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Philippines set to return to Marcos rule

MANILA (REUTERS) - The Philippines woke to a new but familiar political dawn on Tuesday (May 10), after an election triumph by Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr paved the way for a once unimaginable return to the country's highest office for its most notorious political dynasty.

Mr Marcos Jr, better known as "Bongbong", trounced bitter rival Leni Robredo to likely become the first candidate in recent history to win a Philippines presidential election majority, marking a stunning comeback by the son and namesake of an ousted dictator that has been decades in the making.

Mr Marcos Jr fled into exile in Hawaii with his family during a 1986 "people power" uprising that ended his father's autocratic 20-year rule, and has served in Congress and the Senate since his return to the Philippines in 1991.

His runaway victory in Monday's election looked certain when early results of an unofficial vote poured in and with 95 per cent of the eligible ballots counted, he had more than 30 million votes, double that of Mrs Robredo.

An official result is expected around the end of the month.

Mr Marcos Jr refused to celebrate, offering instead what he called a statement of gratitude.

"There are thousands of you out there, volunteers, parallel groups, political leaders, that have cast their lot with us because of our belief in our message of unity," he said, standing beside a national flag, in remarks streamed on Facebook.

"Any endeavour as large as this does not involve one person. It involves very, very many people working in very, very many different ways."

Though Mr Marcos Jr, 64, campaigned on a platform of unity, political analysts say his presidency is unlikely to foster that, despite the huge margin of victory.

Many among the millions of Mrs Robredo voters are angered by what they see as a brazen attempt by the disgraced former "first family" to use its mastery of social media to reinvent historical narratives of its time in power.

Thousands of opponents of the elder Marcos suffered persecution during a brutal 1972 to 1981 era of martial law, and the family name became synonymous with plunder, cronyism and extravagant living, with billions of dollars of state wealth disappearing.

The Marcos family has denied wrongdoing and many of its supporters, bloggers and social media influencers say historical accounts are distorted.

'Detestable image'

Human rights group Karapatan called on Filipinos to reject the new Marcos presidency, which it said was built on lies and disinformation "to deodorise the Marcoses' detestable image".

"Marcos Jr has not publicly acknowledged the crimes of his father and his family's role, as direct beneficiaries," it said in a statement.

"Marcos Jr continues to spit on the graves and sufferings endured by all the Marcos martial law victims by feigning ignorance on the numerous documented atrocities."

Mr Marcos Jr, who shied away from debates and interviews during the campaign, recently praised his father as a genius and a statesman but has also been irked by questions about the martial law era.

As the vote count showed the extent of the Marcos win, Mrs Robredo told her supporters to continue their fight for truth until the next election.

"It took time to build the structures of lies. We have time and opportunity to fight and dismantle these," she said.

Supporters of Philippine presidential candidate Leni Robredo gathering during a prayer vigil in Naga City, Camarines Sur, Philippines, on May 10, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

 

Mr Marcos Jr gave few clues on the campaign trail of what his policy agenda would look like, but is widely expected to closely follow outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, who targeted big infrastructure works, close ties with China and strong growth.

Mr Duterte's tough leadership style won him big support.

Dr Aries Arugay, a political science professor, said Mr Marcos Jr has much to do to prove he is sincere about unity.

"This polarisation will happen regardless," he said.

"Under a Marcos presidency, perhaps it will become more pernicious because I don't think the unity slogan will be implemented, meaning reaching out to the other side. It will be a tough sell because it is not credible."

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