After a campaign hampered by widespread social media distortion, the son of the late dictator receives more than twice as many votes as his nearest challenger.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the late dictator’s son and namesake, has won a landslide presidential election victory, signaling a remarkable turnaround for one of the country’s most notorious political dynasties.
Marcos Jr received around 30 million votes after more than 90% of an initial count was completed, more than double his closest challenger, current Vice President Leni Robredo, a former human rights lawyer.
On Monday night, supporters wearing in red shirts, his campaign color, gathered outside his Mandaluyong City headquarters, waving the Philippine flag as passing automobiles blew their horns.
In a late-night video address, Marcos praised volunteers and political leaders “who have cast their lot with us,” but he stopped short of declaring victory. “Let’s wait till it’s crystal clear, until the count reaches 100 percent,” he urged, before celebrating.
“I hope you won’t get tired of trusting us,” Marcos also told supporters in remarks streamed on Facebook, a platform at the core of his political strategy. “We have plenty of things to do,” he said, adding “an endeavour as large as this does not involve one person.”
Marcos Jr., 64, ran on the slogan “Together We Shall Rise Again,” evoking nostalgia for his father’s dictatorial government, which the family and its followers have depicted as a glorious age in a campaign fueled by online disinformation as social media has been filled with bogus stories that have washed aside the widespread horrors and corruption of the time.
Survivors of Marcos Sr’s violent reign have been outraged by such portrayals. Thousands of political opponents were tortured, jailed, and disappeared during his reign, and up to $10 billion (£8 billion) was stolen.
In 1986, during the People Power movement, Marcos Sr was deposed, and his family was humiliatingly flown from the presidential residence by helicopter and exiled.
According to observers, the Marcoses have been trying to reinvent themselves and reclaim their political position ever since. “The infrastructure of deception has existed for a long time. It’s not like it appeared out of nowhere during this campaign. “The Marcoses’ presidential campaign has been in the works for decades,” said Aries Arugay, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Manila.
In polls conducted in the run-up to the election, Marcos Jr. held a clear lead over his opponents, with Robredo coming in second. She ran on a pledge of good administration and an end to corruption, as a former human rights lawyer who has worked for marginalized communities.
People began lined up to vote before polling centers opened at 6 a.m. local time (2300 BST) on Monday morning, and some waited in the heat for more than four hours due to voting machine malfunctions. The election came after three months of bruising campaigning, during which 2 million Robredo volunteers embarked on an unprecedented door-to-door effort to sway voters and combat the flood of online misinformation.
Despite the fact that Marcos Jr has denied any organized internet effort, he has been the primary benefactor of misleading claims floating on social media. According to an investigation by the fact-checking alliance Tsek.ph, which tracked misinformation in the run-up to the election, the majority of disinformation was either aimed to harm Robredo’s reputation or to enhance the Marcoses’ image.
Marcos Jr. has avoided TV debates and difficult media interviews in the run-up to the election, and his campaign has lacked policy specifics.
Despite court judgements at home and abroad, some do not believe Marcos Jr’s campaign has polarized society, and some do not believe the family has plundering state resources.
Raquel Deguzaman, 59, said she backed Marcos Jr and did not believe the family was corrupt at a polling station set up at Santa Ana elementary school in a residential section of Manila. “[Marcos Sr] was successful in assisting the Philippines. She described him as “very nice,” noting that he had constructed infrastructure, including hospitals.
On his way to vote, Jack Drescher, 58, mentioned the construction of infrastructure under Marcos Sr as another reason for supporting his son. He stated that he was not bothered about familial corruption. “He has a lot of gold,” he explained, adding that he had learned about this on YouTube.
For years, a story has spread online stating that the Marcoses own enormous amounts of gold, with the idea that it will be delivered to the public once the family returns to power.
The idea that Marcos Sr’s reign was prosperous and peaceful appeals to a generation of voters who did not witness the martial law regime, including those who “may harbor deep dissatisfaction with the non-inclusive development of the past 30 or so years,” according to Ronald Mendoza, dean of Manila’s Ateneo school of government.
The results, according to Cleo Anne A Calimbahin, an associate professor of political science at De La Salle University Manila, should not be surprising, but they are frightening. They mirrored part of the public’s growing dissatisfaction with previous regimes.
“I think this is a response of a public that saw the lack of progress made since 1986,” said Calimbahin, referencing the People Power revolution that put the Philippines on the road to democracy, a process that has not been linear.
“Unfortunately, the reforms agenda and its inability to deliver since 1986 has made people even wary of reformist candidates,” said Calimbahin.
The eventual winner of the election will enter office on June 30 for a single six-year term.