The son of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos closed his presidential election campaign on Saturday with a rowdy rally of hundreds of thousands of supporters, as polls show he is on track for a landslide victory.
Monday’s election victory would end a decades-long effort to rehabilitate Marcos’ legacy after the patriarch was deposed and the disgraced clan driven into American exile. But the prospect of Ferdinand Marcos Jr returning to the presidential palace has alarmed human rights activists, church leaders and political analysts who fear he could rule “without coercion.”
The Marcoses’ remarkable return of pariahs to the pinnacle of political power was fueled by public anger at corruption and poverty that persisted under governments that followed the dictatorship. Hundreds of thousands of red-clad Marcos supporters gathered on a dusty wasteland overlooked by a gleaming luxury casino resort on Saturday — a stark reminder of the country’s vast income gap.
They waved national flags and gathered in front of a stage with a huge screen of the laughing candidate as Filipino reggae, hip-hop and pop played to a deafening level. “We will win as long as you stay awake on Monday so that there will be no new tragedy,” Marcos told the crowd, referring to his claims that he was denied victory in the 2016 vice presidential race.
Mary Ann Oladive, a 37-year-old call center worker, said she hoped Marcos Jr would bring unity to the country. “We hope for more opportunities and jobs. We trust him, we hope they will give us a better future in the Philippines after the elections,” she said.
Ten candidates are vying to replace President Rodrigo Duterte in the landmark election that many see as a make-or-break moment for Philippine democracy. Polls show Marcos Jr. will win more than half of the vote, making him the first presidential candidate to gain an absolute majority since his father was impeached in 1986.
Analysts warn that such a result would lead to weaker democratic checks and balances, more corruption and another attempt to revise the 1987 constitution, including removing the one-term limit for presidents. Previous administrations, including Duterte’s, have tried to change the constitution, but have not had enough support in Congress to make changes. The latest Pulse Asia Research poll showed Marcos Jr 56 percent – 33 percentage points ahead of his closest rival Leni Robredo, who narrowly beat him in the 2016 vice presidential race.
Such a winning margin would give Marcos Jr the power to “govern as Duterte wanted,” a longtime observer of Philippine politics told AFP. “That’s without limitation,” he said.
Robredo’s recent poll has sparked hopes among progressive supporters that their volunteer-driven campaign could deliver another shock. There was a carnival atmosphere in the capital’s financial district on Saturday as hundreds of thousands of Robredo fans, dressed in her campaign pink suit and waving flags and balloons, packed the avenues and danced to live Pinoy pop blaring from loudspeakers.
In a rousing speech, Robredo told her supporters there was “always hope” and stated that “victory awaits us”. Charmaigne Ang, 18, the first voter, said the election was “very important”. “Our next six years of life will depend on it,” Ang, 18, told AFP. “Surveys are not a basis of who will win.”
But pollster Ana Maria Tabunda of Pulse Asia Research gave Robredo little hope. “Our margin of error is only plus or minus two percentage points – given the large gap, it will not affect the results,” Tabunda told AFP.
Dirty trick allegations marred the last week of a bitter presidential campaign as Marcos Jr. warned against electoral fraud, while Robredo accused him of being a “liar”. Marcos Jr has run a tightly controlled campaign, skipping televised debates with rivals and largely shunning media interviews to avoid owning goals before Election Day.
A massive and well-funded social media disinformation campaign targeting a predominantly young electorate with no memory of his father’s violent and corrupt rule has also attempted to rewrite family history. Marcos Jr’s popularity has been further boosted by a formidable alliance with vice presidential frontrunner and first daughter Sara Duterte, and the support of several rival political dynasties.
Days before the election, human rights defenders and many Catholic priests made a last-ditch effort to prevent Marcos Jr.’s return to the Malacanang Palace, where he grew up. “It will be six more years of hell,” warned political satirist and activist Mae Paner, 58, who was part of a popular uprising that ended the regime of the elder Marcos and campaigns for Robredo.
Hundreds of priests supported Robredo and her running mate Francis Pangilinan, telling their flocks that the election was a “battle for the soul” of the nation. But after six years of attacking the elder Duterte, Robredo has seen her popularity rise through a relentless and vicious online smear campaign.
Political analyst Richard Heydarian said Robredo’s late decision to enter the race had cost him precious time, while “unnecessary power struggles” between rival candidates benefited Marcos Jr. “They’re giving this on a silver platter to Bongbong Marcos, the prince of Philippine politics.” he said, using the Marcos Jr. nickname.