The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
Why does Bongbong Marcos Jr., the son of the former dictator, appear to remain popular?
I have been grappling with this question myself. With six months to go before the presidential election, Bongbong has been consistent in getting significant support in most of the polls that I have seen lately.
I think there are three explanations for Bongbong’s appeal: his unique brand of politics, his army of trolls, and the lack of critical thinking by some.
After almost six years of the Duterte administration, Filipinos want change, and rightfully so. They are sick and tired of the rotten status quo. They are tired of corrupt politicians who do not deliver. There is mounting impatience and disgruntlement among the Filipinos on the government’s inability to solve issues that matter to their daily lives like Covid, criminality, corruption, poverty, unemployment, high prices of basic commodities, and human rights violations.
Bongbong has positioned himself as someone who can heal the nation and deliver the goods, so to speak. When the press and human rights groups slam him for benefitting from his father’s ill-gotten wealth, which has been proven to exist by the Supreme Court, this somehow seems to have no impact on his popularity in the polls. The pent-up frustration and despair of many Filipinos under the Duterte administration appear to be finding its answer in Bongbong.
The people’s desire for change plus Bongbong’s brand of politics that borders on pragmatism add to his appeal.
He continues to talk about the past, referring to the martial law years as the Golden Years in the Philippines: people were disciplined, there was low crime rate, the country was peaceful and prosperous. Somehow the people believe it even if the “Golden Years” phenomenon has been debunked by so many scholars and reputable organizations.
True, people were disciplined then. But it was out of fear of being arrested, tortured, and put to jail. People were not free to disagree. Fear was what motivated people to behave in certain ways.
Crime against properties might have decreased, but it was the dictator himself who closed down or confiscated businesses owned by people opposed to him. Also, crimes did not completely disappear as the military, with the benison of the dictator, committed illegal arrests and tortured thousands of critics of the dictator as documented by the Amnesty International and other human rights organizations.
The names of those who did not survive are inscribed in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Wall of Remembrance) to honor them and to remind the people of the brutality of the Marcos dictatorship.
In his November 1, 2021 column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Joel Ruiz Butuyan wrote, “Marcos critics point out records that these infrastructure achievements were accomplished through massive foreign debts that we have been forced to pay for 40 years or until 2025. Under the Marcos regime, the country’s foreign debt skyrocketed from $599 million in 1966 to $26.7 billion in 1986, or a whopping 45 times increase. Incidents of massive corruption tainted these debts. In 1984 and 1985, our gross domestic product contracted to negative 7.32 percent and negative 7.31 percent, and for the only time in our history, our country defaulted on the payment of its foreign debt. The prices of basic commodities tripled, such that what cost P100 in 1976 went up to as high as almost P400 when the Marcoses left. Poverty worsened, with six out of 10 families rendered poor by the time the Marcos rule ended.”
Bongbong is not the typical politician. He may not be as intellectually adept as his father, but he was schooled by the latter. Like his father who lied about his military exploits, Bongbong consistently lies about his degree from Oxford University which the university has confirmed he never completed. What he got was a Special Certificate in Social Studies, according to the university. Yet nothing seems to break Bongbong’s popularity.
Bongbong’s playbook is to deny and deny and deny accusations of plunder and abuses of his father. Part of his strategy is to lie about the atrocities of the martial law years and look towards the future. Somehow it seems to be working.
Complementing Bongbong’s strategy is his army of trolls, many of whom are paid die-hard partisans. These trolls infest the social media. They are well-organized. They are rude. They parrot the same false stories notably about Leni Robredo with increasing frequency.
Bongbong may deny the allegation that he is funding these trolls in his social media war against Robredo – of course, he will deny it – but they continue to sow some confusion among the electorate and, as a result, possibly elevating Bongbong as their preferred candidate.
But, at the end, Bongbong’s appeal has less to do with his persona and more to do with the people’s lack of critical thinking. People are easily swayed by fake news. This unfortunate reality results in Bongbong’s increased popularity.
If one were to closely and critically examine Bongbong’s positions on many social issues, one would find them outright wrong, if not scary.
While he talks of being the healing president, he continues to ignore the deep and crippling wounds inflicted by his father’s dictatorial administration on the nation.
While he talks candidly about his desire to move the country forward, he is willfully revising history by continuously spouting lies about the brutality of the martial law years.
While he talks of good governance, he readily aligns himself with powerful politicians known for their questionable business transactions. He also has been convicted for failure to file mandatory income tax returns from 1981 to 1985.
The contradiction is obvious. The inability of some people to critically evaluate Bongbong and everything that he says or stands for reflects a populist backlash of a culture that easily forgets.
If Bongbong wins the presidency, there is no one to blame but the people who voted for him. To give it a Shakespearean bend, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”