Filipino journalists especially know Ferdinand “Pong Pong” Marcos, as the 64-year-old son of ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted in 1986, turns around when the press asks questions. It also avoids electoral debates. However, BBM, as it calls itself, is coming out in the polls as the winner of the presidential election
Marcus Jr. owes this pioneering position to the boring sermons about his father, who was in the saddle by the United States from 1965 to 1986 as a counterweight to the Asia-raised Communists at the time. BBM is marketing this right-wing kleptocracy as the “golden age” of order and employment. Under the rule of Marcos Sr., several thousand political opponents disappeared and according to the World Bank, the Marcos family stole five to ten billion dollars from the treasury. The bad sides of the father wash his son white with the help of his own YouTube channel.
This presents millions of viewers with misinformation wrapped in rosy nostalgia as a promise of their future. On social media, popular memes makers, wisdom gurus, and paid satirical accounts amplify Marcus’ messages. Predominately young voters, who remember little about the dictatorship, prefer online riots and Marcos’ vague call for “unity.”
Voters are tired of politicians who, in response to the dictatorship, have championed democratic values and good governance for 35 years. Mark Thompson, a specialist on Southeast Asian politics at City University of Hong Kong, said Marcus dismisses those three decades as wasted time.
Marcos’ political plans for the future
Like many experts on Filipino politics, Thompson does not know Marcos’ political plans for the future. BBM says it will continue the policy of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte. This offers little support for a geopolitical spinster like Duterte, who initially quoted Beijing and repelled the United States, only seeking rapprochement with Washington in his later years.
China has a long-running conflict over the South China Sea with Manila, but Philippine leaders who don’t push the border dispute to a head should work with Beijing in other areas. However, the Philippines, as an ally of the United States, is caught between two fires. For Americans, this strategically located archipelago is a base for the Indo-Pacific region, where Washington and a growing group of Western nations are trying to combat the Chinese form of land grab at sea.
This disingenuous division does not play a major role in elections, where even internal issues or party platforms are subject to the personalities of the candidates and their families. Nowhere are political dynasties more dominant than in the Philippines, where 234 powerful families are in power.
These political dynasties arose between 1898 and 1946, when only landowners were allowed to vote in that then American colony. This led to the creation of family empires that gained more and more power and money by allowing members of different generations to hold as many political positions as possible. Until this family falls, or it is voted on. Today 67 million citizens have the right to vote, although Philippine democracy has an elitist character due to the dominance of dynasties.
After Marcos was deposed in 1986—and died in 1989—no one expected the Marcos family to rise again. However, his widow Imelda and her offspring soon occupied key political positions. In the battle for the presidency, BBM teams up with the friendly Duterte clan: Duterte’s daughter is his running buddy†
This political families game, Thompson said, attracts voters. The breed’s appeal is enhanced by the love of brands. Families with political power over several generations are seen as experienced: these are strong brands.
In 2016, BBM narrowly lost out as Vice Presidential candidate Lenny Robredo, the woman still his contender for the top position. This time he has the wind with him. As Robredo’s volunteers go door to door to drag Marcos’ voters into the political center, young Marcos rides on waves of desire for ancient strongmen.
The Marcos descendant was never in power again, human rights activists and left-wing politicians once swore, but under Duterte, the left-wing bloc has become too powerless to bring down Marcos, Thompson says.
If he wins, the United States will learn to live with him, due to the strategic importance of the Philippines. This means that they will not pay much attention to the US arrest warrant against Marcos and his mother Imelda for refusing to pay $353 million in compensation to victims of human rights abuses during the dictatorship.
Billions of dollars in loans from China
However, there is a good chance that BBM will lean toward Beijing. There he has a legacy to draw from, because Marcus Sr. recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1975 as one of the first American allies in Asia. Such a past creates a good atmosphere for negotiations over the investment Marcos needs to make good on his election promises about economic recovery. Billions of dollars in loans now come from China rather than the United States.
While China’s pledges of $24 billion in infrastructure in 2016 did not materialize, the young Marcos in power presents opportunities for a charming new Chinese offensive of roads and bridges, in exchange for the Philippines’ acquiescence in the South China Sea.
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