MANILA — The Philippines woke to a new but familiar political dawn on Tuesday, after an election triumph by Ferdinand Marcos Jr paved the way for a once unimaginable return to the country’s highest office for its most notorious political dynasty.
Marcos, better known as “Bongbong,” trounced bitter rival Leni Robredo to become the first candidate in recent history to win a Philippines presidential election majority, marking a stunning comeback by the son and namesake of an ousted dictator that has been decades in the making.
Marcos fled into exile in Hawaii with his family during a 1986 “people power” uprising that ended his father’s autocratic 20-year rule, and has served in congress and the senate since his return to the Philippines in 1991.
Marcos’s runaway victory in Monday’s election looked certain when early results of an unofficial vote poured in and with 95% of the eligible ballots counted, he had more than 30 million votes, double that of Robredo.
An official result is expected around the end of the month.
Marcos refused to celebrate, offering instead what he called a statement of gratitude.
“There are thousands of you out there, volunteers, parallel groups, political leaders that have cast their lot with us because of our belief in our message of unity,” he said, standing beside a national flag, in remarks streamed on Facebook.
“Any endeavor as large as this does not involve one person, it involves very, very many people working in very, very many different ways.”
Though Marcos, 64, campaigned on a platform of unity, political analysts say his presidency is unlikely to foster that, despite the huge margin of victory.
Many among the millions of Robredo voters are angered by what they see as a brazen attempt by the disgraced former first family to use its mastery of social media to reinvent historical narratives of its time in power.
Thousands of opponents of Marcos senior suffered persecution during a brutal 1972-1981 era of martial law, and the family name became synonymous with plunder, cronyism and extravagant living, with billions of dollars of state wealth disappearing.
The Marcos family has denied wrongdoing and many of its supporters, bloggers and social media influencers say historical accounts are distorted.
Human rights group Karapatan called on Filipinos to reject the new Marcos presidency, which it said was built on lies and disinformation “to deodorize the Marcoses’ detestable image.”
“Marcos Jr has not publicly acknowledged the crimes of his father and his family’s role, as direct beneficiaries,” it said in a statement.
“Marcos Jr continues to spit on the graves and sufferings endured by all the Marcos martial law victims by feigning ignorance on the numerous documented atrocities.”
Marcos, who shied away from debates and interviews during the campaign, recently praised his father as a genius and a statesman but has also been irked by questions about the martial law era.
As the vote count showed the extent of the Marcos win, Robredo told her supporters to continue their fight for truth until the next election.
“It took time to build the structures of lies. We have time and opportunity to fight and dismantle these,” she said.
Marcos gave few clues on the campaign trail of what his policy agenda would look like, but is widely expected to closely follow outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, who targeted big infrastructure works, close ties with China and strong growth. Duterte’s tough leadership style won him big support.
Aries Arugay, a political science professor, said Marcos has much to do to prove he is sincere about unity.
“This polarization will happen regardless,” he said.
“Under a Marcos presidency, perhaps it will become more pernicious because I don’t think the unity slogan will be implemented, meaning reaching out to the other side.”
“It will be a tough sell because it is not credible.”
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Davies)
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