In 1986, Ferdinand Marcos, former president of the Philippines, was ousted from power. Now, nearly 40 years later, the Marcos family is returning to power as Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is declared the winner of the recent Philippines Presidential Election. For many, this is an alarming event, as citizens reflect back on the last Marcos regime and what it did to their country. Former President Marcos was ousted from power because of his dictatorial leadership and for his imposition of martial law towards the end of his presidency. With this legacy, many wonder what it means for the Philippines as Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. prepares to step into the role of President of the Philippines. In his campaign, Marcos Jr. asked for all to “judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions”. What will his actions be and what will they do to the Philippines’ democracy? Furthermore, what does this new presidency mean for U.S. foreign policy, especially as tensions with China continue to heighten?
For the Philippines, the election of Marcos Jr. demonstrates a clear path towards continued corruption. Former president Duterte is known for his unpredictability while in office, often inciting further corruption and killing off thousands of innocents in the name of safety. Although Marcos Jr. will likely bring a more organized leadership style to office, the corruption will continue as he has pledged to protect Duterte from the ICC as they pursue him for drug related crimes. Additionally, Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, was elected as vice president showing the pattern that continues to persist in the Philippines of power being held in the hands of a small number of elite families. With Sara Duterte as Marcos’ running mate, former President Duterte is unlikely to face any criminal charges from his time in office. Marcos Jr. also held an informal alliance with the former presidential families of Macapagal-Arroyo and Estrada. Vote-buying continues to persist as a problem during election season in the Philippines. Winners of elections are those with large, powerful, wealthy families who can afford to buy the votes of others. The New York Times reported before the election that many young people feel they cannot make a difference in the election because of the political dynasties that continue to hold power.
Throughout the campaign trail, Marcos Jr.’s main promise was a promise of “unity”, pledging to heal the wounds of a polarized country. However, throughout the campaign, Marcos consistently shunned many of the presidential debates, declining to show up leaving many wondering how the challenges their country is facing will be addressed. Much of his victory came from a massive disinformation campaign through social media that attempted to remind people of the “Golden Age” of the Philippines back when his father was in office. What he will do to help solve the economic and political issues the Philippines faces remains to be seen. Marcos Jr. will likely bring a more organized and conventional approach to the presidency by appointing “respected health experts” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic response as well as diverting more money to improving infrastructure throughout the Philippines. These actions will be absolutely necessary if the Philippines is to recover from the economic disaster that happened because of Duterte’s poor management at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these changes, Marcos Jr. will likely still manage with much of the same authoritarian power as his predecessor.
As mentioned earlier, Marcos Jr. was ambiguous during his campaign, notably on foreign policy. During Duterte’s regime, the Philippines began to build more of a relationship with China, a move that worried the U.S. and begs the question of what will happen to the long lasting Philippines-U.S. relationship? As Marcos Jr. prepares to begin his presidency, the U.S. will likely aggressively pursue an open relationship with him; China has already done the same, with President Biden from the U.S. and President Xi Jinping of China being the first to congratulate him on his victory. Marcos Jr.’s best option for his country would be to balance his relationship between the two countries. The Philippines is a key treaty ally in an area of the world with increasing importance to U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. also enjoys a historic military alliance with the Philippines dating back to the end of World War II. As tensions between China and the U.S. continue to rise, working with the Philippines is more important than ever, especially considering their location in an increasingly important area of the world and their participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). During his campaign, Marcos Jr. pledged to pursue a more open relationship with China. His first step in doing this would be abandoning their 2016 victory against China dealing with maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Despite what Marcos Jr. has said, public opinion remains strongly opposed to this path, with much of the public favoring a relationship with the U.S over working with China. Because of the historic security and trade alliances between the Philippines and the U.S., the U.S. will continue to seek a strong relationship with the Philippines, especially as Marcos Jr. moves closer to China. The United States will use the Filipino public’s opinion against China to their advantage in building closer ties with the new government. Furthermore, because of Marcos Jr.’s family history and corrupt campaign, it is more important than ever for the United States to work to ensure a continued democratic regime in the Philippines. Preserving democracy in the Southeast Asian area will be important if the United States is to continue their trade alliance with China and other key countries in the area.
Beyond a relationship with the U.S., this new presidency has the opportunity to boost the Filipino economy. However, Marcos has not presented a plan for increasing international economic investment, and Duterte’s historic unpredictability has estranged many other powerful countries that may have been interested in building relationships with the Philippines. Additionally, investing in the Philippines is historically hard to do, as a stipulation in the 1987 Philippines constitution states that businesses must be at least 60% Filipino owned. It is unlikely that the international community will be eager to invest their money in the Philippines right away, instead choosing to wait and see what actions Marcos Jr. will take as he comes to office. Knowing this, Marcos Jr. may continue Duterte’s policies of easing the 60% stipulation by removing many of the legal barriers to investment.
Ambiguity and mystery seem to be the only sure thing at this point in the recent Philippines election. As Marcos Jr. prepares to take over as president, many questions remain unanswered. What will he ultimately decide about the Philippines’ relationship with China and the United States? What does his election mean for democracy in the Philippines, especially with his father’s tyrannic legacy? Will the Philippines bounce back from the economic disaster that COVID-19 caused? It remains to be seen.