Many people were hoping a big change could happen in the May 9 elections.
They were hoping the country could go back to democracy after six years of authoritarianism under Rodrigo Duterte.
He had killed thousands in his war on drugs, more body counts than dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ 20 years of iron-fisted rule.
Many also got tired of six years of gaslighting from a leader who had failed miserably in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
But they were wrong. The majority of Filipinos who were misled by propaganda and disinformation opted to vote for the son and namesake of a disgraced dictator.
Bongbong Marcos Jr. is widely seen as a candidate of Duterte even if he did not openly endorse his candidacy and stayed away from his political rallies. But, people still believed he was silently supporting Marcos because his prodigal daughter teamed up with the former senator.
The May 9 elections could be seen as a referendum on the Duterte administration.
Duterte is leaving office on June 30 but has remained popular with about 70 percent approval rating despite his failures that has brought down the economy to the abyss and led to rising consumer prices.
The whole country ground to a halt as Duterte attempted to stop the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) from spreading, throwing millions of workers into the streets and forcing the government to hand out dole outs.
As a result of his poor pandemic response, the economy slid into recession, the first time in four decades, and the borrowings ratio ballooned to about 70 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
The sad part is the majority of Filipinos did not blame Duterte. They continued to believe in his propaganda. His social media influencers worked overtime to spruce up his image and put up his favorite bogeymen — illegal drugs and Maoist-led New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
Until the end, the majority of Filipinos believed and supported Duterte and this was reflected in the results of the elections.
Duterte won the 2016 elections with only 39 percent of the votes cast. But he immediately consolidated power as his approval and satisfaction rating soared to more than 80 percent.
He was so popular that all the opposition candidates in the 2019 midterm elections lost, gaining a complete majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
His daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, was the popular choice to succeed him. Before the pandemic until October last year when she decided to drop out from the presidential race, she topped all independent pre-election surveys.
Sara’s survey results reflect the Filipinos support for Duterte.
In October when she did not file her certificate of candidacy for president, her support transferred to Bongbong Marcos Jr. who was on second place.
Marcos’ numbers shot up to 47 percent from nearly 20 percent, reflecting the shift from Sara to Bongbong. When she finally decided to run for vice president under Marcos Jr., Bongbong’s score exceeded 50 percent and never looked back.
Based on partial and unofficial counts of transmitted election returns, Bongbong won the elections with about 58 percent of the votes cast. About 80 percent of voters voted on May 9.
It was also a surprise Vice President Leonor Robredo had about 28 percent of the vote when pre-election surveys showed she only had 23 percent voter preference.
Marcos made history by being the first presidential candidate in recent history to win a majority of the votes, duplicating the feat of his father in 1969 when the late dictator won over 60 percent of the vote.
In Philippine election history, Ramon Magsaysay won nearly 70 percent of the votes in 1953.
Under the dictatorship, Marcos won 88 percent of the votes in the 1981 elections. But it was a sham. Retired general Alejo Santos was a token opposition.
In 1986, he was removed from power days after a snap presidential election by a military-backed civilian uprising. The results of the election was debatable, with some believing he did win in the polls marred by violence and fraud.
His son’s victory in 2022 was not a fluke. Bongbong has to give credit to the Dutertes for his smashing win.
Some political observers believe the Marcos loyalists number only around 20 percent of the voters. The majority, or the 40 percent of the votes, came from Duterte supporters who see in the Marcos-Duterte tandem the continuity of Rodrigo Duterte’s legacy.
Without the Dutertes, Bongbong Marcos Jr. could not have won the elections. It was the Duterte die-hard supporters (DDS) who catapulted him to power. They were at all his political rallies and these same people had believed Robredo had NPA connections and that the Liberal Party was manipulating her.
Duterte was the dominant political force in the last six years and his narrative prevailed. The legacy media proved no match to his social media influencers and the vloggers who have been trying to discredit the mainstream media.
Both Duterte and Marcos fed disinformation into the information ecosystem, which was difficult to combat by fact-checking, which came late in the game.
With Marcos and Duterte lies and propaganda, the opposition represented by Robredo had little chance to win as the majority of the poor voters — those in socio-economic class D and E —believed in information they got from social media platforms, like Tiktok, Facebook and Twitter.
Disinformation poisoned the voters’ minds. Disinformation has become the biggest threat to democracy. It discredits the media and it can kill democracy.
Duterte will step down from power next month but his legacy in damaging democracy will linger., He helped bring Marcos back to power.