Manila: Ferdinand Marcos jnr, the namesake son of an ousted dictator, praised his father’s legacy and glossed over its violent past as he was sworn in as president of the Philippines on Thursday, after a stunning election victory that opponents say was pulled off by whitewashing his family’s image.
His rise to power, 36 years after an army-backed “People Power” revolt booted his father from office and into global infamy, upends politics in the Asian democracy, where a public holiday, monuments and the Philippine Constitution stand as reminders of the end of Ferdinand Marcos snr’s tyrannical rule.
The new President Ferdinand Marcos jnr poses with new Vice President Sara Duterte after his swearing-in ceremony.Credit:Getty
But in his inaugural speech, Marcos jnr defended the legacy of his late father, who he said accomplished many things that had not been done since the country’s independence.
“He got it done, sometimes with the needed support, sometimes without. So will it be with his son,” he said to applause from his supporters in the crowd. “You will get no excuses from me.”
“My father built more and better roads, produced more rice than all administrations before his,” Marcos jnr said. He praised the infrastructure projects by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who ended his six-year term also with a legacy of violence, strong-man rule and contempt for those who stood in his path.
The new president called for unity, saying “we will go further together than against each other”. He did not touch on the human rights atrocities and plunder his father was accused of, saying he would not talk about the past but the future.
Activists and survivors of the martial law era under his father protested Marcos jnr’s inauguration, which took place at a noon ceremony at the steps of the National Museum in Manila. Thousands of police officers, including anti-riot contingents, SWAT commandos and snipers, were deployed in the bayside tourist district for security.
Chin’s Vice President Wang Qishan and US Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, were among the foreign dignitaries who attended the event, which featured a 21-gun salute, a military parade and air force jet flybys.
Protesters gather in Manila as the new Philippine president takes his oath.Credit:Getty
“Wow is this really happening?” asked Bonifacio Ilagan, a 70-year-old activist who was detained and severely tortured by counter-insurgency forces during the elder Marcos’s rule. “For victims of martial law like me, this is a nightmare.”
Marching in the streets, the protesters displayed placards that read, “Never again to martial law” and “Reject Marcos-Duterte”.
Such historical baggage and antagonism stand to hound Marcos jnr during his six-year presidential term which begins at a time of intense crises.
The Philippines has been among the Asian countries worst-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The country has recorded more than 60,000 COVID-19 deaths and extended lockdowns sent the economy to its worst recession since World War II, worsening poverty, unemployment and hunger. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also affected the nation. As the pandemic was easing early this year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent global inflation soaring and sparked fears of food shortages.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent global inflation soaring and also sparked fears of food shortages. Last week, Marcos jnr announced he planned to serve temporarily as secretary of agriculture to prepare for possible food supply emergencies.
He also inherits decades-old Muslim and communist insurgencies, crime, gaping inequality and political divisions inflamed by his election.
Congress last month proclaimed his landslide victory, as well as that of his running mate Sara Duterte, the daughter of the outgoing president, in the vice-presidential race.
“I ask you all pray for me, wish me well. I want to do well because when the president does well, the country does well,” he said after his congressional proclamation last month.
Of the 55 million votes cast in the May 9 election, Marcos jnr received more than 31 million and Sara Duterte received more than 32 million. The massive victories will provide them with robust political capital as they face tremendous challenges as well as doubts arising from their fathers’ reputations. It was the first majority presidential victory in the Philippines in decades.
Outgoing President Duterte presided over a brutal anti-drugs campaign that left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead in an unprecedented scale of killings. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was investigating the campaign as a possible crime against humanity. The probe was suspended in November, but the ICC chief prosecutor has asked that it be resumed immediately.
Marcos jnr and Sara Duterte have faced calls to help prosecute her father and cooperate with the international court.
Marcos jnr, a former governor, congressman and senator, has refused to acknowledge the massive human rights abuses and corruption that marked his father’s reputation.
Imelda Marcos, widow of ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos snr, appeared on stage with her son, the freshly minted President Ferdinand Marcos jnr, after his inauguration. Credit:AP
During the campaign, he and Sara Duterte avoided controversial issues and focused on a vague call for national unity.
His father was toppled by a largely peaceful pro-democracy uprising in 1986, and died in 1989 while in exile in Hawaii. He had not admitted any wrongdoing, including accusations that he, his family and cronies amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion while in office.
A Hawaii court later found him liable for human rights violations and awarded $2 billion to more than 9000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
Imelda Marcos and her children were allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991 to engineer a stunning reversal of their political fortunes, helped by a well-funded social media campaign to refurbish the family name. Imelda, the 92-year-old family matriarch, sat in at the inauguration in a traditional light-blue Filipina dress, kissed her son and posed for pictures on the stage.
Marcos jnr’s alliance with Sara Duterte, whose father remains popular despite his human rights record, helped him capture the presidency. Many Filipinos too remained poor and grew disenchanted with post-Marcos administrations, Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian said.
“These allowed the Marcoses to present themselves as the alternative,” Heydarian said. “An unregulated social media landscape allowed their disinformation network to rebrand the dark days of martial law as supposedly the golden age of the Philippines.”
Along metropolitan Manila’s main avenue, democracy shrines and monuments erected after Marcos’ 1986 downfall stand prominent. The anniversary of his ouster is celebrated each year as a special national holiday, and a presidential commission that has worked for decades to recover the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth still exists.
Marcos jnr has not explained how he will deal with such stark reminders of the past.
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