MANILA — Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator whose family plundered billions of dollars, was elected president of the Philippines by a landslide, according to preliminary results, 36 years after his father was ousted in a historic revolution.
Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, is Marcos’s running mate and the next vice president. The tandem, which has dubbed itself the “Uniteam” for its supposed message of unity, is a political marriage of the country’s two most powerful dynasties.
In a speech early Tuesday, Marcos thanked his supporters for their “belief in our message of unity” and their “belief in the candidates.”
The mood was jubilant as the magnitude of their victory became clear and Marcos’s supporters sang and celebrated in front of the campaign headquarters along the same historic Manila avenue where people protested to oust his father more than three decades ago.
Meanwhile, hundreds of disheartened supporters of his main opponent, Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, flocked to a volunteer center to console one another and tune in to her live-streamed speech.
“We have started something that has never before been seen in our nation’s history: a campaign led by the people,” Robredo said Tuesday morning. “This structure of lies took a long time to build. There will come a time and chance to tear it down.”
Her supporters have suggested that her grass-roots campaign, which brought together diverse elements of pink-wearing volunteers across sectors, should maintain its momentum and prepare to take on a role as the opposition under the new administration.
“One of the lessons we have to learn from the other camp is, when they lost [in the 2016 vice-presidential race], they started to campaign immediately,” said Mik Afable, a volunteer who organized flash mobs and helped take charge of operations on Monday.
He expressed hope that their movement would be a lasting one, compared to the well-financed Marcos juggernaut. “If you pay for loyalty, it goes away very quickly,” he said.
Marcos’s carefully planned journey to the presidency shows how social media can shape perception and politics in a highly online country, which has been dubbed the “patient zero” of disinformation after Duterte first won with the help of troll farms in 2016.
As president, Marcos will rule over an archipelago of about 110 million ravaged by the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, where about a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. He also is expected to continue the drug war and shield the outgoing Duterte from possible prosecution at the International Criminal Court.
“This election is so consequential because whoever wins will decide who lives and who dies in the Philippines,” said Nicole Curato, a sociologist and professor at the University of Canberra in Australia.
But the rest of Marcos’s platforms and policies are largely unclear because he has skipped election debates and interviews with independent media, instead surrounding himself with social media personalities and vloggers who enjoy preferential treatment from his campaign.
“We don’t know enough in terms of how they will govern,” Curato said. “They control the way they disseminate information.”
Marcos’s governing experience is concentrated in the province from which the family hails. He was governor of Ilocos Norte in the 1980s (replacing his aunt), before he left with the uprising that overthrew his father. After his return, he served as a representative for the province and then again governor before he was elected to the Senate in 2010 — where he was later involved in a corruption scandal.
Marcos is also expected to continue Duterte’s friendly stance toward China, and he previously said he would not seek help from the United States regarding the dispute over islands in the South China Sea, which China has heavily militarized. Popular ire, however, is running high against China over its pressure on Philippine fishermen, and there are long-standing ties with the United States, including between their militaries.
As the numbers steadily trickled in for Marcos on Monday, thousands across various precincts were still waiting to cast their votes well past midnight. Technical problems that plagued vote-counting machines fed into fears that ballots could be tampered with, and on Tuesday morning, demonstrators flocked to the Commission on Elections in Manila to protest what they saw as an election riddled with irregularities.
The human rights group Karapatan also called on the public to reject the Marcos-Duterte alliance, saying that Marcos “[spits] on the graves and sufferings” of thousands of martial law victims. “Worse, he has portrayed the victims of human rights violations as money-seeking opportunists,” said the group’s secretary general, Cristina Palabay.
According to the unofficial count with 98 percent of precincts reporting, Marcos won 58.7 percent of the ballots cast, more than 31 million votes, compared with Duterte’s victory with just 16 million in 2016.
Robredo, a lawyer and social activist, came in second with 14.8 million votes — less than half of Marcos’s total. The race was a rematch for the two, who had faced off in the 2016 vice-presidential race, which Robredo won, despite Marcos’s attempts to overturn the result.
Before Marcos Jr., no candidate in the past three decades had won the presidential election in a majority — not since the February 1986 snap election that saw Marcos Jr.'s father win 53 percent of the vote, only to be nullified amid concerns over massive electoral fraud, coercion and violence. Later that month, following the “People Power” revolution that saw more than a million Filipinos take to the street to oust the Marcos regime, the family fled the Philippines to exile in Hawaii, and Corazon Aquino was sworn in as the nation’s first female president.
In the Philippines, political dynasties dominate — with the Marcos family being among the most well known. Ferdinand Marcos, his wife, Imelda, daughter Imee and son have all held political posts in or representing the province of Ilocos Norte. Imelda, 92, who previously launched two unsuccessful presidential bids, arrived at a polling station Monday in a red outfit, rosary and Chanel pin.
“She’s wanted me to become president since I was 3 years old,” Marcos said of his mother in 2015.
They also face various controversies: unpaid estate taxes reported to have ballooned to over $3 billion; a graft conviction for Imelda; a nearly $2 billion class-action award and contempt order handed down by a U.S. District Court compensating thousands of victims of rights violations under the Marcos administration, among others.
Marcos Jr. also has controversies of his own, including a questionable tax record and his contested claim to have completed his studies at Oxford University.
The excesses of the Marcos family were in full view during their rule decades ago, with frequent jet-setting, spending sprees and, famously, Imelda’s thousands of pairs of shoes — boxes of which have since fallen victim to mold and termite infestations.
Under martial law at the time, reports of human rights abuses were rampant, including arbitrary arrests, forcible disappearances, torture and killings. But with a Marcos win, the family is set to be shielded from accountability.
There are ongoing attempts to recoup as much as $10 billion plundered by the family’s late patriarch. As president, in control of the executive branch and with influence over government agencies, Marcos Jr. will have outsize power in controlling that hunt.
The younger Marcos’s landslide win points to the success of his social media campaign but also Filipinos’ “serial disappointment” in the political establishment and democratic rule over the past three decades, said Marco Garrido, a sociologist at the University of Chicago.
“The faith they had in liberal democracy has dried up … and they’ve developed this taste for illiberal rule over the course of the Duterte administration,” he said. “This nostalgia for the Marcos period wouldn’t make sense unless you put it in the context of 36 years of disappointment.”
Westfall reported from Washington.