70,000 incarcerations, 34,000 undocumented tortures, 3,275 extrajudicial killings and 77 disappearances of political dissidents. This is the legacy of the Marcos regime that ruled over the Philippines with the iron shackles of martial law and unprecedented executive power. Despite his 14-year reign being marked by corruption, the marginalization of civil liberties and economic stagnation, this dictator’s son — Bongbong Marcos Jr. — is projected to capture the Philippine Presidency in the 2022 election cycle..
The implications of this victory will not only mark an overall trend of rising authoritarianism across the world, but serve to erase the injustices under the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. regime, and challenge the geopolitical interests of the United States. Despite the Philippines being an ocean away, Southeast Asia will be a hotspot of particularly important geopolitical tensions due to the turning tide towards China. The Philippines has historically been an important ally in the region, and the election of Marcos Jr. will serve to challenge this precedence.
The 1965 election of Marcos Sr. was supposed to usher in a beginning of political progress in the Philippines. In a country notorious for familial dynasties in politics, Marcos Sr. was a relative outsider expected to bring a fresh perspective to the Presidency. He was a decorated military veteran, having claimed heroism in the brutal occupation of the Philippines by Japan in WWII. His glamorous wife, Imelda Marcos, helped catapult the couple to the Malacanang Palace due to her charisma and former-beauty queen status.
However, his status of folk hero quickly disintegrated as he created an empire of corruption. The friends and family of the Marcoses were appointed to every relevant political and economic post, creating an oligarchy that would hinder the previous economic growth of the developing country. Marcos Sr. and his cronies systematically plundered the wealth of the country, amassing a $10 billion fortune stolen from the Filipino people. The family’s opulent tastes were often a point of contention while “70 percent of the Philippines’ 52 million people live in poverty with the average worker earning less than $50 a month.”
Furthermore, martial law was declared in 1972 under the guise of combating an ongoing communist threat from the countryside, yet these powers were instead utilized to crush any political dissent. Marcos Sr.’s grip on the military forces precipitated an environment of terror, with political figures enduring torture described as a fate “worse than death.”
Often political prisoners were student protestors, journalists and any political opponents. In one particular case, Marcos Sr.’s primary adversary, Ninoy Aquino, was imprisoned while battling lung cancer and was only released to seek medical treatment under extreme public pressure.
The conditions persisted to the point of becoming intolerable, and Marcos Sr. was removed from power in a surprisingly bloodless fashion given the brutality of his regime. The regime called for a snap election in 1986 as a misguided effort to consolidate his power. In response, the Filipino people came out in droves to vote for his challenger, Cory Aquino, the widow of Ninoy.
After Ninoy was assassinated at point blank range, many theorized that he was killed in a plot by the Marcoses due to his popularity. Challenging years of voter fraud, civilian volunteers were mobilized by the thousands to observe polling stations and ensure the sanctity of the electoral process.
The victory of Cory Aquino ushered in a new era of reforms — including election reform, a curbing of executive power, term limits and an attempted Constitutional amendment that would prevent familial dynasties from continuing to dominate politics. Despite these attempts at progress, the amendment was altered before ultimately being discarded, and Marcos Jr. returned to the Philippines in 1991, capturing a seat in the House of Representatives.
The Marcoses have continued to be active in politics since, with Marcos Jr. serving in the House of Representatives, as governor of Illocos Norte, in the Senate, and launching a failed bid for the Vice Presidency in 2016. Unsurprisingly, his political career has been marred by scandal and corruption — including a scheme where he funneled money through four fake Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
Regardless of his father’s wrongs and Marcos Jr.’s own shortcomings as a politician, political memory in the Philippines is incredibly brief, with many seemingly forgetting the reign of terror. The Marcos Jr. campaign has been working in overdrive to whitewash the history of his father’s dictatorship, arguing that Marcos Sr.'s attempts at a “New Society” ushered in a golden age for the Philippines. This coordinated social media misinformation campaign has overtaken Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and various other popular platforms.
Beyond being a slap in the face to those who faced untold terror under martial law, the election of Marcos Jr. will serve to complicate geopolitical interests in the region. Due to its location, economy and history of military collaboration with the United States, the Philippines has historically served as a strategic ally. Yet, under the 2016-2022 Duterte administration, the country has taken a marked shift towards Beijing.
Out of the robust field of candidates, Marcos Jr. is the only one to propose a decided preference for China over the United States in his foreign policy plank. One particularly worrying position is that “he would set aside the landmark 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruling on the South China Sea in favor of the Philippines over China, which effectively ruled Beijing’s nine-dash line claim to the sea had no legal basis under the UNCLOS.” This move allows China to legitimize their territorial claims and to expand their naval network.
Marcos Jr.’s stance on the Philippine and South China Sea not only threatens bilateral exercises between the Philippine and American Navies, but also potentially blocks the United States out of a region that is key to its maritime supremacy. As the tectonic plates of the world order continue to shift and challenge America’s positioning as the hegemon, the Philippines will indisputably become a hotspot of geopolitical tensions.
In 1979, “the first family once even flirted with the idea of declaring a constitutional monarchy,” indicative of their aspirations for power rather than the needs of the Filipino people. The election of Marcos Jr. would undoubtedly continue his father’s legacy — but as a corrupt prince rather than the national hero he self-stylizes himself as. The 2022 election will determine the status of civil liberties for 110 million people and will potentially determine the course of geopolitics in one of the most rapidly developing regions globally. The world ought to be watching.
Bea Millan-Windorski is a sophomore studying History, International Studies, and Filipino (Tagalog) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Do you agree the Marcos family regime threatens United States relations with the Philippines? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.