As the dust of the 2022 Philippine presidential election settles, the alliances, the compromises, and the policy trajectory become more visible under the Marcos-Duterte government.
The well-run campaign and the curated candidate branding must now give way to the real governance work, so as to address the pressing issues faced by the post-pandemic Philippines.
The results of the Philippines’ presential elections on 9 May 2022 has surprised the world, as it seemed unimaginable to have, yet again, a Marcos taking the helm of the country. It is a family name many international observers associate with images of excesses, jewellery, and a jet-set lifestyle, while the poverty incidence of the country stood at 59% at the end of his rule.
However, a majority of Filipino voters remember the Marcos years differently, almost fondly. Many believe that it was a period of prosperity and infrastructure development. The popular notion, albeit inaccurate, is that the Philippines experienced a golden economic era during the martial law period from 1972 to 1981. Never mind that in the mid-1980s, the Philippines was called the “sick man of Asia” due to the country's poor economic performances. Economists attribute the Philippine economic slump under Marcos Sr. to an “authoritarian political climate, along with insecure property rights, widespread corruption, and unproductive, fraudulent debt.” For multiple reasons, including disinformation, disillusionment, the influence of campaign finance flows, there is a widespread embrace of the Marcos brand past and present.
The durability of authoritarian nostalgia reflects a common frustration, alongside wider structural issues. Democracy did not bring development. In 2021, overseas Filipino workers remitted an average of three billion dollars a month. The need to leave the country for better employment and opportunities continues to hound the Philippines. A comparison of the 1999 and 2019 surveys on Social Inequality of the International Social Survey Program conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) shows the self-identification of social class by the respondents. More importantly, the compared findings of Mahar Mangahas revealed that after two decades, there is an increase in the number of Filipinos who see the Philippine society as elitist and fewer who see it as egalitarian. Income inequality and concentrated wealth in the hands of the few are evident. From 2010-2011, the 40 top Filipino billionaires saw their collective wealth increase 37.9% to USD47.4 billion. In 2021, there were 50 Filipino billionaires (the minimum wealth is USD200 million), with a collective wealth increase of 30% to USD79 billion. Despite the bright forecasts on the country’s pre-pandemic economy, the brutal poverty remains a prominent issue. For many, democracy failed to usher in development. Worse, the harbingers of democracy in 1986 became political figures embroiled in corruption cases and part of the furniture of the Philippines' patronage democracy.[i]
SWS Survey on Inequality
|54% of Filipinos see society as elitist||73% of Filipinos see society as elitist|
|32% of Filipinos see society as egalitarian||16% of Filipinos see society as egalitarian|
Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte: A Coalition of Convenience
The Marcos dynasty is a force to be reckoned with in the north of the Philippines, while the Duterte dynasty remains strong and widespread in Mindanao, the country’s south. Riding on the coattails of her father and former president Rodrigo Duterte, Sara Duterte outgrew her local sphere of mayoral influence in the last six years. She gained national attention by showing that she could remove non-allies from key positions, even a Speaker of the House. At one point, Sara challenged her father's political party with a regional party composed of dynasties.
The Dutertes enabled the return of the Marcos family on two levels. First, Rodrigo Duterte gave Marcos Sr. a hero's burial and convinced his broad base of supporters that Marcos Jr. was cheated out of the vice presidency in the 2016 elections. Second, Sara Duterte gave way to running as Marcos Jr.'s vice president even though her pre-election numbers were higher.
Once the Marcos-Duterte alliance was agreed on, the duo filed their certificate of candidacy for the 2022 elections. Political clans aligned themselves with these two scion candidates and threw their support, which means rallying the votes from their bailiwicks. Sara Duterte's Mindanao bloc of supporters carried Marcos to Malacanang Palace, evident in the shift of preference from 15% in September 2021 to 53% in December 2021. The Marcos-Duterte tandem won support from across all socio-economic groups and regions.
Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte promised unity and projected a youthful campaign using popular social media platforms. Avoiding debates, they kept their messaging simple and on point. None of them talk lengthily about the dreary state of economic affairs or any detailed plans for a post-pandemic recovery. And the public did not seem to mind. For Marcos Jr., it was a message of hope to a disillusioned public by pointing to a nostalgic – and not so accurate – past. Marcos Jr. and his campaign promise projected triumph over adversity. It was a message that gained traction among many Filipinos, while there was no heavy lifting or talk of policies and programmes. Are voters to blame? Personality politics and the fragmentation of political parties are deliberate top-down strategies, coupled with campaign money flows that come from the top. Consolidating democracy requires building strong democratic institutions such as a fair electoral system, functioning political parties, judicial independence, accountability institutions. But none of these was present or on the way to materialise for the Philippines. With democratic institutions being weakened over time, the Philippines is a state and society burning through its democratic reserves.
Patterns of continuity and discontinuity
As the country transitions into the Marcos Jr. presidency, it is more about continuity than change. Accountability institutions, including the Department of Justice, the Commission on Audit, and the Office of the Ombudsman, are controlled by appointees allied with the Marcos or Duterte families. President Marcos Jr. mentioned “continue” and the theme of continuity 13 times in his first State of the Nation Address. He enumerated what he intends to continue from the previous administration, including economic policies, health policies, infrastructure plans, public-private partnerships, transportation development, and foreign affairs. There was no mention of human rights and justice for victims of extrajudicial killings. There was no mentioning of how to combat corruption even though business groups consider it the top risk for the country's economic recovery ahead of rising inflation.
Politics-wise, it is expected to run in the same vein as their families’. The political clans allied with the Marcoses and Dutertes are old hands that have sustained their power over time. These same clans used their local machines through community leaders who could deliver the votes. It combines personalistic ties and a patronage system that dispenses resources and access to social benefits. These clans stand firmly and closely behind their patrons. The alliance of influential national and regional political dynasties is composed of the same families who supported Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.
As Marcos Jr. has shown less illiberal tendencies than his predecessor, the public must be watchful. The country, after all, has seen authoritarian values made more acceptable when couched under populism. Recently, 17 books were initially banned by the Commission of Philippine Language and labelled as "anti-Marcos, anti-Duterte, anti-government" by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The memorandum banning the books became void after several commissioners withdrew their signatures, however. In addition, historians who present human rights violations and other facts occurred during the martial law era are either trolled or threatened online. Red-tagging and the threat of libel suits for critics have become rampant since 2016. Even more worrisome is the lack of solid outcry for the abuses of power, especially against those labelled as government critics. The seeming indifference comes from a fragmented civil society, pushback against dissenting voices, and cynicism toward opposition groups.
Since his inauguration on 30 June 2022, the challenges faced by the Marcos administration include higher poverty incidence, hiking prices of essential commodities, and an impending sugar shortage. Marcos Jr. has branded himself as a visionary like his father, even taking on the agriculture portfolio to show that he plans to boost agricultural productivity and self-sufficiency like his father's rice programme, Masagana 99 (Abundance 99). Unfortunately, this rice programme is among the many bloated achievements of Marcos Sr. that have seen the rounds on social media. In truth, the rice programme caused the bankruptcy of many rural banks.
Marcos Jr. needs to maintain his high popularity as leverage with other political clans, including those supportive of his vice president. He has managed to minimise the influence of Sara Duterte, for now. When Marcos Jr. left for a state visit to Indonesia, Sara Duterte took on the caretaker role and immediately called for a meeting with the top brass of the security sector. In that meeting, the vice president told the military to “show no mercy to criminals and terrorists”. The office of the vice president asked for a 2023 budget that is more than a double of that a year prior. These include funds for satellite offices across the country and “confidential funds”. Part of the national budget, confidential funds are lumpsum funds for surveillance operations that support the agency’s mandate.
Marcos Jr. got the overwhelmingly youth vote in the 2022 elections. According to Pulse Asia, 71% of Filipinos aged between 18 to 24 years old voted for Marcos Jr. Likewise, 63% of those aged between 25 to 34 voted for him. In addition, 63% as well of those aged 35 to 44 voted for Marcos. Among the senior citizens, 55% of those from 65 years old and above voted for Marcos.
If the Marcos wants to keep this support base, he needs to address the real challenges facing this sector of the population. A recent report by the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) mentioned that the country has many children and young people until 2035 as a source of “robust and potentially effective workforce”. The same report mentioned that the number of senior citizens (60 years old and older) have doubled in the last two decades. The Marcos administration will have to address the need for better education, easier access to jobs, and better resources to provide social benefits for the country's ageing population.
Marcos Jr. has a unique opportunity to prove the critics of his family wrong. To do so, he must roll up his sleeves and work as a chief executive. Well-curated digital narratives can only go so far. As his mother famously said: “Perception is real. Truth is not".
[i]Teehankee, J. C., and C. A. A. Calimbahin. "Patronage Democracy in the Philippines: Clans, Clients, and Competition in Local Elections." (2022). Ateneo de Manila University Press.