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Philippines Bongbong Marcos: Judge me on actions not ancestors

Emma Johnson 7 May 10

By Gareth Evans & Aparna Alluri
BBC News

Image caption,
Marcos supporters have been celebrating since early results suggested a big victory

Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, the son of a former Philippines' dictator, has asked to be judged on his actions not his ancestors after dominating the country's presidential election.

With more than 98% of an initial count completed, the 64-year-old senator has a seemingly unassailable lead with double the votes of his nearest rival.

An official result is expected later.

A victory would seal a remarkable return to power for the Marcos family, who fled into exile 36 years ago.

Mr Marcos' father led the country from 1965 until 1986, imposing martial law and presiding over a period of widespread human rights abuses, corruption and poverty.

A mass uprising in 1986 saw millions of people take to the streets and the Marcos family - including a 28-year-old Bongbong - fled the country for Hawaii.

The long-time politician, who returned to the Philippines in 1991, has sought to paint his father's presidency as a golden age and polls suggest he is popular among the young.

Critics allege his election campaign was fuelled by a misinformation campaign on social media, which he denies.

"Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions," Mr Marcos said in a statement via his spokesman on Tuesday. "It is [my] promise to be a president for all Filipinos," he added.

Turnout on voting day was high and previous elections in the country have largely been ruled to be fair. But the BBC's Howard Johnson in Manila says there are lingering questions about broken machines at polling stations and videos allegedly showing vote buying.

Opinion polls in the run-up to the election put Mr Marcos Jr ahead of his nearest rival, Leni Robredo, by dozens of percentage points.

Critics say this was the result of Mr Marcos Jr consistently painting his father's rule as a prosperous time, whitewashing a period of rampant corruption and widespread poverty.

Ferdinand Marcos Sr, who died in 1989, and his wife Imelda stole an estimated $10bn (£8.1bn) from the Philippines' coffers, becoming infamous examples of public graft.

As the vote count showed the scale of Mr Marcos' lead, Ms Robredo told supporters to continue their fight for truth and dismantle "the structures of lies".

There was a social media campaign to rebrand the old Marcos era, not as the period of martial law with its terrible human rights abuses, corruption and near-economic collapse, but as a golden age of crime-free prosperity.

This began at least a decade ago, with hundreds of deceptively-edited videos being uploaded to YouTube, which were then reposted on sympathetic Facebook pages.

These have persuaded millions of Filipinos that the vilification of the Marcoses after their downfall was unfair, that the stories of unrivalled greed were untrue.

And then there are the myths, widely believed in poorer parts of the Philippines, that the Marcoses do indeed hold vast wealth in offshore accounts or hidden stashes of gold bullion, but that these are being kept to benefit the Filipino people once they are restored to power.

But the pro-Marcos disinformation campaign also benefited from widespread public disappointment with the failure of the post-1986 administrations to bring significant improvements to the lives of poorer Filipinos.

Bongbong Marcos successfully portrayed himself as the candidate for change, like his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, promising happiness and unity to a country weary of the years of political polarisation and pandemic hardship and hungry for a better story.

The younger Mr Marcos has served in various elected positions over the years. He lost the 2016 vice-presidential election to Ms Robredo - a result he fiercely contested.

In the run-up to this election, critics say his campaign didn't detail his plans or policies, and that he avoided debates where he might face independent questioning.

He held lavish rallies featuring pop music, comedy and dancing, where attendees were given freebies like wristbands and T-shirts.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr at his last campaign rally

Ms Robredo, who ran for president on the promise of a clean and effective government, also drew huge crowds at her "pink revolution" rallies.

The rival campaigns turned this into one of the Philippines' most watched elections. Both candidates tried to woo those below the age of 30, who account for nearly half of the registered voters.

Mr Marcos Jr is set to inherit a country whose economy appears to be recovering from the pandemic better than expected.

But challenges, from high inflation to the aftermath of a brutal anti-drug campaign by President Rodrigo Duterte, remain.

Mr Duterte, a hugely popular strongman-style leader, oversaw a notorious war on drugs that led to police killing thousands without trial, according to human rights groups.

His daughter, Sara Duterte, who ran for vice-president alongside Mr Marcos Jr, is leading by a wide margin of votes, partial results show.

The election was not just for the presidential positions, but also for senators, the lower house and regional officials across the entire archipelago.

The official count of all votes may take days.