Many Western diplomats in Manila fear that democracy in the Philippines will backslide in the event Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr wins the balloting on Monday.
The markets shared these sentiments as the stock market closed lower on Friday, the last day before the elections. There could be other factors, like the rate hike in the US and the conflict in Ukraine.
But the prospect of a Bongbong victory at the polls sent jitters to the markets. There were even rumors some businesses, like the business process outsourcing (BPOs) companies, will move out of the country and relocate elsewhere.
BPOs are the main engine of economic growth in the Philippines. These firms continued to sustain the economy as remittances from millions of overseas Filipinos declined during the coronavirus pandemic.
For the international community – the embassies and investors – a Marcos presidency is a setback. They probably could not understand why Filipinos are supporting a candidate who will bring back to power a corrupt political dynasty.
They will never understand why the majority of poor Filipinos who suffered a lot under a dictatorship chose to forget history and return to power Marcos’ only son and namesake.
In 1986, Filipinos supported a military coup against Marcos, which led to a popular uprising that chased a dictator out of power and restored democracy in the Philippines.
The near-bloodless EDSA uprising served as an inspiration for people around the world to rise up against dictators and corrupt governments.
From Myanmar to Germany, people were mobilized to change regimes. There were successes and there were failures.
Filipinos stood proud for installing an inexperienced widow of a martyred senator, replacing a brutal and corrupt leader who stole billions of dollars to sustain a lavish lifestyle while the people languished in poverty.
People living outside the country could not understand why the Philippines would want to bring back a despised family to power.
Bongbong Marcos is not simply climbing back to power in the usual way; he is making history as the first candidate to win more than 50 percent of votes cast if the surveys are to be believed.
From 1992 to 2016, the winning candidates got only about 23 percent to 42 percent of the votes. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, and Rodrigo Duterte only got over 39 percent of the votes.
In 2022, political analysts said a candidate who gets 20 million votes would win the elections. Based on surveys, Marcos may get 28 million votes.
The whole world simply could not understand how that could happen. Filipinos have short memories. The memories could have been blurred by massive disinformation in social media.
Marcos spent a fortune to revise history, painting a rosy picture of his father’s 20-year rule and demonizing his rivals, particularly Vice President Leonor Robredo.
It was unthinkable that Robredo, who got more than 14 million votes in 2016, narrowly defeating Marcos, would get less votes in 2022 even after sitting as a vice president for six years.
Assuming 80 percent of 67.5 million Flipinos will cast their ballots on Monday, and with the survey showing that Robredo only had 23-percent voter preference, that’s only more than 12 million votes, two million less than what she got in 2016.
It is also mind-boggling that the Pulse Asia survey showed 71 percent of voters from 18 years old to 41 years old preferred Marcos over Robredo.
Robredo was preferred as a candidate only in the Bicol region while Marcos was clearly the favorite in all the regions, including in areas where the vice president won in 2016.
What happened between 2016 and 2022? There is no simple explanation for the tsunami of support for Marcos.
It could be the failure of past administrations to improve the living conditions of the poor. The country’s political system also contributed by helping powerful and wealthy political parties expand their influence, fattening the dynasties.
Political dynasties perpetuated a patron-client relationship, making voters highly dependent on dole-outs from politicians during elections. Vote buying has been widespread and rampant.
Bongbong has access to his father’s stolen wealth, making it easy for him to buy loyalties not only from ordinary voters but powerful local politicians, expanding his network of allies.
From the north to the south, political families who are in control of provinces, cities and towns have aligned with Marcos. In some areas, like Leyte and Cebu, rival local politicians both support Marcos.
The populist Duterte could also be blamed for demonizing the political opposition, enabling Bongbong Marcos to easily capture the support of his die-hard supporters. It was further boosted when Duterte’s daughter opted to run as his vice president.
Sara Duterte-Carpio consistently topped pre-election surveys before the filing of candidacies in October 2021. But when she dropped out of the race, her support transferred to Marcos.
In November when she decided to team up with the dictator’s son, Marcos’s popularity shot to more than 50 percent and peaked at 64 percent.
In a way, Bongbong Marcos’ high support was largely due to the Dutertes as more people saw the former senator as the candidate who would continue the populist leader’s programs and projects.
However, the survey results are not seen on the ground. He may have the support of local political leaders but the people backing Robredo are creating more noise. They are everywhere, packing the vice president’s political rallies, making house-to-house campaigns and spending their own money to put up tarpaulins and posters in communities. It is a people-driven campaign never seen since 1986.
In 2016, there were signs Duterte would win the election because people on the streets were talking about him. There was a lot of noise about him. Social media profiles were changed into ones with fist bumps.
But the political noise is much louder for Robredo than Marcos in 2022. People who are Marcos supporters could be too shy to show their support than those rooting for Robredo.
There is a disconnect between the surveys and the actual situation on the ground.
Google Trends, which had accurately predicted election results in France, Canada, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia in the past, showed Robredo ahead of Marcos.
In 2010 and 2016 elections, both the surveys and Goggle Trends predicted the winners correctly. But, in 2022, the surveys and Google Trend have different predictions.
The election results on Monday will determine which between the surveys and Google Trends is more accurate.
But whatever the outcome, the markets and foreign embassies in Manila are nervously watching the situation. Will democracy slide back and the economic recovery slow down? The answers are in the hands of the people.