When Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr announced that he was joining the race to be the next President of the Philippines, it triggered mixed emotions among many Filipinos.
As the only son of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, the dark legacy of his father’s reign for almost two decades continues to loom large over anyone in their family who has political ambitions for the highest office in the land.
Marcos is not a political novice. He made his debut in political office after he was elected as Vice Governor of Ilocos Norte at the age of 23, serving from 1980 to 1983. He then became governor of Ilocos Norte in 1983 where he served until the People Power Revolution overthrew his father from power in 1986 and was politically exiled along with his family in Hawaii.
Announcing his candidacy
After months of speculation, Marcos announced on October 6 that he would be contesting in the presidential election on May 9, 2022.
Speaking before his family members and a group of supporters, Marcos said his first priority if elected as president would be to help the country emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic as it had “razed” through the country, “destroying” the lives of Filipinos.
“I know that it is this manner of unifying leadership that can lead us through this crisis, get our people safely back to work, for all of us to begin to live our lives once again... I will bring that form of unifying leadership back to our country,” said Marcos.
He would be against a strong slate of presidential candidates in the election. While there are 10 candidates in the final list published by the Commission on Elections, Marcos is widely seen as a frontrunner whose strongest competitors would be current Vice-President of the Philippines Leni Robredo, Senator and boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson and Mayor of Manila Isko Moreno.
After his family was allowed to return to the Philippines following the death of his father, he was elected as representative of the second district of Ilocos Norte and served from 1992 to 1995.
In 1998, Marcos was again elected as Governor of Ilocos Norte and served for three terms until 2007, when he then served his second term in Congress by running unopposed for his seat.
But it was during his term in the Senate from 2010 to 2016 when his political profile surged. According to his website, he had authored, co-authored, sponsored and co-sponsored a total of 372 bills and resolutions, of which 52 bills were passed into law.
In 2016, he ran as a candidate for Vice President of the Philippines and narrowly lost, coming in second place behind Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo.
Father’s dark past
During their exile and even after the return of the Marcoses to the Philippines, the family was plagued by persistent accusations that they had siphoned billions of dollars from the country.
Marcos had fought hard to keep a significant portion of the family wealth. According to a report by the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Marcos even admitted that he tried directly to withdraw $200 million (P10.26 billion) from a secret family account with Credit Suisse. In addition, he was attempting to work out a deal that would allow his family to keep a quarter of up to $10 (P537) billion but it was thrown out by the Philippine Supreme Court, the report added.
Even before Marcos left for Hawaii, his stint as chairman of Philippine Communications Satellite Corp (Philcomsat) in 1985 – engineered by his father – was under investigation by government investigators. According to media reports, Marcos earned between $9,700 and $97,000 in his role despite hardly being present in office and having no duties.
One key element of the presidential race is how Marcos is perceived in relation to current President Rodrigo Duterte.
Their two families have had a long relationship dating back to the 1960s. The close relationship was further cemented in 2016 when Duterte gave approval for Marcos’s father to be given a hero’s burial.
Of late, however, the relationship appeared to be under strain. Sara Duterte-Carpio, Duterte’s daughter, surprised observers in November when she said she would be running for vice president under the banner of Lakas Christian-Muslim Democrats.
Her decision puzzled Duterte, who had been speculated to be vying for the same post. Duterte said he was “sure” the decision arose from Marcos’s camp, according to a report by SCMP. In the same month, Duterte finally made his intention clear when he filed to run (but eventually pulled out of the race) for a Senate seat.
To underscore the importance of the northern region of the country to his election prospects, Marcos campaigned in his home province of Ilocos Norte and other neighboring provinces in February. His camp claimed that he and his running mate Duterte-Carpio have strong support in what they called the “Solid North”.
But there has been a surprise twist for Marcos in Duterte territory in the south. Two Davao governors, Edwin Jubahib and Marc Douglas Cagas IV, and Congressman Pantaleon Alvarez threw their weight behind Robredo when the Vice-President campaigned on 24 March.
Davao is hugely significant for presidential candidates as Mindanao is the second largest island in the country after Luzon, and Davao has traditionally been the stronghold of the Duterte clan.
It remains to be seen if the support from the Davao politicians for Robredo could dent the popularity of Marcos, who still has a huge lead over his rivals in recent surveys.
Marcos was the choice of 61 percent of 3,000 respondents in a survey conducted by Laylo Research. Robredo was a distant second at 19 percent in the survey conducted from 15 to 22 March.
Views on key issues
Marcos would be carefully scrutinized in respect of two key policies of the Duterte administration: the drug war and ties with China.
Despite the huge controversy over thousands of deaths arising from Duterte’s unrelenting war against drugs, Marcos had indicated that he would continue the policy and even shield suspects from being handed over to the International Criminal Court.
On the tricky relationship with China – particularly over the South China Sea dispute – Marcos said he intends to maintain the policy of peaceful engagement with the emerging superpower. He was quoted as saying the Philippines wouldn’t stand a chance against China in the event of war.
But Marcos has been wavering on this hot-button issue of late. While his four rival presidential candidates recently gave interviews with the GMA Network TV station about their positions on the issue, Marcos refused to do so as his team claimed that the GMA reporter was “biased”.
Media reports suggest that Marcos did not wish to risk losing his lead in the opinion polls for the election by stating views sympathetic to China.
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