Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
and Norman P. Aquino

FERDINAND R. Marcos, Jr. appeared headed to win the presidential election on Tuesday with more than 15 million votes ahead of his closest rival, heralding the return to power of the country’s most notorious political family.

Preliminary returns with 98% of the vote counted showed Mr. Marcos, better known as “Bongbong,” with 30.98 million votes as of 4 p.m., more than double that of Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo. He will be the first candidate in recent Philippine history to win a presidential election majority.

Mr. Marcos fled into exile in Hawaii with his family during a 1986 “people power” street uprising that ended his father’s 20-year autocratic rule. He has served as a congressman and senator since his return to the Philippines in 1991.

Mr. Marcos, 64, offered 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 in a video 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.”

Mr. Marcos’s running mate, Davao City Mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, got 31.42 million votes, more than three times that of her closest rival, Senator Francis “Kiko” N. Pangilinan who is Ms. Robredo’s running mate.

As the vote count showed the extent of the Marcos victory, Ms. Robredo stopped short of conceding defeat, but acknowledged a “feeling of real dismay among our ranks.” She told her supporters to continue their fight for truth until the next election.

“We have not failed,” she assured her supporters, speaking from her hometown in the Bicol Region. “We are just starting. An avenue has opened and it will not shut down. A movement was born and it will not die at the close of counting.”

“It took time to build the structures of lies. We have time and opportunity to fight and dismantle these,” she added.

Though Mr. Marcos 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.

“I don’t believe in the tax cases against the Marcos family because not one of them went to jail,” Loreta Cua, a saleslady at a garment shop in Manila, said in an interview in Filipino. “I don’t think they were at fault.”

Mr. Marcos’s victory showed that traditional politics still wins in Philippine elections, said Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo De Manila University.

“The pink movement should regroup and debrief themselves about their experience of the 2022 elections,” he said. “They should allow the new forces, such as the nonaligned, volunteer groups to have a space in this emerging new opposition”.

Ms. Robredo’s defeat should allow people to realize that “elections are not the end,” said Jan Robert Go, a political science professor from the University of the Philippines (UP).

“The opposition should regroup and re-strategize. They have not been wary of the power of misinformation until the last minute,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.  

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. “He continues to spit on the graves and sufferings endured by all the Marcos martial law victims by feigning ignorance on the numerous documented atrocities.”

Mr. 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.

Mr. 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.

“The failure of the previous administrations is now being used by Bongbong’s supporters as a piece of evidence that supposedly demonstrates not just his innocence in their tax cases but the ineptitude of the post-Marcos regimes,” Michael D. Pante, who teaches history at De La Salle University, said in a Messenger chat.

It plays into the typical gripe of Marcos loyalists that the last 30 years have been a disappointment in terms of governance, “that perhaps the Marcoses’ ouster in 1986 was not a victory but a tragic mistake that could be undone if the late president’s son is elected president.”

Aries A. Arugay, a political science professor from UP, said Mr. 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.” — with Reuters