Critical foreign views on May 9 election results

Even as Filipinos are waiting anxiously to know what lies ahead in the next six years – will the presumptive new administration take the path away from violence, corruption and mismanagement, or will it not? – from afar, political observers are shaking their heads.

“A shocking and frightening moment for those who survived the violence of his father’s regime and witnessed the plunder of as much as $10 billion from the country,” was how the Guardian described the unofficial “electoral landslide” for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the May 9 presidential election.

It was disinformation that played a crucial role, the independent British daily quickly pointed out: “extensive, heavily organized and lucrative for those behind it.”

Social media erased the Marcos dictatorship’s true history and replaced it with “the lie of a ‘golden age’ of stability and prosperity,” it continued. TikTok videos built up the Marcos family as “aspirational, influencer-style” celebrities. And while Marcos Jr. avoided major debates and tough interviews, his supporters on social media carried on vicious attacks on his opponent, Vice President Leni Robredo.

There were “deeper issues” underlying the electoral outcome, the Guardian said:

• The so-called People Power uprising of 1986 was unfinished. “The political elites remained in place; influential families hold up to 90 percent of elected positions. Most of the money amassed by Marcos Sr. was never recovered, and schools failed to teach the new generations the full story of his rule.”

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• “The political advance was not matched by social and economic progress; the political dynasties and big conglomerates have ensured that the Philippines remains one of the most unequal societies of Asia.”

• President Duterte has also contributed to the electoral outcome. “His brutal and erratic authoritarianism – notably a ‘war on drugs’ which has killed thousands, including children – proved popular. He has strengthened the police and army, creating a culture of impunity, while undermining democratic institutions including independent media.”

• “(Duterte) allowed the late dictator to be buried in a cemetery for war heroes, helping to rehabilitate his image. Critically, his daughter Sara Duterte decided not to stand for president, running (successfully) as Mr. Marcos Jr.’s vice president.”

The Marcoses’ successful use of disinformation “reflects problems seen in many advanced democracies, not just in the global south,” the editorial stressed, adding:

“Reiterating the truth is not enough. Reaching out to the excluded communities and crafting compelling narratives is essential.” It said, however, that the Robredo campaign’s thrust to do so came too late. (And, if I may say so, the resources and passion deployed by her campaign volunteers fell short of really catching fire at the grassroots.)

The editorial concluded: “The Marcos family’s return to the top is a triumph of determination and has been a long time in the making. In that respect alone, their opponents – and progressives elsewhere – could learn something from them.”

Filipina sociologist Nicole Curato, now with the University of Canberra (Australia), weighed in on the issue. In a May 19 opinion piece also in the Guardian, she wrote: “The return of the Marcoses is a worry to the world. Their return to the political center stage did not happen overnight. It unfolded over decades as the result of cultural battles that many did not even know was happening.”

Since they were allowed back to the country after only five years in exile, the Marcos widow and children “have been normalized as part of the Philippines’ political life,” Curato wrote. “(Imelda Marcos) ran for and lost the presidency twice but won a congressional seat in her home town,” while Bongbong and Imee also won seats in the House and in the Senate. “Lifestyle magazines and talk shows glamorized the family, instead of ostracizing them.”

“This glamorizing has gone into overdrive during the last 10 years,” she wrote on. “Media-studies scholars tracked the sharp increase of YouTube channels that portrayed the Marcos legacy as the building of bridges, hospitals, cultural centers and windmills, which made the Philippines the envy of the world, without any mention of the alleged corruption and massive debts that this ‘edifice complex’ incurred.”

After the unofficial Marcos-Duterte team’s win was publicized, “there have been calls to digitize and protect the historical archives that document the atrocities and plunder committed by the Marcos regime,” Curato noted. “But this will be an uphill battle,” she said, observing that the NTF-ELCAC had already called out Adarna House for “radicalizing” young children.

Social media would also be a “challenging field for dissent, for opposition voices have been consistently harassed on various platforms by an army of trolls,” she added, citing as example that “throughout the campaign, TikTok was flooded with spliced videos that portrayed (VP Robredo) as dumb and incoherent.” These attacks, she warned, “send a signal to all critics that they too could go viral for the wrong reasons.”

Meantime, the International Observer Mission, fielded by a coalition of human rights advocates to monitor the 2022 electoral process, issued its interim report on May 19. A summary cites the following points:

• The elections were marred by a higher level of failures of the electronic voting system “than ever before,” a higher level of “blatant vote-buying, disturbing level of red-tagging and a number of incidents of deadly violence.”

• The electoral process didn’t meet the standard of “free and fair” elections, noting that early unofficial results giving the Marcos-Duterte team a massive win “has been met with widespread skepticism and a growing protest.”

• While the Marcos-Duterte team has been praising the policies of the outgoing government, “the international community needs to increase its focus on the human rights situation,” expecting it to worsen from hereon.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, which organized the observers’ mission, vowed to continue efforts to hold the Duterte administration accountable for its “dismal human rights record” via the International Criminal Court, the UN Human Rights Council, and the Philippine judicial system.

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