March 18, 2022, 04.32 PM - Nearly 50 years after his father and the late president declared martial law in the Philippines, Ferdinand “Bong-Bong” Marcos Jr. is leading the race to become the country’s next president in May 2022 elections.

Pulse Asia, the first major opinion survey conducted since the presidential campaign started in February, showed that Marcos Jr. has maintained a sizable lead over his nine opponents.
Opposition leader and current Vice President Leni Robredo is the closest contender at 16 percent compared to Marcos Jr’s 60 percent.

“Bong-Bong Marcos is in a position not just to win but to win bigger than any other predecessors in recent memory. There is a very high chance that he will take more than 50 percent of the votes. We’re no longer talking about a plurality president but a majority president,” Manila-based political analyst Richard Heydarian told DW.

A victory for Marcos Jr. would make for a stunning political comeback for his family, which has become synonymous with the massive accumulation of ill-gotten wealth and human rights violations. His late father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., was toppled in a 1986 uprising after holding power with an iron fist for two decades.

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“I really have a hard time seeing how this presidential race can be more competitive,” said Heydarian.

Marcos Jr’s vice-presidential running mate is Sara Duterte, daughter of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte has yet to endorse the candidacy of Marcos Jr. and his daughter.

A historical election for the Philippines?

According to Heydarian, the Philippine electorate is no longer vested in the democratic political promises brought on by the 1986 revolution.

“We’re looking at a counterrevolution. People are saying, ‘let’s just go back to the original when it comes to strongmen.”’

There is also concern that a Marcos victory would signal the end of the Philippines’ liberal democracy.

“This is the battle of the heart and soul of the country,” Nicole Curato, a sociologist and political analyst told DW.

“I don’t mean to suggest that Marcos Jr. will impose martial law like his father did, but he will have the executive power to undermine institutions that were created in response to his father’s abuse of power,” she added.

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Curato has been interviewing supporters of Marcos Jr and believes many voters have responded to his populist calls for national unity, which have resonated among Filipinos continuing to suffer from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Unity is an appealing message because it is not antagonistic. Many view the opposition’s calls for [government] accountability as political bickering that does little to uplift the lives of many Filipinos,” Curato said.

“His message is simple: Division is what stands in the way for us to achieve our dreams. His message does not discuss the root of the problems which cause hurt and anger. It is, in many ways, a toxic form of positivity,” she added.

Who is supporting Marcos Jr?

A breakdown by age demographic of Pulse Asia's February results shows that 63 percent of millennials, or those roughly between the ages of 25-34, want Marcos Jr. to be the next president.

Majie Cabatian, a 26-year-old homemaker with two children, supports Marcos Jr.

Cabatian is too young to remember the atrocities of the Marcos dictatorship but insists that the infrastructure and highways around the country that still bear his name are testament to a legacy of progress.

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“That’s proof of all the good things he did for the country. We’re still benefiting from all that. What have the other presidents done?” she told DW.

She added that the roads she attributes to the Marcos era have given her husband a job. “My husband is a truck driver. More roads mean more jobs for him. Bong-Bong will be good for the country, just as his father was,” she said.

Photographer Niccolo Cosme, on the other hand, is determined to do everything he can to prevent Marcos Jr. from coming into power.

Cosme is pouring his time and talent into being a volunteer for the Robredo campaign. “I have done photoshoots and social media campaigns for Robredo 2022 and I do not expect to be paid a single cent for it,” he said.

Cosme told DW that his zeal comes from a place of deep regret. “I voted for Duterte in the last election. I campaigned for him and convinced friends to vote for him. I was blinded by his promise of change,” he said.

He said his initial enthusiasm turned into horrified disillusionment at the changes Duterte brought to the Philippines after six years in office.

“All those people killed in the drug war. How he surrendered the West Philippine Sea to China. It’s just too much. I feel responsible for that because I voted for him. This is the time for me to correct my past mistakes.”

With barely two months until the elections, Cosme still holds out hope that Robredo will take the lead from Marcos, Jr. “She has to win. She simply has to,” he said.

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