Filipinos elect heir to the past as president

Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The victory of Ferdinand Marcos Jr in the Philippine presidential election marks a troubling factor. Ninety-eight percent of the votes were counted and he got double the votes of his main rival, Leni Robredo.

Robredo’s supporters are angry and they protested outside the Electoral Commission office. But the commission said the elections were fair. Marcos’ father, Ferdinand Marcos, had ruled the Philippines as a dictator, imposing martial law from 1972 to 1981.

He put his political opponents in prison, or they went into exile. When one of his main adversaries, Benigno Aquino, returned from exile in the Philippines in 1986, he was shot on the tarmac. In the subsequent democratic revolution, Marcos had to leave the country, and Benigno Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, won the elections and restored democracy. The United States supported the Marcos dictatorship, but then supported democracy in the country. Marcos’ wife, Imelda, became infamous for her thousand pairs of shoes. But the Marcos stubbornly denied doing anything wrong.

Marcos died in exile in Honolulu. The return of his son to the presidency raises many questions. Will the son respect the democracy his father suppressed and which was restored after Marcos was ousted from power? Suspicions and apprehensions grow stronger because he defends his father’s legacy, and his followers have lied with no regrets that Marcos’ reign was glorious. It is the shameless and blatant repetition of lies that makes the return of a Marcos to the presidency a disturbing phenomenon.

Incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, a man who prided himself on failing to uphold the rule of law and due process in the treatment of drug addicts in the country, had scorned democratic standards and reveled in the fact that he ruled with a yard. His daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio is the vice-presidential candidate, and she won by a large majority, three times that of her rival, and is believed to have widened the base of Marcos Jr. The Philippines will then faced with the rule of democratically elected authoritarian leaders.

The Philippines and other democracies face the challenge posed by authoritarian populism, such as in the United States under President Donald Trump. Constitutional norms take a back seat under so-called strong leaders.

The Philippines human rights organization Karapatan called on Filipinos to reject Marcos Jr’s presidency as his campaign was based on misinformation and lies “to deodorize the hateful image”. But it will be difficult to counter a landslide victory. The people are the masters in a democracy.

They can give the mandate to any leader and take it away just as well as they did in Sri Lanka. We can only hope that President-elect Marcos Jr will not abuse his election victory and protect democracy in the Philippines. It is indeed one of the risks of democracy that bad leaders who can do immense harm to politics get elected. The remedy lies in the next round of elections. And that is the hope expressed by Robredo who lost the election to Marcos Jr. She told her supporters to fight for the truth until the next election.

She said, “It took time to build the structures of the lie. We have the time and the opportunity to fight them and dismantle them. This is the democratic way to wait for the next round of elections. People need to value the freedoms that only a democracy guarantees, and as the saying goes, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”.

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