Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has named failed vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr as his potential heir-apparent. But is the nation ready for another Marcos presidency?
Who is he?
The only son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr has lived a charmed life. Apparently too famous to fail, the younger Marcos was more or less educated at Oxford and Wharton, leaving the former university with a “special diploma in social sciences” and the latter with, according to his official site, “units towards a Masters in Business Administration degree”. Following in his father’s footsteps, the scion of a man believed to be responsible for the torture of 34,000 people and the imprisonment of tens of thousands more served as governor of Ilocos Norte in the northern Philippines before rising to the rank of senator in 2010. In 2016, Bongbong came within 200,000 votes of the vice presidency of the Philippines, and has hinted at ambitions for even higher office.
Why is he in the news?
Although President Rodrigo Duterte’s term doesn’t end until 2022, the notoriously mercurial president has repeatedly suggested he may step down earlier amid sagging support for his stalled fight against the nation’s deeply entrenched corruption. In August, the president’s spokesman said Duterte was prepared to resign as long as a fitting replacement could be found – namely Marcos, who narrowly lost the vice presidency to Duterte’s rival Leni Robredo in 2016. Since then, Robredo – who was elected separately from Duterte – has been thoroughly sidelined by the president, resigning her cabinet portfolio apparently on Duterte’s orders. Even worse for the embattled vice president, Marcos has accused his rival of widespread voter fraud, launching an electoral recount that may take years to untangle.
Why does Duterte want a dictator’s son as his heir?
Ramon Beleno III, chair of political science at Ateneo de Davao University, said that Duterte was in many ways a kindred spirit of his bloody predecessor, even arranging for the elder Marcos’ burial in the nation’s Heroes’ Cemetery. “It is not a secret that, in some way, the president admires Ferdinand Jr’s father when it comes to strategic plans, long-term goals and attempts to discipline the Filipinos during that time – except, of course, the corruption issues,” he said. “In some way, critics of the administration would see that the president seems to be governing the country in a ‘Marcosian’ manner. Having said that, I think the president is seeing glimpses of the former president in the person of his son. Moreover, it has been an open secret that Duterte got so much support from the Marcos family during the election.”
Can he escape the shadow of his father?
Until his election to the Philippine Senate in 2010, public support for the younger Marcos appeared limited to the former dictator’s hometown, where the family name still commands much adulation. “It is just recently that the Marcoses were able to breach the barrier of national politics,” Beleno said. “Filipinos have not forgotten the evils of the Marcos martial law. But right now, Filipino voters are more pragmatic. They have realised that regardless of the political background, history or personality [of their leaders], their lives have remained the same. They believe that the post-Marcos liberals did not actually make a change, and that there are some things during the authoritarian regime that they thought was helpful. Now, they want to believe that Bongbong is a better version of his father.”
This article was published in the October 2018 edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here.