Yuva Balan, CWI Malaysia
In a landslide victory, Ferdinand Marcos Junior, better known as Bongbong Marcos, is to become the new president of the Philippines. The son and namesake of the infamous dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, managed to get 31 million votes, more than double the amount of his closest rival and current vice-president, Leni Robredo.
This will be the first president to receive a majority of votes (just over 50%) since his father supposedly won with 53% in a highly controversial and disputed election in 1986. The dictator Marcos was then ousted by the masses just a few months after a series of popular demonstrations.
Alongside the new President Marcos, Sara Duterte, mayor of Davao city and daughter of the outgoing president, also won a majority of the electoral votes to become vice-president. Although touted as a presidential candidate herself in the years leading up to this election, Sara Duterte decided to throw her weight behind Marcos, and they successfully captured both posts. This is seen as the coming together of two political dynasties with an agenda to establish powerful control over the country.
This election result will serve the outgoing president, Rodrigo Duterte, enabling him to maintain a certain amount of power in the Philippines government. This is crucial for his political survival, as numerous human rights and other organisations are waiting to bring him to the courts and tribunals on charges of widespread extrajudicial murder throughout the six years of his presidency.
Rehabilitation of a dictator
By winning the presidential election with a landslide, Bong Bong Marcos has finally fulfilled his long-term aim to rehabilitate his late father’s image. The Marcos family has been working quietly for many years to regain political ground in the Philippines. It has slowly managed to crawl back to power by denying all of their corruption and crimes. But if not for the intervention of Duterte, Marcos Junior would not have been able to stand in the election due to an outstanding criminal charge for tax evasion.
Throughout his presidency, Duterte had used the support of the Marcos family to bolster his power in Congress. In return, Duterte provided them with political and economic favours to further increase their power. In 2016, the body of Ferdinand Marcos was transferred from a burial site in Hawaii to the Philippines, despite heavy objections. He was buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of the Heroes) as part of a Marcos rehabilitation campaign.
The successful candidates claim to have the political will to establish law and order, reduce poverty and wipe out weak and corrupt elites. Although void of any concrete programme, they claim to have the ‘political will’ that other politicians supposedly lack to deliver on their promises.
Although coming from a political dynasty, Rodrigo Duterte managed to portray himself as an ‘outsider’ from rural Mindanao, capable of disrupting the so-called political elites which have dominated Philippines politics for decades, without any benefit for the majority. Now, by vowing to continue all of Duterte’s economic and political policies, Marcos and Sara are following in his footsteps and also portray themselves as political ‘outsiders’.
Since the masses overthrew the dictator Marcos in 1986, none of the subsequent presidents or governments have managed to lift the masses out of the miseries of capitalism.
So-called democratically elected presidents after Marcos, like Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo, were also corrupt and ruled with excessive force. Not only did the people remain poor and exploited, but the Philippines also became less stable.
None of the other candidates managed to put forward an alternative. Leni Robredo, the second most popular candidate for president and the first choice of the business community, did not have a programme to rally mass support. In foreign policy, she favours taking a hard stand against Chinese military expansion in the South China Sea and building closer ties with the US. It aided the Marcos campaign to spread rumours that Leni is a puppet of the US.
The Philippines economy took a nosedive in 2020 due to the pandemic, when the GDP fell by 9.6%. Despite managing moderate growth since then, the economy is battling with rising inflation. The new president does not have a clear way out of this.
Although Marcos Junior and Sara Duterte got elected by promising economic stability and prosperity, but without any alternative to capitalism they cannot deliver on any of their promises.
If the new regime is not able to address the current worsening economic conditions for the masses in a swift and meaningful way, it will not be long before the poor and the downtrodden start to clamour for change. Historically, the Philippines working class and poor have played a massive role in bringing a notoriously violent and repressive dictator to his knees with mass movements and protests.
It is not impossible to imagine another historic people’s movement developing in the Philippines, with the incoming administration failing to solve the economic crises and trying to use force to silence people’s voices.
History of mistakes
Unfortunately, there is no leadership coming from any of the left parties or trade unions. None offer a perspective of building a working class-based mass political organisation with the aim of replacing the rotten capitalist system. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has been involved in perpetual guerrilla warfare with the state since its inception, and has made crucial mistakes throughout its existence. It did not take part in the 1986 movement against Ferdinand Marcos.
The years that followed saw continuous repression of left organisations. The CPP continued their armed struggle with the state from rural areas and attempted to make several failed peace talks with the government.
In this climate, and in the political vacuum, right-wing leaders such as Duterte and now Marcos Junior have been able to win elections and gain power almost unchallenged. But as the masses see the fraudulent nature of the new regime, they will be forced to look for an alternative which has a concrete programme for changing society.
Partido Lakas ng Masa is a left political party and fielded a well-known labour activist, Leody de Guzman for president. He is the current chairman of the BMP trade union confederation, which comprises over 200 workplace trade unions, with a total membership of 100,000 workers. Although receiving a low number of votes, Leody managed to put forward a programme of higher wages and the abolition of oppressive contract work.
However, Leody failed to address many other areas of concern regarding the ailing economy, growing inequality, lack of job opportunities, international policy and other issues. His programme also did not clearly illustrate how the electoral promises would be funded, and did not bring out the inevitability of challenging the capitalist system in order to bring a meaningful change in society.
With support from a mass workers’ organisation, such as the BMP, Leody and the Partido Lakas ng Masa should be able to build a strong political party based on the need for mass struggle, with a clear perspective. Bold socialist policies, such as a high living wage for all workers, free and quality healthcare and education for all, a public housing programme, a massive increase in public infrastructure and social development funds, and so on, should be put forward.
In order to fulfil these promises, the party should be committed to campaigning against capitalist class interests. The leadership should also put forward the idea of nationalising all the major industries under the management and democratic control of the working class as one of the main planks of their programme.
The working class and the oppressed masses of the Philippines are in desperate need of clear leadership to lead them to organise their anger into tangible actions, such as a general strike or mass protests. But they also need to take political power from the clutches of the capitalist ruling elites, as the situation develops.
It is clear that there will be no real progress under capitalism and the condition of the masses will continue to deteriorate. Only a socialist society, under the full democratic control of the working class and the people, will be able to bring society out of capitalist crisis and on the path to building a prosperous and peaceful future for all.