The Philippine elections on May 9, 2022 attracted the attention of people around the world, as one candidate’s family has become an infamous household name. The Marcoses plundered an entire country and made ostentatious displays of their wealth. Former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos instituted a brutal regime by declaring martial law, which resulted in detaining, torturing, mutilating, and murdering tens of thousands of alleged political dissidents.
Meanwhile, the Marcoses lived like kings and queens. The world knows the matriarch Imelda Marcos for her 3,000 pairs of shoes, her collection of luxury items and paintings, and her habit of gatecrashing international events attended by American celebrities and the British Royal Family. She sent her children to Princeton and Oxford, but they did not finish their education despite falsely claiming to have graduated. The Guinness World Records considered their kleptocracy the largest government robbery ever, as they stole billions of dollars from the country’s central bank.
In 1986, in a move that inspired several countries under dictatorships, two million Filipinos took to the streets. Benigno Aquino, Jr., a democracy icon who became famous in the United States during his exile in Boston, had been assassinated when he returned to the Philippines. This event sparked the People Power Revolution’s cries for democratic change. Students and civilians, along with Catholic and Protestant priests, nuns, and pastors, demanded that Marcos step down from the presidency and pave the way for fair elections. Eventually, the Marcoses, with the support of then-US President Ronald Reagan, fled the country and spent their exile in Hawai’i. Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, became the president of the Philippines.
Oligarchies Flourishing at the People’s Expense
Following the death of President Marcos, Aquino pardoned Imelda Marcos and her children and permitted them to return to the country. The Marcoses slowly began to gain power and support in the Ilocos Region, the home region of Ferdinand Marcos. The Marcos administration had supported many Ilocanos and now counted them among their strongest supporters. President Corazon Aquino committed an error in her presidency by allowing political dynasties and oligarchies to flourish at the expense of the people. Neither was she a saint as she tolerated the abuses perpetrated by her family the Cojuangcos in Hacienda Luisita, their plantation with laborers. Decades later, after the administrations of Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the son of the Aquinos Benigno Aquino III became president, but he failed to live up to many of his promises during the campaign.
The Marcoses, realizing their opportune moment, began building campaigns that would bolster their family’s image and help them gain support and political offices. They capitalized on the disappointments of several people regarding the Aquinos. They also created disinformation campaigns from the 2000s onward to generate fake news, painting their father’s regime as a golden age. This swayed many people who did not question the information.
In a move that bolstered support for the Marcoses, Rodrigo Duterte, the 16th president of the Philippines, allowed their father the late dictator to be buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani (the Cemetery of Heroes), which angered several Martial Law victims and people aware of the atrocities. His friendship with the Marcos family brought them further momentum from his supporters. The Marcoses began collaborating with online trolls and fake news social media influencers who increased Duterte’s popularity.
Along with the rising tide of populism in many countries, such as with Trump in the United States, Rodrigo Duterte came to power because of his perceived image as a harsh but capable leader. In his home region of Davao, he had the reputation of enforcing safety and discipline in his city during his time as mayor. Despite his misogyny, crudeness, and several controversies involving his endorsement of extrajudicial killings, Duterte rose to power and gained millions of votes, becoming the president of the country. Continuing his extrajudicial killings of tens of thousands of alleged drug users, including innocent children, Duterte received international attention. He claimed to pursue an independent foreign policy, allying with Russia and China, while cursing Obama, Pope Francis, and several leaders with profanities. Despite his crude remarks on God and the Christian faith, he has many supporters in the Philippines, a predominantly Christian and particularly Catholic country.
The Victory of a Convicted Plunderer
Eventually, during the recent May 9, 2022 elections, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (“Bongbong”) won the elections in a landslide victory. His running mate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, Duterte’s daughter and a former mayor who had violently assaulted a sheriff, won as Vice President. He defeated his top opponent Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, who previously served as the Vice President and gained attention for challenging Duterte while a member of the opposition. Robredo had the highest audit rating in her political office. A capable leader, she launched several initiatives, including her most successful anti-poverty program, which benefited many Filipinos. She was also known for her humility. She was awarded for her women’s empowerment efforts and praised for her response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she suffered as a target of fake news and disinformation attacks, which made her seem less credible to many less informed Filipinos.
To the faithful, the victory of a convicted plunderer who has continuously made false statements and sowed disinformation raises many questions. As people of faith, we remember how the Ten Commandments prohibit murder, theft, and false witnessing. Exodus 18:21 also tells us that we should select capable leaders who are trustworthy and hate dishonest gain. When we look at the Christians who voted for people like Duterte and Marcos, it is best that we distinguish two groups. One group is entirely ignorant and not necessarily blameworthy because they are victims as well of the political machinery. The other group, however, is knowledgeable about the atrocities and continues to support them. They include cronies who gain from the Marcoses and Dutertes.
How do they attend church and rest in peace, knowing that they are supporting those who commit wickedness? How do they continue to support a leader who blasphemes the Lord?
In the end, these are questions that believers must ask of God. We can still hope in God who works in His mysterious ways to provide justice, just as the prophets have foretold.