It seems the old biblical curse is still alive and well in the liberal west: ‘… for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation…’
May 9th was Election Day in The Philippines, and Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos was elected in a tremendous landslide over his closest rival, Leni Robredo. Since then the alarmist reports out of the Western press, and echoing comments to me, now an apparent expert on Pilipinas affairs, have been distressing, and to my mind, insulting to Filipinos.
I earned my ‘reputation’, such as it is, from living in The Philippines for seven months in 2019-20 and from my ongoing connections with my extended Filipino family the last three years. I did familiarize myself with the geography and history of the place and paid attention to media reports of political matters, but this hardly makes me an expert. Still, I have views, somewhat informed.
There are at least two problems with this wringing of the hands worry over Marcos Jr.’s election to the Presidency: the assumption that Marcos will return the country to the dictatorship regime of his father; and two, the presumption that 34 million Filipino voters know not what they do.
To take the first problem first, there is no evidence that Bongbong (known as BBM in the Philippines by his millions of supporters) has the instincts of his famous parents. While educated in UK (Oxford) and USA (Wharton) he didn’t finish any of his degrees, he seems to lack the brains and perhaps the drive, he doesn’t appear to have the passion and conviction of Ferdinand Sr., nor the vicious street smarts of his avaricious mother, Imelda. He has been active in politics for much of his career and much of it by default, representing the Marcos home province in Ilocos Norte. In addition, he has been hounded his whole life, together with his mother Imelda, to make reparations to victims of the Marcos Sr.’s regime. And despite this lazy and sloppy resume he is loved by Filipinos, almost certainly on the coattails of his famous father. For all of Ferdinand Sr.’s kleptocracy (and this may have had more to do with trying to please Imelda) Marcos Sr. is still much revered for the major changes and build up of infrastructure initiated by him in his 20 years of rule, now almost 40 years ago!. And like outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, the people love a strong-man, a law and order president who promise and deliver against the rampant crime and violence in everyday life.
I personally think BBM will be a weak President and he will personally make little difference. The hope is that he will surround himself with very capable people, and not be influenced by his mother who is now 93 years old. In any event, the sins of the father should not be presumed to be the behaviours of the son, nor should he be shunned for them.
The same might be said of the VP Elect, Sara Duterte, daughter of the outgoing President and current Mayor of Davao City, Philippines’ third largest. She is a political force and is said to be the force behind her father, Rodrigo, encouraging him to run for President in 2016. Rodrigo has been another strong-man President and much approved by the people. But many in the west strongly censor him for his sanctioning of extra-legal actions in getting corruption and drug trafficking under control in the country. Time will tell how Sara and Bongbong will govern in the next six years.
Their plan is, apparently, to reform Philippines on the Singapore model, and maybe with Singapore money (resisting China); Singapore has its own culture of discipline bordering on authoritarianism but is seen as a successful society today; that may be a price Filipinos are prepared to pay in a period of transition. (Though that probably needs closer examination.)
As to the second question I find it insulting that Canadian ivory tower arm-chair politicos and msm types, and a significant cadre of privileged socialists at the University of the Philippines leading the charge, question the millions of active voters who elected BBM in a landslide. Some of my readers raised this question with me this week, innocently enough I think, but the topic was also volunteered by waitresses and sales clerks when Carmen and I were out and about in the city this week on errands, evidently responding to Carmen’s nationality: what is happening in the Philippines that a dictator’s son can be elected resident? There seems to be a thinly veiled view of Philippines politics that the Philippines is a failed or failing democracy. It’s amazing to me that democracy is to be questioned when the people elect governors whose policies the critics don’t agree with. More than twice as many electors voted for Marcos as did for runner up Leni Robredo, outgoing Vice President, and Duterte rival, and acknowledged social activist. The many-times-crowned boxing champion, and Senator, Manny Pacquiao, finished a distant third, then actor Isko Moreno, Mayor of Manila, and then a number of other fringe candidates. Filipinos take their politics seriously and have strong political views, and even though many may only be voting for a celebrity name and have little knowledge of the many issues facing the Philippines, they hope for solutions to the number one issue: the economy, jobs and a better life.
You’d think as a poor and struggling country they would favour the socialist candidate Robredo, but in fact a large majority of Filipinos brand her a communist and don’t trust her. Filipinos generally shrug at government, seeing bureaucrats as mostly corrupt and self-serving and not helping the people as promised. Filipinos are also a nation of shop keepers (tindahans) and independent contractors (such as jeepney and tricycle operators), they only see government as unhelpful, tolerated but mostly to be ignored,. Filipinos have a long history of voting for social activists, mostly from amongst the elites of Manila, (Cory Aquino, Joseph Estrada (Erap – another actor), Gloria Macapangal, and Benigno Aquino III (Cory’s son) and have been disappointed by the lack of progress and corruption. This is why Duterte, outside the Manila elite from Mindanao, was a surprise winner of the Presidency in 2106 running on an anti-corruption ticket. Ferdinand Marcos (Sr.) also came from outside the Manila establishment in 1965 to change the landscape, and this is why the alliance between BBM and Sara has proven such a powerful ticket, winning the voter-rich north and south regions of the Philippines and losing marginally only in the middle Vasayas region. (See map below)
Yes, the Philippines has a long history of corruption, and is dominated by political families and celebrities, but that is the curse of almost all democracies it seems (Including Canada with its Trudeau family).
And to repeat the well-worn Churchillian quote: ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.’
Oh those stupid ignorant voters.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata, Canada. © Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing
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