A democracy threatened by its past

A series of elections will take place in the Philippines tomorrow, including the election of a new President. The Pacific archipelago may seem far removed from us and our worries. However, all the excesses seen elsewhere in the world, from the triumph of misinformation to the glorification of a dictatorial past, are concentrated here.

The Philippines are rooted in the democratic camp, that is undeniable. In addition to tomorrow’s election of a president, vice president, senators and 300 lawmakers, voters scattered across the country’s 2,000 islands will also elect 18,000 lawmakers, including mayors and governors.

There would be something to celebrate for this “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln said, if the Philippines did not emerge from a six-year authoritarian presidency, that of Rodrigo Duterte.

The harsh method he imposed in the fight against drug traffickers led to thousands of extrajudicial executions, not only of criminals but also of drug addicts, who often found themselves caught in the crossfire. Excesses of such proportions that the International Criminal Court has launched a formal investigation into his “Oplan Tokhang,” his brutal war on drugs.

VERY BAD MEMORIES

More than 35 years ago – oh misery! – when we looked at the Philippines in political science at McGill University, it was both grimacing and laughing. At that time, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos reigned supreme there. Human rights groups have found that more than 3,250 opponents have been murdered and 35,000 cases of torture have been documented.

The fall of the regime in 1986 showed the grotesque nature of this dictatorship. Tens of billions of dollars have been stolen from Filipinos over the years. And the whole planet was outraged by the abuse of Imelda Marcos, the fallen First Lady, with tales of extravagant parties, unbridled shopping sprees and a collection of 3000 pairs of shoes!

Shame and disgrace would normally have led the Marcos to the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, this underestimates the power of social media and the effectiveness of modern disinformation campaigns.

FROM FATHER TO SON

Another Ferdinand Marcos, the tyrant’s son, is dominating the polls and is expected to become Philippine president tomorrow. The one everyone calls Bongbong has proven to be a champion of social media, successfully transforming his father’s dictatorship with “posts” on Facebook and songs on TikTok. With the consequence, as the correspondents of Washington Post noted last month that “one of the most despised families in the Philippines is being rehabilitated into one of the most honored families.” In a country where the pandemic has plunged nearly four million people into poverty, nostalgia is having an impact.

Ninety-nine percent of the Filipino population is said to be connected and active on social media, but more than half cannot tell right from wrong. No wonder a dictator’s son could hide his emoji between a smile and a wink.

THE PHILLIPINES

300,000 km2 scattered on 7641 islands, 2000 of which are inhabited

115 million inhabitants (13th in the world)

  • 80% Catholics
  • 6% Muslims

Life expectancy: 70 years

GDP per capita : $3299 (115th in the world)

ON THE ROAD TO THE PRESIDENTIAL

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos (64 years)

  • Elder, Senator, Deputy and Governor
  • Son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos

Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo (57 years)

  • Vice President
  • Former MP

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