Published on

Marcos Jr. takes top office

     BBM Front
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., 17th president of the Philippines

Editor’s note: The Philippines has a new chief executive with a familiar old name. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took his oath of office as the 17th president of the Philippines on June 30, 2022. Jon Malek looks into the Marcos legacy and its impact on the nation’s political dynasties in this first part of his two-part series.

by Jon G. Malek

The results of the 2022 Philippine elections surprised many observers. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos had a strong chance of winning, according to several polls, but nobody predicted the size of the margin he gained over his main rival, Leni Robredo. The election of Bongbong, also known as BBM, and Sarah Duterte continue the Philippine’s legacy of political dynasties. In my first of a two-part series on the Marcos political legacy, I discuss international reaction to the election and how the EDSA People Power Revolution provides a useful context.

     1 civilians block PEOPLE POWER EDSA
Civilians block a tank at the intersection of Quezon Avenue, Timog Avenue, and West Avenue in Quezon City. Photo by Linglong Ortiz. Published in People Power: An eyewitness history (1986)
  2 Aquinos campaigning
Corazon Aquino campaigning with son Noynoy, 1986. Photo: Wikipedia
  3 Marcos Duterte Carpio caravan in Quezon City
Bongbong Marcos and his running mate Sara Duterte during a grand caravan in Quezon City in December 2021. Photo: Wikipedia
  4 FM and family copy 1969 inaugural
Ferdinand Marcos and his family including Bongbong Jr (right) at his second inauguration as Philippine president, 1969. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  BBM and SR
Bongbong and his father Ferdinand Marcos, Photo from Malacañang Museum Library

Without a doubt, it was a rousing election. Filipinos have a long history of being politically minded, involved, as well as divided. Philippine political history dates back well before the presence of the Spanish, during which times a multiplicity of small communities led by datu composed the political landscape. After centuries of Spanish colonization, which saw the denial of political involvement, educated Filipinos in the late 19th century began demanding, and receiving, increased opportunities for participation, ultimately culminating in the declaration of the first Philippine Republic in 1898, a date which Filipinos across the world just recently celebrated. This was the first real political revolution in Asia against colonial powers, and it would continue against American occupiers. The Philippines once again became a source of inspiration for political revolution with the People Power Revolution of 1986 (also known shorthand as EDSA), which ended in the departure of the president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., from the country.

Much of the attention from international news agencies has focused on why the elections garnered so much attention as they did. While I cannot touch on all issues, there are a few about which I’d like to speak as a historian. International news agencies and observers are struck by a single fact: the son of a dictator, deposed by a people’s power movement, has been elected by an undeniably large mandate. In Canada, an infraction such leaving classified documents in one’s car is enough to ruin one’s political career (in reference to the then-Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier who quit his cabinet post in 2008). The Philippines, however, has a different political culture, informed by a history quite different to that of Canada.

It is, nevertheless, a question that millions of Filipinos around the world are asking: how could the son of a dictator be elected by such a wide margin, especially on such a vague (many would argue non-existent) political platform? One might also ask what happened to the memory of EDSA, to that period of struggle that galvanized the Filipino people and reinvigorated its democracy? Was the election of BBM a result of the Philippine population forgetting the legacies of Marcos, or at least selectively forgetting? There is no doubt a degree of forgetting and re-casting the memory of Martial Law by some. But it is more nuanced than just that. BBM’s campaign did involve a significant degree of historical revisionism, and the need for large-scale disinformation campaigns are proof of this. However, there is an underlying reason that has become apparent: the ultimate failure of the EDSA.

One of the main reasons that the EDSA revolution was revolutionary was its bloodless toppling of the Marcos dictatorship. In the sense that EDSA ended the reign of Marcos and dislodged his supporters from power, the people power movement was successful. Philippine political leaders hailed it as a revolution, as did many who flooded the streets and congregated in Camps Aguinaldo and Crame in February 1986. However, a political revolution is something that completely topples a power system. The French Revolution overthrew the French monarchy; the American Revolution shook off the colonial administrative shackles of the British Empire; the Haitian Revolution wrenched the lands of Haiti from the French and put in the hands of former slaves. Many theorists and historians of colonialism and anti-colonial revolutions such as Frantz Fanon argue that a revolution cannot be successful unless the entire colonial framework – political, economic, and social – are not only deconstructed but destroyed. In this sense, EDSA failed.

EDSA succeeded in dislodging Marcos and his cronies from power, but instead of following through on the revolution, power was immediately returned to the very elite that had held it since the time of the Spanish. Today, many scholars (both pro- and anti-Marcos) argue that this was a failure of the movement, and that instead of a revolution, it was a restoration. As stated by Caroline Hau, EDSA “usher[ed] in yet another variant of the elite democracy dominated by dynastic political clans at the local, provincial, and national levels.” ( EDSA thus saw the restoration of the former political and wealthy elite – to which, for example, the Aquino and Arroyo family belong. But, in this way, Bongbong Marcos is a product of the failed EDSA revolution, as he is the latest in the history of political dynasties claiming Malacañang’s halls.

Bongbong rose to power almost in part by the memory of his father, reminiscent of “Noynoy” Aquino’s campaign, which also invoked the memory of his parents, Benigno and Cory – one a martyr and the other a hero of post-EDSA Philippine democracy – but both are also examples of the political aristocracy coming back to power. BBM’s invocation of his father’s memory appealed to those who wish for a Philippines free of its entrenched political elite, a promise that Marcos, Sr., actually acted upon. As Luis H. Francia wrote in A History of the Philippines, though, “While the regime [of Marcos] had to a large degree broken up the old oligarchy and disbanded their private militias, it simply replaced the former with one of its own making, with its members forming their own private militias.” EDSA, in failing to fulfill its revolutionary potential, replaced that old, displaced oligarchy. The irony and contradiction of BBM’s invocation is that, as a post-EDSA product, he, along with his other family members in political office, are a part of that oligarchic elite.

Next issue, we will explore some of the mythos surrounding Marcos, Sr., which BBM’s camp have drawn upon, and what his election shows about contemporary Philippine society.

Jon Malek received his PhD from Western University and currently teaches history at the University of Manitoba. He is working on a book manuscript on the history of the Winnipeg Filipino community.