The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Dictator’s son Marcos takes overwhelming lead in Philippines election

Philippine voters headed to the polls on May 9 to vote for a new president with Ferdinand Marcos Jr. favored to lead the country. (Video: Reuters)

MANILA — The son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos appears to have won the Philippines’s presidential election in a landslide on Monday, garnering more than twice the number of votes as his closest competitor with almost 95 percent of precincts reporting.

Millions of Filipinos waiting in long lines in the blazing sun overwhelmingly supported the family that was thrown out of power nearly 40 years ago in a popular uprising after it had plundered billions from the country’s coffers.

The election appeared to show the resounding success of a decade-long effort by the Marcos family to rehabilitate its name through an elaborate historical-revisionism campaign on social media.

Race to replace Philippines’ Duterte is a wild contest of characters

Polls officially closed at 7 p.m. local time after 13 hours of operation, but long lines in the capital, Manila, meant many stations stayed open. The national election body, however, said that with about 95 percent of returns counted, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. had about 30 million votes while his main competitor, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, had roughly 14 million.

At around 2 a.m. Tuesday, Robredo addressed her supporters, saying that while there are votes still yet to be counted, and while there are questions about the election still yet to be addressed, “the voice of the people is becoming clearer.”

“For the sake of the Philippines, which I know you really love, we need to listen to this voice because in the end, we share one country,” Robredo said.

A few hours earlier, Marcos gave a brief address saying that he “could not wait to thank” all his supporters. Still he remained cautious, acknowledging “we know that the count is not yet done, is not yet over, we still need to be on guard.”

The winner will succeed tough-talking populist Rodrigo Duterte, whose war on drugs left thousands dead, and lead a country with an economy and health system ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Presidents serve only a single six-year term and are elected separately from the vice president.

Marcos, who is running with Sara Duterte-Carpio, Duterte’s daughter, is not expected to be as brutal as his father or even the current president, but he is expected to complete the whitewashing of the family reputation and protect it from accountability. Between $5 billion and $10 billion was estimated stolen from public coffers during the Marcos family’s two-decade rule, and only a fraction has been recovered. The family fled to Hawaii, living in exile, after the 1986 “people power” revolution. The Marcoses returned to the Philippines in the 1990s.

During the campaign, Marcos and his running mate avoided discussing any concrete agenda, sticking to optimistic predictions for the future.

The family continues to face several controversies, including a graft conviction for Marcos’s mother, former first lady Imelda, and billions in tax liabilities owed by the estate. No members of the family have served jail time.

“If there really was ill-gotten wealth, it would have been retrieved a long time ago,” said Jesse James Pangilinan, 24, a Manila resident who voted for Marcos and Duterte-Carpio on Monday. He acknowledged the concerns about the Marcos estate’s unpaid taxes but dismissed them because “they’re not being forced to pay it.”

Dante Mapili, 30, and Jonariza Estera, 37, also voted for Marcos, saying they believed in his message of unity and were impressed by how he had not campaigned negatively. They also do not believe the family stole from government funds. “From what I know, he was already rich,” Estera said.

“I heard Marcos’s father was paid in gold if he won a case,” Mapili added, echoing a popular, Internet-fueled theory to explain the family’s wealth. Some of its adherents believe the Marcoses will distribute their fortune if they return to power.

Marcos is also expected to shield Duterte from possible prosecution at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed during his drug war, which resulted in the extrajudicial killings of thousands.

Voting for the most part proceeded peacefully, except in the southern island of Mindanao, where the military reported several incidents of election-related violence, including shootings and clashes between political rivals. At least four people were killed and 11 wounded.

In Manila, there were reports of technical difficulties with the voting machines, causing long delays that affected about 1.1 million votes, according to election watchdog Kontra Daya.

First-time voter Renzo Guevara, 22, said he had been in line 13 hours and counting. He sent The Post photos of the crowded corridors of the school where he had been waiting since 8 a.m. because of glitches in the machines.

The attendants offered for people to fill out waivers and then leave their ballots, and some, mostly elderly, took up the offer. Most, however, waited for the machines to be repaired.

Guevara said he feared that his ballot might be tampered with if he didn’t see it fed into the machine. “I’m not going to let this slide. … I know how important it is, so I just want to see it through,” he said. “They say we might be here until midnight. I don’t care. I just want to see my receipt.”

Marcos’s main challenger is independent candidate Robredo, a vocal critic of Marcos and the elder Duterte — even though she was his vice president. She has been the prime target of disinformation operations and lagged behind Marcos in pre-election polls by up to 33 points.

Her supporters believed it would be a much closer fight, as the groundswell of volunteers for her — including celebrities, church workers, farmers and students — culminated in a star-studded closing rally on Saturday that drew more than a million people.

In the Philippines, grass-roots campaign takes on the Marcos juggernaut

Donna Jolo, a 33-year-old building administrator, who attended that rally and voted in Manila, said she believed in Robredo’s ideas and platform and was angry at the online campaigns that she felt had slandered the candidate.

“I heard about how she helped people,” Jolo said, describing Robredo’s efforts for farmers. “Even with women, she helped with their livelihoods — she’s an economist and knows the answer to poverty.”

A human rights lawyer and former congresswoman who notably waited in line to vote Monday, unlike her opponent, Robredo narrowly defeated Marcos for the vice presidency in 2016. He spent the next five years contesting the decision until the Supreme Court, acting as election tribunal, unanimously dismissed his challenge last year.

How the Philippines’ brutal history is being whitewashed for voters

The Marcos-Duterte tandem is a political marriage of two of the most powerful dynasties in the country. Experts say this system, in which families and personalities dominate politics, is closely linked to corruption and poverty, as government spending and policy are associated with personal favors and not public obligations.

But Julio Teehankee, a political scientist at De La Salle University, warned that if Philippine history is any indicator, another corruption scandal could prove “fatal to [Marcos’s] return to power.” After the 1986 revolution, a 2001 uprising unseated President Joseph Estrada as corruption scandals dogged his term.

If Robredo’s grass-roots campaign is sustained after the election, it could become a major force in the opposition.

“If it’s a Robredo presidency, this will be a movement that is a partner,” said Barry Gutierrez, her spokesman. If not, it could mark the beginnings of a new opposition detached from traditional parties. “It’s an opposition I’m excited to see.”