They are dressed in a color that will not go unnoticed, a pink shade of fuchsia. They walk the streets of the Philippines waving flags wherever they go and stopping anyone who wants to listen to them. Many are young or voting for the first time, and some travel for hours to join campaign groups. For them, the presidential election this Monday, May 9, will mark the events in the country before and after.
“I want real change,” says Mariel Ramirez, 35, who will be voting for the first time and campaigning alongside others.
The impact the pandemic has had on the poorest sections of the population and the possibility of one of the most controversial families in the country, the Marcosas, returning to the presidency spurred her to act. “Obviously, the presidency [de Marcos] This would lead the country to a worse moment … ”, Ramirez comments. “This is a family that only cares about getting rich.”
There are only hours left before more than 67 million Filipinos vote for their next president in a fierce election. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., known as “Bongbong” or BBM and son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, leads the polls despite his father’s well-known history of corruption and rights abuses.
Leni Robredo and her army of almost two million volunteers, known as the Kacampinki (Pink Allies), try to stop the arrival of Marcos Jr. Robredo, a human rights lawyer who defends marginalized groups and is currently vice president, is running for shooting from a considerable distance. With an election rife with misinformation online, supporters have launched a door-to-door campaign on an unusual scale.
Some residents of Manila’s depressed Sampaloc neighborhood are susceptible. Josie Loyola, 70, sits on her doorstep in the morning sun. He smiles as he watches the campaigners pass by. “He has a good heart, he has achieved a lot,” Loyola says of Robredo. But he lowers his voice when he talks about Marcos Jr. [un tipo] really doubtful, with questionable honesty.”
Loyola is concerned about political instability or a repeat of martial law imposed by Marcos Sr. in 1972. During the nine years that martial law lasted, human rights abuses reigned: 3,240 people were killed and tens of thousands were tortured and imprisoned, according to Amnesty International .
Loyola’s son, hunched over a bucket of soapy water, is still focused on cleaning his motorcycle. He says he’s undecided. Not everyone wants to talk. A few doors down is a house papered with a smiling Marcos Jr. making a peace sign with his hand.
From exile to the elite
It’s been 36 years since the People’s Power Revolution ended 20 years of Marcos’ rule, forcing the family into exile. They escaped by helicopter, taking with them €14 million worth of items, including gold bars, freshly printed money and hundreds of pieces of jewelry. It was trash compared to the dirty money that made the family rich. Some suggest that they stole up to 9.3 billion euros.
Marcos Sr. died in 1989. The rest of the family received permission to return to the Philippines in the 1990s and have slowly changed their brand ever since.
“Our transition to democracy has not gone through a transitional justice process, unlike other countries that have had political or civil conflicts,” says Julio Tihanchi, assistant professor of political science and international studies at De La Salle University in Manila. Instead, the powers that be welcomed the Markos with open arms, says Tihanki. “The elites of society, these circles, greeted them and treated them like celebrities.”
The family began to regain its position in politics and strengthen alliances. In 2016, Marcos Sr. was buried as a hero, with military honors, on the recommendation of President Rodrigo Duterte. The survivors of Marcos were alarmed and warned about the whitewashing of history. Duterte’s daughter Sara is second on Marcos Jr’s ticket.
misinformation and lies
Analysts say the Philippine education system has failed to properly resolve the debate about the reality of the Marcos government. This caused a gap in knowledge, especially among the younger generation, which was used in the campaign of Marcos Jr.
Social media accounts linked to or supporting the Marcoses downplay the dictatorship and attempt to justify or even disprove past abuses through disinformation. They present the Marcos years as a golden age, a time of prosperous economy, advanced infrastructure, peace and order. Human rights violations and kleptocracy are left out.
Celica Inductivo, 35, lives across from Loyola. He stands in front of a boiling cauldron, preparing food for his family. As the volunteers walk by, he says he will vote for Marcos Jr.
During martial law, there was nothing to be afraid of if you were a decent citizen. This was told to him by his mother, who volunteered for Marcos Sr.’s campaign. The inductive does not see his son as corrupt and admires him for being above such comments. “Despite so much criticism of the BBM, as [la que le acusa de] thief, he doesn’t return them,” he says, using the now popular acronym Bongbong Marcos.
They criticized him for not attending the presidential debates and dodging difficult press questions, such as tax evasion, which local sources say could amount to 3.7 billion euros.
Under the slogan “Together we will be reborn”, Marcos Jr. focused on the campaign’s simple message of unity and the rebirth of former greatness. “This is one of the biggest ironies of this year’s election. The political brand that has divided and polarized the most in the country’s history has appropriated a message of unity and hope,” says Tihanki.
Maybe this message is easier to sell. “Nostalgia for authoritarianism is very simplistic. If you’re frustrated and desperate enough, it’s easier to believe than Robredo’s campaign speech, which calls on Filipinos to stand up to the country’s problems and help find solutions,” adds Jean Encinas Franco, associate professor of science policy at the University of the Philippines. .
“We have something to lose”
A poll published by Pulse Asia shows that 56% will elect Marcos Jr. as president, and he remains the most popular candidate across all age groups. However, Franco believes that Robredo’s campaign and the huge army of supporters he has attracted will have a lasting impact on politics in the Philippines, regardless of the outcome of the election.
Not only Robredo’s passionate volunteers stand out, but also the impressive turnout at his rallies. The atmosphere of these meetings is festive, youthful and hopeful, Franco adds. “I have never seen such rallies or such support for any politician since I started voting,” he says. “Now there is a critical mass. Whoever is the president will have to deal with this part of the actively involved Filipinos.”
For Ramirez, who has run two door-to-door campaigns and attended three rallies, every possible vote counts. Elections can move the Philippines forward or “set us back even further and plunge the country into a state of hopelessness and rampant corruption.”
Whatever happens, she guarantees that she will never again remain silent on political issues. “This time we have something to lose…”
Translated by Maria Torrens Tillach
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