Dealing with the second coming of Marcos

by Emil Guillermo

As the votes in the Philippines are being finalized, I have webstered a new word in my amok lexicon. What other word can describe last week in our ancestral country, but the verb “to Bongbong.”

Generically defined as “to win an election in a landslide,” you can use it in a sentence this way: “Democracy was bongbonged last week when a disreputable political clan remerged victoriously.”

That’s democracy in the Philippines.

And while many Ilocanos and those in Hawaii may seem happy with the bongbonging, there are more than a handful who have some concern about the future of democracy in the RP.

Especially now that outgoing President Duterte has declared he’d like to kill “3-5 drug lords” before he leaves office in June.

Empty threat? The United Nations puts the number of deaths by Duterte’s extrajudicial killings to more than 27,000. The country’s official numbers are more modest at under 7,000. Either number is hard to reconcile with the tenants of democracy.

And so it’s up to Bongbong whether to carry on the example of the strong autocrat. Or maybe bring attention to doing something more for the people, rather than kill the people.

At this point, especially with Duterte’s daughter as vice president, we might expect more of the same. And that is what people fear. Autocracy with more money. And with an expanded target base? Why stop at drug lords?

The unknowns abound when a Marcos is back in power.

As Filipino Americans, we cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Remember When Trump Got Elected
If you are among those worried, just recall the Trump election in November 2016.

Really feel what that was like. That’s when a man who never should’ve been elected president won the presidency of the United States, and then went on to become the worst president in our country’s history.

With Bongbong, we’re just talking about the Philippines. It’s not the United States. We should all be able to live with it until the Filipinos who have the best interests of the people and the country figure out how to put their egos aside and lead Asia’s oldest democracy.

But whatever happens, what’s happening in the Philippines right now is just indicative of the fate of democracies around the world.

We’re finding how democracy, the great experiment, is hard to sustain, especially when politics is driven by money in an environment where media’s truth-tellers can be bypassed by social media, easily manipulated in order to manipulate an uncritical public.

It creates a situation where it’s almost impossible for leaders to lead. All that’s left are identifiable political brands. People just follow logos and billboards and images down some blind path.

In this case, the Marcos brand has been rehabilitated enough to win a presidency. It was never close.

The pre-election polls aren’t usually wrong on a predicted landslide. Not unless people lie to survey takers. Or play some other kind of trick.

At some point, you just must take the early signs as indicative of the people truly speaking out. Yes, there were some instances of irregularities, but not enough to overcome the flood of votes that came in for Marcos, Jr.

The flood of BongbongMania was clear. And if you’re a political opponent, when the early votes are so dominantly one way, there’s nothing left to do but show your love of your country.

As election night came to a close, Dictator Junior, Bongbong Marcos, BBM, whatever you choose to call him, had such a lead that counting votes were a mere formality.

So Leni Robredo could do nothing else but show her leadership and try to accept her fate with grace and dignity.

“The voice of Filipino voters is becoming clearer and clearer,” said Vice President Robredo in an address livestreamed early on Tuesday in the Philippines on Facebook. “For the sake of the Philippines, we should listen to that voice.”

There was really nothing more to say.

When Marcos and his family fled the country in shame and exile on Feb. 25, 1986, millions of Filipinos were on the street. Democracy was direct and loud and could not be ignored.

The people knew the difference between a dictator and a president. And the president in Malacañang was exposed. Ferdinand Marcos realized he had nothing to say to People Power. All he could do was slink away. In shame.

Marcos and his family were lucky to get out alive. But now 36 years later the Marcos’ are back like a tumor. Benign? Malignant? We’ll have to see.

But amazingly, Filipinos are welcoming it. It wasn’t all at once, it was gradual, over time. And surely Rodrigo Duterte had something to do with it, greasing the process by giving Marcos the ultimate penance, a hero’s burial back in 2016.

That was it. And then it was the living’s turn to re-establish normalcy, Imelda, Bongbong, Imee, et al.

The Filipinos let them all back in.

Bongbong was not automatically embraced to get his own set of keys to Malacañang. But it says something when the best of the nation’s politicians run, including the current vice president, members of the Congress, and local leaders, and Filipinos can’t even find someone from among the untainted.

They choose overwhelmingly a name they recognized. The father screwed them over, but maybe the son will learn to be less greedy?

The people went with the devil they know because the others have not delivered enough to be the devil or angel.

Not even the boxing champ Pacquiao could convince the nation that he was the politician who knew what was best for them. And why? Maybe because boxing has a worse reputation for honesty and fairness than politics? And Pacquiao is far from the brightest bulb in a society prone to brownouts.

Would another senator or a mayor be worth a bet, the Filipino metaphor for the backing of a candidate? Or was Robredo, with her veep experience the best bet?

There’s no sexism in politics. The Philippines has tried female leadership. It knows the failure of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and even the great hope of Corazon Aquino.

Robredo was arguably better than those two, but was she up to the task? She was trustworthy and competent but did not convince the voters she could lead the Philippines in the geopolitical ways of the world in 2022 and beyond.

Russia and Putin are standing up irrationally to the West and maybe want to be more like North Korea than China. And China, baffled by the coronavirus is unsure of how to position itself, though it seems to want to bully the Philippines at will.

Voters didn’t think Robredo was the one with the sharp elbows to play the game. They may have been wrong. The people clearly felt the Philippines needed someone with just enough “bad guy” authoritarianism in his DNA, if not resume.

Bongbong is but a hood ornament. But as the second coming of Marcos, Filipinos must think he could scare the world.

Filipino scarecrow? But we don’t really know. BBM didn’t debate. He had trolls do his bidding. And his record of political accomplishments shows no real capacity to lead the Philippines out of or into anything good or bad.

He’s the dictator’s son. He’s not even Kim Jong Un. He’s got a name and a nickname. What’s he stands for besides the brand. And Filipinos went with a brand. Is that so unusual?

To her credit, Robredo is at least being mindful. The people have spoken. Nothing left but to keep working for the good of the country.

With that loyal opposition perspective, Filipinos there and their relatives around the world must shoulder on. And just like Americans found out under Trump, this moment will be over before you know it. Bumpy, yes. But it too will pass.

The big test at the beginning, is how will Marcos deal with the autocratic legacy of Duterte? But we’ll all be watching. A Marcos is back in charge.

EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator. He talks about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout” Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

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