After 36 years, the Marcus line seems to be coming back to life

Ferdinand “Pong Pong” Marcos giving a speech during the campaign.Photo ANP/EPA

Filipino journalists are particularly familiar with Ferdinand “Pong Pong” Marcos, as the 64-year-old son of deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, ousted in 1986, turns around when the press asks questions. It also avoids electoral debates. Yet BBM, as it calls itself, emerges in the polls as the winner of the presidential election

Marcus Jr. owes this pioneering position to the boring sermons about his father, who was saddled by the United States from 1965 to 1986 as a counterbalance to the communists raised in Asia at the time. BBM markets this right-wing kleptocracy as the “golden age” of order and employment. During the reign of Marcos Sr., several thousand political opponents disappeared and, according to the World Bank, the Marcos family stole five to ten billion dollars from the Treasury. Father’s bad sides whitewash his son with the help of his own YouTube channel.

It presents millions of viewers with misinformation shrouded in rosy nostalgia as a promise of their future. On social media, popular meme creators, wisdom gurus and paid satirical accounts amplify Marcus’ messages. Predominantly young voters, who remember little of the dictatorship, prefer the online riots and Marcos’ vague call for “unity”.

Voters are tired of politicians who, in response to dictatorship, defended democratic values ​​and good governance for 35 years. Mark Thompson, a Southeast Asian policy scholar at the City University of Hong Kong, said Marcus viewed those three decades as a waste of time.

Marcos’ political plans for the future

Like many experts on Philippine politics, Thompson is unaware of Marcos’ political plans for the future. BBM says it will continue the policies of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte. This offers little support for a geopolitical celibate like Duterte, who initially cited Beijing and pushed back against the United States, seeking only a rapprochement with Washington in her later years.

Supporters of Marcos Jr. in Paranaque, a suburb of Manila.Photo: AFP

China has a long-running dispute over the South China Sea with Manila, but Filipino leaders who aren’t pushing the border dispute to a fever pitch should work with Beijing in other areas. However, the Philippines, as allies of the United States, are caught in the crossfire. For the Americans, this strategically located archipelago is a base for the Indo-Pacific region, where Washington and a growing group of Western nations are trying to fight China’s form of land grabbing at sea.

This deceitful division does not play a major role in elections, where even internal issues or party platforms are subject to the personalities of the candidates and their families. Nowhere are political dynasties more dominant than in the Philippines, where 234 powerful families are in power.

These political dynasties were born between 1898 and 1946, when only landowners were allowed to vote in this then American colony. This led to the creation of family empires that gained more and more power and money by allowing members of different generations to hold as many political positions as possible. Until this family falls, or they are voted out. Today, 67 million citizens have the right to vote, although Philippine democracy has an elitist character due to the domination of dynasties.

After Marcos’ impeachment in 1986 and his death in 1989, no one expected the Marcos family to rise again. However, his widow Imelda and her offspring soon rose to key political positions. In the battle for the presidency, BBM teams up with the friendly Duterte clan: Duterte’s daughter is his running buddy

Attractive breeds

This political game of families, Thompson said, attracts voters. The appeal of the breed is enhanced by the love of brands. Families with political power over several generations are perceived as experienced: these are strong marks.

In 2016, BBM narrowly lost as running mate Lenny Robredo, the woman always its top contender. This time, he has the wind with him. As Robredo’s volunteers go door to door dragging Marcos voters into the political center, young Marcos rides the waves of former strongman desire.

The descendant of Marcos was never in power again, human rights activists and left-wing politicians have sworn, but under Duterte the left-wing bloc became too powerless to bring down Marcos, Thompson says.

If he wins, the United States will learn to live with him, due to the strategic importance of the Philippines. That means they won’t pay much attention to the US arrest warrant for Marcos and his mother Imelda for refusing to pay $353 million in compensation to victims of human rights abuses during the dictatorship.

Billions of dollars in Chinese loans

However, there is a strong chance that BBM will lean towards Beijing. There he has a legacy to draw on, as Marcus Sr. recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1975 as one of America’s earliest allies in Asia. Such a past creates a good atmosphere for the investment negotiations Marcos needs to deliver on his campaign promises for economic recovery. Billions of dollars in loans now come from China rather than the United States.

While China’s promises of $24 billion in infrastructure in 2016 have failed to materialize, the young Marcos in power presents opportunities for a charming new Chinese offensive of roads and bridges, in exchange for the acquiescence of the Philippines in the South China Sea.

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