by Edwin Quinabo
Based on voter turnout alone, the Philippines is showing the world that its democracy – while at times chaotic — is vibrant and far more engaging than most democratic countries that post lackluster voter turnout numbers.
An estimated 67.5 million eligible voters flocked to voting precincts in the recently concluded national election and Comelec officials say the Philippines is poised to break the 2016 voter turnout record of 81% with well over 90% of the votes already processed. The highest voter turnout in the world is at 87.2% in Belgium, followed by Sweden’s 82.6% and South Korea’s 77.9%. The Philippines could very well end up having the second highest voting turnout that is estimated to hit the 82+% mark. (Comparatively, the U.S. had its highest recorded voting in 2020 at 62%.)
Comelec spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco said that despite the pandemic restrictions voters came out in large numbers. “Back in 2016, we had no restrictions. Now we are in a pandemic and still the Filipino people got out of their homes and voted.”
Marcos Jr Wins Big
From the most recent Comelec reporting released on May 13 with 98.35% of votes counted, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. (BBM) received 31,104,175 (58.74%) votes, followed by vice president Leni Robredo 14,822,051 (27.99%) and senator Manny Pacquiao 3,629,805 (6.85%). Rounding up the top five are Manila City mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso and senator Ping Lacson.
With nearly double the votes, Marcos is the unofficial presumptive winner and will become the Philippines 17th President.
“Marcos is the first presidential candidate with a clear majority since 1965, the year when his father won the presidency. He will be able to take office in June because there exists no viable threat to his presidency,” says Patricio N. Abinales, professor, Department of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.
The passion that Filipinos displayed, and fight to have a stake in their future all election season was nothing short of luminous. But ultimately that shine has eclipsed for the Robredo camp on election day and the political tug-of-war is bound to ease up, but not fully abandoned. Marcos may have won, but the opposition led by Robredo will continue to be a vigilant force and be influential, her supporters say.
The opposition, fight on
Robredo said she will be launching an NGO on July 1 after her vice presidency ends called “Angat Buhay NGO” – derived from the Office of the Vice President’s Angat Buhay program. She aims for it to be the “largest volunteer network” in the country to focus on a Cabinet-like organization advocating for areas like development, food security and nutrition, universal health care, public education, rural development, housing and resettlement, and women empowerment.
In Hawaii her supporters formed a new organization Hawaii Filipino Coalition for Truth and Democracy (HFCTD) that organizers say they plan to align with similar groups being formed in other cities, said HFCTD’s Rose Cruz Churma.
Florangel Rosario Braid, columnist, Manila Bulletin, framer, 1987 Constitution said “the Pink Movement will be given more impetus. There is a growing realization that we should harness the creative energy in serious planning.”
A Marcos mandate?
As for Marcos Jr. winning a mandate – this is clear when weighed against any election standards (even more impressive to receive close to 60% in a multi-candidates ballot race as Marcos did). But as a Robredo supporter Joel Tomas of Pasig City points out, 31 million of the votes Marcos received is still representative of less than one-third of the country’s 110 million population. He, like millions of others, still have doubts that the will of the people was truly reflected in this election’s result. So Marcos has a lot of confidence-building to do, according to Marcos critics.
Audie Alegre, NCR, 66, Domagoso supporter, echoes the same sentiment. “Technically, the majority of voters will have prevailed, but they cannot claim the result is the will of the real majority of Pinoys [those who did not vote and those who voted for other candidates combined].”
Braid said, “not all Filipinos will accept Marcos as winner but eventually, they would as VP Leni had asked supporters to respect the democratic process. While many are dismayed and disheartened, they are however doing a lot of serious reflection.”
Given who Marcos is and his family’s sketchy past, he has perhaps twice the work ahead to win over a skeptical, angry, even afraid opposition, political observers believe. This could be a motivating factor toward grander achievements, on the positive side. If he is in fact serious about winning his critics approval and having a more unified country, as he has repeated as mantra during his campaign.
Marcos himself has asked the world to judge him by his actions, not by his family’s past according to Victor Rodriguez, chief of staff and spokesperson for Marcos Jr. “To the world, he says: Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions.”
Choosing a cabinet, focus on the economy, infrastructure
What’s next? Is the most anticipated question in any race. Political experts believe the next most telling direction that could reveal a preview of what’s to come in the next six years of a BBM presidency is the cabinet he chooses, the department posts he fills and who he selects as his closest advisors.
During a post-election media briefing, Marcos Jr. said his intention is “to hit the ground running,” and choosing a team to manage the economy would be among the crucial first steps.
“As you can imagine, the economic managers are going to be critical for the next several years because of the pandemic and economic crisis, something that we are looking at very carefully,” Marcos said.
Abinales says Marcos could land success in leading the Philippines economy if he is able to form an economic team similar to that of former Presidents Duterte, Aquino III, and Gloria Arroyo. He says, “The markets were shaky after Marcos Jr. became the clear winner. The primary reason for this is because of the family’s notorious record of corruption. So the only way a Marcos Jr. administration can assure investors that it does not plan to plunder the state revenues is to form an economic team consisting of technocrats and corporate types with good reputation.”
There is encouraging news for Marcos, Jr. on the economy heading into his inauguration. The Philippine Statistics Authority reports that the Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP) posted an 8.3 percent growth in the first quarter of 2022. Compare that to the first three months of 2021 when the economy contracted 3.8%. According to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua, the country’s growth rate for 2022Q1 is the fastest in East Asia.
Economic growth in the Philippines slowed from 2017 through 2018, reached a high in 2019, turned negative in the pandemic year 2020, and started to rebound by mid-2021 as pandemic regulations begun to be lifted.
Key to economic growth and something Marcos Jr has articulated as one of his priorities is improving the nation’s infrastructure. Churma of HFCTD anticipates the “build, build, build” campaign will continue. “If Mr. Marcos is smart, he will support infrastructure projects that truly help the country–the templates to do so are already existing. However, if he does not show accountability and continues to work on his disinformation campaign as opposed to building trust between the people and the government, investors will pull out and put their money elsewhere. Those privileged will find ways to survive, but the poor will suffer,” said Churma.
Braid says it’s not just about picking the right economic advisers. “BBM must put together a cabinet that is credible to all sectors. Because his purpose is to unify, he must search for candidates who are independent – come from academe, business and NGOs that are acceptable to a majority.
She adds, “For the BBM administration to be respected and accepted by the Filipino people and the global community, he must at the beginning establish a government that is open, participative, tolerant, and inclusive.
Major Boost from Sarah Duterte, next vice president
Davao City mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, the daughter of populist outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte, provided a major lift to the Marcos campaign, most Philippine political experts believe.
Her lead in the vice presidential race is even more commanding than Marcos’. Duterte-Carpio obtained 31.55 million votes (61.29%) while Robredo’s running-mate senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan placed second with 9.230 million votes (17.19%).
Senators, Magic 12
Potentially more disconcerting to Marcos critics is in addition to having a vice president ally, the Marcos-Duterte alliance will get a fresh slate of pro-administration senators, most of whom are political family dynasty members or celebrities. Of the 12 senators-elect all are either supporters of the Marcos-Duterte duo or are independent. Only one senator-elect Risa Hontiveros comes from an opposition party. These pro-administration senators will join an already heavily pro-administration Senate whose members were elected in the 2019 midterms.
This one-sided concentration of power could potentially green light whatever Marcos Jr wants in the way of policy, perhaps not immediately, but as his confidence solidifies each year while he is in office, political experts speculate.
Making the magic 12 to be installed as new senators are Robin Padilla 26,454,56247, Loren Legarda 23,992,76143, Idol Raffy Tulfo 23,166,44941, Win Gatchalian 20,376,00936, Chiz Escudero 20,050,37736, Mark Villar 19,210,28034, Alan Peter Cayetano 19,079,58134, Migz Zubiri 18,582,96233, Joel Tesdaman Villanueva 18,300,95533, JV Estrada Ejercito 15,688,99328, Risa Hontiveros 15,273,59427, and Jinggoy Estrada 14,966,88727.
Integrity of elections, not entirely fair and not clean
The conventional wisdom is that Marcos Jr won the 2022 elections simply because of his enormous lead (practically impossible to rig by such a wide margin) and that the outcome was similar to the lead he possessed in pre-election surveys conducted by reputable pollsters.
But the election was hardly clean, according to Marcos critics. In addition to typical complaints as expressed in previous Philippine elections like vote buying, lost ballots, voter fraud, long lines, most of the 2022 election gripes had to do with technology, namely the Vote Counting Machine or VCM used in automated elections breaking down, the speed of vote counting, and the pre-election disinformation campaign on social media.
Some say the results were coming in too quickly, even before some voting precincts were closed. Tomas explains, “Some voting precincts hours had to be extended due to the replacement of VCMs that encountered breakdowns. Considering the slow internet situation in the Philippines, the partial and unofficial result of the election was shown on TV even while some voting precincts have not closed.
“Imagine how fast the result came, within two hours from the official closing time of election. The partial/unofficial result was already 63.77%. Very fast.. Doubt? Yes,” Tomas said.
Voter Grace (name withheld), NCR, 26, believes the voting process was fair but not clean. “The counts are verified and accurate through the manual count of the PPCRV. While on the one hand, questionable malfunction of numerous VCMs, the surge of disinformation on Facebook and TikTok, and alleged cases of electoral fraud are some of the considerations on why the election is not entirely fair for me.”
Braent (name withheld), Pateros, 22, said “It intrigues me how quickly they were able to process 50%-70% of the electoral transmission that fast when tons of unconfirmed reports on social media suggest that there are mishaps in the election process on numerous voting sites.”
Churma said the Marcos campaign for disinformation has been strategically orchestrated even before Marcos Jr. lost the Vice Presidency in 2016. “According to credible reports from Rappler, the myth on the Tallano Gold for example, associated with the Marcos family existed on Facebook as early as 2011. Apparently the Marcoses and their supporters have spread the myths to justify the wealth of the family—to discredit the fact their wealth was due to massive corruption at an unprecedented scale.”
She alleges that millions, perhaps billions, were poured into a network of communication strategists that used social media to distort reality and fool Filipinos. “A full-time job managing a couple of fake accounts and reposting regurgitated lies will let you earn P2.5 million in a year. Video creators, graphic artists, and celebrities earn more,” Churma said.
Rappler founder and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa said, “You cannot have integrity of elections if you don’t have integrity of facts.” She says “And what social media has done is not only make facts debatable, but to actually spread lies faster than facts. Of all the contested facts about the Marcoses, perhaps the most astonishing is that some now doubt whether they stole money at all.”
Rain (name withheld), Pasig, 24, agrees, saying even if the election was a manifestation of the will of the people, “I do not believe it was an informed decision due to the rampant dissemination of misinformation and disinformation.”
Baby Neis, Makati City, 67, said there were reports that the results were rigged. “Some of my friends in Bulacan observed this.”
Pio (name withheld), Cainta, 23, believes Marcos shouldn’t have been allowed to run in the first place. “It was never a fair electoral process in the first place, regardless of whether the May 9 polls were rigged. This election was dubious the moment the COMELEC decided to allow a family with a history of human rights abuses and corruption to run for some of the country’s highest positions.”
Belinda A. Aquino, professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and founding and first Director of the Center for Philippine Studies, said the Leni-Kino campaign ran a very vigorous and decent campaign, “not the mudslinging type and disinformation that the Marcos-Duterte tandem employed, which had both the tactics, resources and techniques that they used to manipulate and cheat in an effort to win the elections.”
Battling institutional machinery
Abinales said “Robredo was fighting a powerful machine composed of the Marcos family ($10 billion or thereabouts), the Duterte family, the top political dynasties (from the Chavit Singson family in Ilocos to the Muslim clans), and Chinese tacit support. It’s an impossible feat.”
Besides that, he places some blame of the success of online disinformation on the educational institution in that “scholars failed to write a history of the modern Philippines that includes a substantive section on martial law. So there is no textbook like that to teach young Filipinos.”
US-Philippines relations going forward
What could be interpreted as a reset in relations between the US and the Philippines after a tumultuous period under President Duterte, specifically during the Barack Obama administration, Churma notes that Marcos Jr. did invite President Joe Biden to his inauguration. “This is probably part of a diplomatic move to mend ties,” she said. Biden, in turn, did call Marcos Jr to congratulate him on his victory.
During Duterte’s administration, there also has been a shift to cozying up to China while icing the long tradition that the Philippines enjoyed with the US. Abinales said “as long as the Marcos administration does not interfere on the military’s long-term relationship with the US military like what Duterte did during his term, then Marcos. Jr., can kiss the hand of [President of China] Xi Jinpeng as many times as he wants.”
China congratulated the “leading candidates” and the Philippines for the smooth conduct of the elections. In a statement Beijing said it looks forward to committed “neighborliness and friendship,” even as the two countries have been embroiled in territorial disputes in the South China sea and West Philippine Sea.
Where many Filipinos have serious concerns is the continuation of human rights violations and harassment and intimidation of the Philippine press.
The US State Department did emphasize that US-Philippines relationship should be grounded on respect for human rights and the rule of law. “We look forward to renewing our special partnership and to working with the next administration on key human rights and regional priorities,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Marcos critics point to his inability to recognize his father’s human rights abuses as a foreshadowing of neglect in this area and possibly a willingness to use it as a tool politically as how his father did.
“As someone who attended ZERO debates, it is obvious Marcos fears the press asking him accountability questions. During martial law, the government controlled every message that went out. Should he resort to a gag order to avoid questions that exposes the truth, this will kill democracy and send a chilling effect to the community,” Churma said.
Array of other challenges
Marcos Jr faces other major challenges that critics say were dodged entirely or superficially addressed during his campaign, including the Php12 Trillion debt, specifics on corruption and drugs, jumpstarting agriculture, power sources, housing, health, food security, government transparency, the pandemic, unemployment, disinformation, revisionist history, government accountability, the Philippine Commission for Good Government (PCGG) which are constitutionally-mandated bodies, social programs, government response to nepotism and graft, the ongoing Muslim separatist crisis.
Marcos critics express amazement that with so many issues glossed over and ignored by the presumptive president that he still managed to win so decisively.
Avoiding issues, avoiding the media and controlling pressers, did Marcos Jr just lay out a roadmap for other politicians with name recognition and dynastic family connections to win in future elections?
Tomas said, “Marcos Jr did not even mention his platform or vision or courses of action during the campaign period. His only narrative is unity which is basically a motherhood statement. We Filipinos will be at lost and will keep on guessing what will happen every day. This is a democratic country, the majority wins, but it’s not necessarily true that this majority is correct. It is only a number. We have to live with it [Marcos victory] for the next six years. Still being good Filipino citizens with right values and principles, we shall respect the majority decision.”
by Edwin Quinabo