It was an electoral victory for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that seemed to be on the cards, especially after the daughter of the current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Sara Duterte, threw her hat in the ring for the Vice Presidency in a separate election but as an ally of Marcos Jr.
Political pundits were of the view that when two powerful political clans of the North and South get together in a political alliance the outcome is a foregone conclusion. In what has been passed off as an electoral campaigning based on disinformation and half-truths, Marcos Jr. pulled off a spectacular win by getting close to 31 million votes, twice that of Leni Robredo, the current Vice President.
Marcos Jr. who popularly goes by the name Bong Bong, was perhaps too young to remember how his family was driven out of the Philippines in February 1986 by a Revolution called People Power.
For a country like the United States that threw its weight behind a brutal dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. for 21 years, the man then in the White House, Ronald Reagan, would not even take a telephone call from a distraught person leaving it to his personal friend Republican Senator Paul Laxalt of Nevada to do the talking.
“Senator, what do you think? Should I step down?” asked President Marcos. And Senator Laxalt who was at the White House replied in a straightforward fashion: “I think you should cut and cut clean”, a message being conveyed on behalf of the American President.
Later, Senator Laxalt is said to have remarked, “He (meaning President Marcos) was hanging on. He was looking for a life preserver. I sense he was a desperate man, clutching at straws”.
Apparently, in the final stages, the Philippines strongman was even prepared to “share” power with President-elect Corazon Aquino, an idea that the Reagan administration quickly brushed aside. It was seen as “undignified” and perhaps even impractical.
Eventually, President Marcos, his family and the rest of the entourage numbering more than 50 fled the country in American choppers to Clarke Air Field first, then to Guam and Hawaii.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is now being accused of trying to re-write one of the darkest chapters of Philippines history by totally denying tyranny and abuse of power during two decades of his father’s rule by pretending it to be a “Golden Era” of development and economic gains.
The often talked about 3000 pairs of Imelda Marcos’ shoes aside, the Marcoses are alleged to have looted the national coffers of up to US$ 10 billion, the last word on the investigation yet to be said on the issue.
Lid on investigations
The fear now is that for a person who denied all the wrongdoings of his father’s time as being “fake news”, Marcos Jr. is all set to put a lid on any and all investigations of the past in his upcoming six years of office.
Thirty-six years may seem a long time in a nation’s history and of a personal past; but many elderly Filipinos seem to be appalled at the election verdict as a setback to human rights given what took place between 1965 and 1986.
Marcos Jr’s victory needs to be seen in the context of what has been happening over the last six years of the Duterte Presidency, including the brutal war on drugs that has officially taken a toll of 8000 lives even as rights group say the numbers are much higher.
Duterte’s campaign against criminals has led to the targeting of political opponents, mostly youngsters, say critics. In 2020, the International Criminal Court took the view that there was preliminary evidence of crimes against humanity.
It is an uphill task for Marcos Jr in trying to re-write the past and in glorifying the traumatic two decades of a dictatorship especially in trying to face up to the court cases still doing the rounds or unfinished in the Philippines and the United States.
Economically it is argued that while unemployment hovers around 7%, the Covid pandemic has pushed at least four million Filipinos into poverty and the economic livelihood has further been jeopardised by China tightening the noose on fishing in the South China Sea.
In a country where the United States’ trust factor is more than that of China, Filipinos were somewhat jolted by Duterte’s embrace of Beijing and in Marcos Jr’s statements that he will not enforce a decision of the International Court of Justice that ruled in favour of the Philippines by rejecting China’s claim over much of the South China Seas.
Pacts with Washington
The new President of the Philippines may have promised to keep two military pacts with Washington that allow men and material to enter the country. But a lot of tight rope walking is on the cards, especially as it pertains to militarization in the Mischief Reef of the South China Sea and the jockeying of six powers in the area.
The new scheme of things in the Indo-Pacific being what they are, the Biden administration would be keen on having Manila on its side, perhaps even taking the Philippines on board in any expanded security framework in the region as a bulwark against Beijing.
But both Washington and Manila would be wary of rushing into things given what has transpired in a troubled past especially when many Filipinos have not forgotten the role of the United States.
(The writer is a former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and the United Nations)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)