club.