Ferdinand Marcos Jr., known to all as Bongbong, won a sweeping victory in the Philippines’ presidential election last week, winning more than 60 percent of the vote in a field of 10 candidates. Marcos’s father was the longest-serving president in Filipino history, but his rule from 1965 to 1986 was marked by unrestrained corruption, the arbitrary arrest of political opponents, and the worst economic recession in the country’s history in 1984-85. The elder Marcos was ousted in 1986 by a broad-based uprising known as the People Power Revolution, and he fled with nearly $1 billion in cash, gold, and foreign bank deposits to Hawaii. His wife Imelda’s collection of more than 3,000 pairs of shoes became a global emblem of the family’s iniquity and extravagance at the expense of their country’s economic struggles. Yet in this year’s presidential campaign, Bongbong Marcos touted his father’s rule as a golden era and his family as the true representatives of the Filipino people against corrupt elites—and was rewarded with overwhelming popular support. How did this happen?

Alvin Camba is an assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and a faculty affiliate at the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University. Camba was born in the Philippines and has been conducting fieldwork there since 2017. In his view, the younger Marcos won because he was able to cast himself as a populist, tapping into widespread resentments against political elites and growing material inequality. Marcos also led a campaign to rewrite his family’s history, supported mostly by disinformation and lies disseminated through social media. And he allied himself with the Philippines’ outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, an authoritarian populist under investigation by the International Criminal Court for extrajudicial killings, who’s still a highly popular figure at home. As Camba sees it, the victories of Duterte and Marcos are part of the global trend of authoritarian populism; both men crafted images of themselves as strong leaders capable of taking on corrupt elites, and both have mastered techniques of disinformation to support and drive their political narratives. In the Philippines, Camba says, many people now interpret their country’s past and present very differently than Westerners do.

Michael Bluhm: Why is he called Bongbong?

Alvin Camba: I’ve tried to find out, but I have no idea how he ended up with the name Bongbong. Filipinos across the country come up with nicknames—it’s a cultural thing, and this is pretty normal. In Tagalog, the main language in the Philippines, the word “bong” is like “bang” in English—it’s the sound a gun makes, but it doesn’t mean anything else.

Bluhm: How did Marcos win such a landslide victory?

Camba: There are a few reasons. First, the foundations of democracy have eroded in the Philippines. Since 1986—post–Ferdinand Marcos—governments have chronically failed to deliver on public goods. Instead, political elites have focused on competing among themselves and monopolizing positions of power.

There’s a material reason, too. The Philippines is one of the most dynamic, fastest-growing economies in the world. While people’s incomes generally increased, there’s been a surge in income inequality. The economic elites are billionaires. People see this glaring inequality, and they see the ineffectiveness of government—and because of that, there’s a lack of trust in government and democratic institutions.

The quality of education in the country is bad. People point out that a lot of college graduates voted for Marcos, but that doesn’t account for the quality of college education in the Philippines. The poor quality of education in the country as a whole, largely due to government negligence, has led to a situation in which people pervasively can’t distinguish historical research from the kinds of disinformation and fake news that proliferate on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. And in this context, there’s been a massive disinformation campaign by the Marcos’s and their circle over the past 10 years to change the historical narrative of the Marcos family.

Julan Shirwod Nueva

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