Elections in the Philippines
Ghosts of the past: the son of the late dictator becomes the new president of the Philippines
On May 9th, 2022 67.5 million registered Filipino voters casted their ballots and decided on the future of their country by electing a new president: With almost 60 percent of votes Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. will reign the country for the next six years. The newly elected president is no other than the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. who ruled the Philippines with brutality under martial law for almost two decades. Marcos’ strongest opponent Vice-President Leni Robredo, an alternative human rights lawyer whose transparent political practices received international accreditations, achieved slightly less than 30 percent of votes casted in the over 7,000 islands of the archipelago state as well as in around 70 countries abroad which eligible and registered Filipino call their homes
Election day: technical issues, long waiting lines and deadly attacks
The election day itself was long awaited, but still soon came in reports about technical issues and irregularities. Voters often had to wait for three hours in line as malfunctioning voting machines delayed the election process with paper jams, rejected ballots, unreadable prints or faulty machine parts. The actual voting involved numerous steps for the 2022 elections. After cross-checking of voters’ credentials and ballots a seamless proceeding depended heavily on smooth operations of the respective vote casting machines. In this way even still incumbent vice-president and second runner up Leni Robredo lined up for two hours in order to be able to cast her vote. Yet the malfunctioning voting machines not only tested voters’ patience in order to hand in their ballots, voters also got encouraged to simply leave their filled out ballots at the polling stations so these ballots could get scanned at a later stage once the technical hiccups of the failing machines got fixed. A handling just ripe for election fraud and in contrast with the official process: an individual and automatically created election summary needs to be cross-checked by the voter after he or she casted her vote. Only at this stage could a voter question and argue the accurate counting of his or her votes. Besides technical issues and long waiting lines few but not less violent attacks left at least four killed and around a dozen wounded overshadowed a the election day.
Reversing history to rise into power
Just a few hours after closing of polls preliminary results showed a landslide victory of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos who reached almost 60 percent of votes. With this result he won an absolute majority, an outcome also predicted by official surveys prior to the elections. Leni Robredo, who started campaigning with much lower approval compared to Marcos, gained a remarkable number of supporters over the weeks leading up the elections. In the end however less than 30 percent of Filipinos voted for her. The outcome of the race between Marcos Jr. and Leni Robredo was far different during the vice-presidential elections in 2016 where Marcos Jr. lost by a mere of 250,000 votes against Robredo. Ever since his family invested heavily into a disinformation campaign focused on social media to whitewash the image of the Marcos’ clan as a “golden era”. In this way they reversed the aggressive dictatorship of his late father which according to Amnesty International saw over 100,000 Filipinos being prosecuted, tortured or killed. With a median age of not only 26 years around 50 percent of Filipino voters had not experienced the dictatorship of Marcos Sr. themselves. An average of four daily hours spent on social media channels by each Filipino paired with the inexperience in fact-checking and verifying information found and consumed online made young voters especially receptive to the false narratives broadcasted by the Marcos’ clan.
The unclear political future under Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
During the election campaign “Bongbong” Marcos stayed repeatedly absent from presidential debates aired on TV and did not attend press conferences unless they were organized by his camp in order to control journalist and media outlets to be invited. He did so both to avoid uncomfortable questions as well as to let the false narratives on his family’s history sink. Except his claim to be a “unifying president” he did not position himself through any further campaign promises. In this way his future politics can only be speculated at this point in time. Certain is that “Bongbong” Marcos will further undermine rule of law in order to access the family’s allegedly ill-gotten wealth and dismiss tax debt charges against him. The later were still unsolved on election day and could eventually disqualify him for the office of the president in case he would be found guilty. Freedom of speech as well as of the press will also see a further decline so the Marcos clan can further whitewash the dictatorship of the new president’s father who ruled the Philippines under martial law until 1986.
The Philippines presidential elections happened at a time when the country is in dire need of a good leader. With a poverty rate of around 25 precent one of the hardest and longest lockdowns globally further crippled the country and its economy: the shutdown of borders severely impacted tourism the archipelagic state is so dependent on. In addition the closing of schools for almost two years will have a much longer effect on many industry sectors which bank on the English fluency of Filipinos, among others Business Process Outsourcing, also known as BPO, or overseas healthcare workers. The heir of a late dictator, whose main concern is the whitewashing of his family history, does not seem to be the right person for the number of problems the Philippines face. Little support to alleviate the issues will come from the newly elected vice president: Sara Duterte, daughter of the still incumbent populist President Rodrigo Duterte, received around 60 percent of votes during the May 9th elections. Sara Duterte is known for a similar strongmanship and harsh politics her father is (in)famous for.
The future for the Philippines looks grim. Leni Robredo’s growing campaign gathered over 700,000 at the final rally at the end of the campaign period. In fact Robredo’s campaign turned into a never seen movement of volunteerism run under theme of “radical love” to stress on empathy, humbleness and mutual understanding. Yet the few months since Robredo announced her presidential candidacy in October 2021 did not allow enough time to fight a disinformation campaign which had been planned and plotted for years. In her first statement after the closing of elections the defeated presidential candidate buoyed her supporters and also gave a clear call towards the newly elected government: “We have a beginning that has never been witnessed in the entire history of the country. A campaign led by the people. A movement formed not only to dismantle the old and rotten system, but to forge real and positive change. … We are not done yet. We are just getting started.” With terms of six years length the Philippines will vote again for a new president in 2028 – and enough time for Leni Robredo and her supporters to continue their movement to grow into an even stronger opposition.
*Rebecca Zistel heads the FNF office in Manila