Phillipines: Ousted Marcos family may return to power



The colour they are clad in is an unmissable shade of fuchsia pink. They walk the streets across the Philippines, waving banners along the way and stopping anyone who will listen.

Many are young or first-time voters, and some travel for hours to join campaign teams. For them, next week’s election is a make-or-break moment for their country.

“I really want change,” says Mariel Ramirez, 35, a first-time voter who is among those campaigning.

The impact of the pandemic on the poorest, and the prospect of the return to office of one of the country’s most controversial families – the Marcoses – drove her to act.

“It’s so obvious that a [Marcos] presidency would really just bring the country to its lowest point,” said Ramirez. “They’re a family who just enrich themselves.”


There are just days left until more than 67 million Filipinos vote for their next president in a highly contentious election.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, known as “Bongbong” or BBM and the son of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is leading in opinion polls – despite his late father’s notorious history of corruption and rights abuses.

Leni Robredo and her army of nearly 2 million volunteers, known as Kakampinks (pink allies), are trying to stop Macros Jr.

Robredo, a human rights lawyer who has advocated for disadvantaged groups and is the current vice-president, is trailing second in the polls by a significant margin. In an election where online misinformation is rife, her supporters have launched a door-to-door effort that is unusual in its scale.

In Sampaloc, a deprived district of Manila, some residents are receptive. Josie Loyola, 70, who sits outside her house in the morning sunshine, smiles as she spots the campaigners passing by.

“She is good-hearted, she has a lot of accomplishments,” Loyola says of Robredo. But she lowers her voice when she speaks of Marcos Jr: “[He] is really questionable, he has questionable integrity.”

She worries about political instability, or a repeat of martial law, which was imposed by Marcos Sr in 1972.

Human rights violations were rife during the nine-year period of martial law: 3,240 people were killed, while tens of thousands more were tortured and imprisoned, according to Amnesty International.


Loyola’s son, who is crouched beside a tub of soapy water, stays focused on scrubbing his motorbike. He is undecided, he says. Not everyone wants to talk. A few doors down, images of a smiling Marcos Jr, holding his hand in a peace sign, are plastered on to a house.

It was 36 years ago that the People Power revolution brought an end to Marcoses’ 20-year rule, forcing the family to flee into exile.

They fled by helicopter, stashing onboard items worth $15m (£12m) including gold bars, freshly printed cash and hundreds of pieces of jewellery.

It was small change compared with the overall estimates of the family’s ill-gotten wealth. Some suggest as much as £8bn was plundered by the family.

Ferdinand Marcos Sr, and his second wife, Imelda, watch thousand of university students undergo compulsory military training in Manila in 1985.
Ferdinand Marcos Sr, and his wife, Imelda, watch as university students undergo compulsory military training in Manila in 1985. Photograph: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images
Marcos Sr died in1989, but the rest of the family was allowed to return to the Philippines in the 1990s and it has been slowly rebranding itself ever since.

“Our democratic transition did not go through a process of transitional justice – unlike other countries that went through political or civil strife,” says Julio Teehankee, professor of political science and international studies at De La Salle University in Manila.

Instead, the Marcoses were given a warm reception by the powerful, says Teehankee. “The society elites, the circles, embraced them and treated them as celebrities.”

The family began to re-establish their position in politics and cement allegiances. In 2016, Marcos Sr was given a hero’s burial with military honours on the recommendation of President Rodrigo Duterte. Marcos survivors were appalled and warned history was being whitewashed. Duterte’s daughter Sara is Marcos Jr’s running mate.

Observers say the failure of the Philippine education system to properly discuss the reality of the Marcos rule has created a gap in public knowledge, especially among younger generations, which the Marcos Jr’s camp has exploited.


Online, social media accounts linked to or supportive of the Marcoses downplay the dictatorship and seek to justify or even deny past abuses by spreading misinformation.

They present the Marcos years as a golden era: a time when the economy was thriving; when infrastructure was developed; and there was peace and order. The human rights abuses and kleptocracy are swept aside.

Celica Inductivo, 35, who lives across from Loyola, stands over a simmering pot, preparing lunch for her family, as volunteers pass. She will vote for Marcos Jr, she says.

During martial law, if you were a decent citizen, you did not have anything to be afraid of, her mother, who was a volunteer for Marcos Sr, told her. Inductivo does not believe his son is corrupt, and admires him for rising above such comments.


“Despite the various criticisms against BBM, like [the claim he is a] thief, he doesn’t fight back,” she says, using the now popular abbreviation for Bongbong Marcos.

He has been criticised for failing to attend presidential debates, and for dodging awkward media questions, including over his failure to pay a tax bill that, according to local reports, could amount to more than £3.1bn.

Marcos Jr, whose slogan is “together we shall rise again”, has stuck to a simple campaign message of unity and rekindling a former greatness.

“That’s one of the greatest ironies in this year’s election. The most divisive and polarising political brand in the country’s history has appropriated the message of unity and hope,” says Teehankee.

It is perhaps a message that is easier to sell. “Authoritarian nostalgia is very simplistic. If you are quite frustrated and desperate, then it’s easy to believe in this rather than Robredo campaign discourse of Filipinos owning the problems of the country, and helping her find solutions for it,” adds Jean Encinas Franco, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Philippines.

Polling released by Pulse Asia suggests 56% of voters would pick Marcos Jr as president, and he remains the most popular candidate among all age groups.


Yet Franco believes Robredo’s campaign, and the large army of supporters it has attracted, will have a lasting impact on Philippine politics regardless of the election outcome.

She points not only to Robredo’s impassioned volunteers, but also to impressive turnouts of voters at her rallies. The atmosphere at such gatherings is festive, youthful and hopeful, Franco adds.

“I have never seen these kind of rallies or this kind of support for any kind of politician since I started voting,” she says.

“There is now a critical mass of people. Whoever the president will be, he or she will have to contend with this portion of Filipinos who are actively engaged.”

For Ramirez, who has taken part in two house-to-house campaigns, and attended three rallies, she believes every possible vote counts.

The election could, she says, either steer the Philippines forward, or “pull us further backwards and plunge the country down to a state of hopelessness and massive corruption”.

Whatever happens next week, she says she will no longer be silent about politics. “We have so much to lose this time around.”



paid guest post service