The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) launched its 16th book, “The Marcos Restoration: The CenPEG Papers on Election 2022,” last Oct. 19 at the University of the Philippines Diliman. The book, a compilation of policy analyses over a 17-month period from January 2021 to May 2022, and with Temario C. Rivera and Bobby M. Tuazon as editors, presents the series of events that shaped the May 2022 elections.
While focused on the idea of a “Marcos restoration,” the book tackles not only the issues and events surrounding Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s road to the presidency but also the issues and trajectories of the campaigns of other presidential candidates. The policy papers provide a vivid recollection of the twists and turns of the filing of candidacies, the substitution and withdrawal of candidates, and how campaigns were conducted both online and offline in the months leading to the elections.
According to the book, the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic by then President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration could have affected voter preferences for its and allied candidates. The pandemic’s effects on the elections were more on the conduct of the campaigns, with candidates being limited in terms of their physical interactions with voters and finding new ways to interact.
But in terms of voter preferences, it appears that the pandemic response was not a make-or-break issue.
For one, Leni Robredo’s campaign emphasized her “Kalayaan sa Covid” (Freedom from Covid) plan and how the Office of the Vice President under her leadership was able to provide a proactive and more efficient pandemic response within its limited means as compared to the national government. This helped boost her campaign in a way, but it did not make a huge difference. The Duterte administration and Duterte himself generally continued to enjoy positive net satisfaction ratings even during the peak of Covid deaths and the mismanaged pandemic response—despite eventual drops in satisfaction, as shown in some surveys conducted in 2021.
The inquiry of the International Criminal Court (ICC) into Duterte’s war on drugs is consistently discussed in the book as an issue surrounding the months leading to the elections. The book tackles the link between Duterte’s possible chosen successor and the possibility of his support for or endorsement of a candidate who would most likely shield him from the ICC probe.
Given the indecisiveness of the then President’s daughter, Sara Duterte, regarding her candidacy, her eventual settling for the vice presidency, and the conflicts within her father’s PDP-Laban party, the next supposedly viable and “winnable” candidate whose attitude toward the ICC would most likely be aligned with Duterte’s was Marcos Jr. But Duterte did not explicitly endorse Marcos Jr.’s presidential candidacy. He did not explicitly endorse anyone, except perhaps his own daughter—and even then, he said she should have instead run for the presidency given her showing in pre-election polls.
After winning the presidency, Marcos Jr. said he did not plan on having the Philippines rejoin the ICC. The Philippine government’s most recent response to the ICC states that the country’s justice system is working. However, this was not accepted as a satisfactory response, thus the continuing request that the probe be resumed instead of abandoned. It thus remains to be seen to what extent the Marcos Jr. administration can effectively shield Duterte from the ICC.
The results of the May 2022 elections show that, as consistently highlighted in CenPEG’s policy papers, some things remain constant in Philippine politics—electoral campaigns centered on personalities rather than programmatic political parties, dominance of political clans, vote-buying, weak voter education, etc. All of these contributed to the so-called “Marcos restoration,” or the return of the Marcoses to the highest seat of power: the presidency.
After the ouster of the Marcoses in 1986, it took them only a few years to regain political prominence and win elections again, starting in their home province of Ilocos Norte. Thus, it cannot really be said that it was only in 2022 that the Marcoses were “restored” to power; they only regained the presidency. They have not stopped flexing political power and influence even after the toppling of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship in 1986.
It also appears that Marcos Jr.’s presidency is not the end of the Marcoses in power. Given the dynastic nature of Philippine politics, it is inevitable that speculation will center on who among the family members will succeed him.
An obvious choice in 2028 would be his older sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, given her continuing exposure through projects such as the revival of the “nutribun” and “IMEEsolusyon” slogans plastered nationwide. Marcos Jr.’s son, the neophyte congressman Sandro Marcos, is being trained to eventually run for higher public office—probably reelection as a congressman in 2025, the Senate in 2028, or even the vice presidency or presidency in 2034. As in other family members, Ilocos Norte was his political launching pad. Pro-Marcos narratives being spread on social media are already packaging him as a youth heartthrob and as a “future President.”
What would it mean to the future of the Marcos restoration project if Marcos Jr.’s campaign promises are not realized in the next six years? Among the promises, as dubious as they may sound, are the distribution of gold to supporters, the de-privatization of Meralco and lowering of electricity prices, rice at P20 a kilo, and general recovery as highlighted by his campaign slogan “Bayan babangon muli” (The country will rise again).
The Pulse Asia survey conducted on Sept. 17-21, 2022, indicated that Marcos Jr.’s administration registered a negative 11 net satisfaction rating for addressing inflation in his first 100 days, and this is perceived as the top and most urgent concern for 66% of adult Filipinos. While the administration got positive, and some majority, ratings for 12 other concerns such as increasing the pay of workers or providing more jobs, it is striking (and quite ironic) that its only negative net rating is for the issue deemed as the most urgent.
For the first time in Philippine history, children of two former presidents were elected president and vice president, showing the peak of dynastic politics.
During the campaign, Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte dubbed themselves the “UniTeam,” but it is also worth noting that she got more votes than he did—32.2 million for her versus his 31.6 million. If not for Sara Duterte’s sliding down to the vice presidency despite her being the top choice for president in all pre-election surveys, Marcos Jr. wouldn’t have achieved this majority victory. There is the lingering possibility of a Marcos-Duterte fallout given speculations that these two families do not fully trust each other and that their alliance was built for short-term interests only.
The book raises these points considering Rodrigo Duterte’s apparent hesitation to endorse Marcos Jr.’s presidential candidacy.
Social media, other issues
Other important issues are discussed in passing in the book: the influence of social media on elections; the implications of the Marcos restoration on the Philippines’ fragile democratic institutions; and the return of the Marcoses vis a vis the crisis in the educational system.
The impacts of social media use on Philippine elections can no longer be discounted. In 2016, it was shown how Rodrigo Duterte’s camp extensively used social media, especially Facebook, in his campaign. In the 2022 elections, it was again shown how social media was once again used to an unprecedented extent to spread disinformation and distort historical facts. Marcos and Duterte propaganda are widespread on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and now even TikTok, which is very popular among the youth.
Vera Files has found that the Marcos camp greatly benefited from fake news spread on social media.
Warning bells have been rung on how the Marcos restoration and/or the Marcos-Duterte alliance could possibly affect fragile democratic institutions. The credibility, integrity, and non-partisanship of constitutional agencies such as the Commission on Elections and the Commission on Audit have been tested, especially with allegations of electoral fraud and the lack of transparency in the resolution of complaints surrounding the elections.
The culture of impunity fostered by the Duterte administration has not faltered, as seen in the continuous Red-tagging of and threats and attacks on academics, journalists, activists, human rights defenders, and government critics in general.
Lastly, the book discusses in passing the educational crisis—particularly the gaps in the educational system—and how the Marcoses have managed to maintain support through the years. Support for Marcos Jr. is heavily hinged on nostalgia and the claims of a “golden age” during his father’s rule.
Filipinos in the 18-44 age group—either too young to remember martial law or did not experience it—now comprise more than 50% of the voting population. They are the staunchest users of social media and are vulnerable to disinformation given the lack of substantial discussions on the Marcos dictatorship in Philippine history lessons and textbooks.
I believe we should pay serious attention to this matter, along with voter education in general, as it can cause detrimental and lasting effects on the political consciousness and attitudes not only of the youth, but even the older generations.
Maria Elize H. Mendoza ([email protected]) is an assistant professor of political science at UP Diliman. “The Marcos Restoration: The CenPEG Papers on Election 2022” is available at Popular Bookstore (Tomas Morato, Quezon City) and Solidaridad Bookshop (Padre Faura, Manila). Interested buyers may also contact [email protected] or 09171141405. —Ed.