Bong Bong Marcos: Family and Philipines First

Bong Bong Marcos: Family and Philipines First

Family first! With Ferdinand „Bongbong“ Marcos Jr., a powerful family clan returns to the Philippine presidential palace – one of many in the island state. When her son Bongbong was three years old, Imelda Marcos is said to have already said that he would become president. The legend illustrates the Marcos clan’s claim to power and the expectation of their son. And indeed: On Monday, the less than charismatic Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was elected president. He takes office on June 30, 36 years after the overthrow of dictatorial and kleptocratic ruling father Ferdinand Marcos Sr. With that, the family makes an amazing comeback after their escape in 1986, based on political networks, wealth and a history-falsifying campaign on social media. The fact that the Marcos clan will be the president for the second time is not a unique selling point. The competing Aquinos have also sat twice in Manila’s presidential palace with Corazon and Benigno III. 60 to 70 families have dominated politics and the economy in the Philippines for many decades. In the country’s elite, which now has 110 million inhabitants, family names are more important than party affiliations, which are changed at will. Many dynasties date back to the 1900s, when Spain lost power in the archipelago and local elites filled the vacuum. They soon came to terms with the new American masters and expanded their power after independence in 1946. It was Ferdinand Marcos Sr. of all people who, in 1972, used martial law to weaken those dynasties that did not want to submit to his power. Elections change little After its fall, the old system returned with decentralization. Elections don’t change anything: According to studies, between a quarter and two-thirds of mandates always go to people whose relatives previously held these offices. The power of the clans is based on the dominance of a province, sometimes in competition with another clan like the Marcos family, which has its bastion in Ilocos Norte. Eight relatives of Bongbong Marcos have now been elected in the elections, including six named Marcos from Ilocos Norte and two named Romualdez. This is the birth name of Imelda Marcos, whose parental clan has its power base on the southern island of Leyte. Bongbong Marcos‘ sister Imee is already a senator. If a family strives for national power, it must ally itself with clans in other regions. Marcos Senior’s marriage to Imelda Romualdez, whom he married just eleven days after they first met, was one such move. Son Bongbong is now in a relationship with a daughter of Aranetas, an old Basque family that is one of the richest in the Philippines. His younger sister Irene also married an Araneta. Bongbong Marcos has politically allied with Sara Duterte-Carpio. The future vice president’s Duterte clan dominates the southern city of Davao. Her father, outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, expects Durtete-Carpio to prevent an indictment against him in the International Criminal Court for his responsibility for the anti-drug war that has killed thousands.

Abuse of power, nepotism and corruption: For his clan, future President Marcos must prevent justice from reclaiming ill-gotten property from his family during his father’s dictatorship. Since he will be responsible for the responsible commission as President, this should succeed. Undoubtedly, the system of political dynasty encourages abuse of power, nepotism and corruption by emphasizing family ties over expertise. The clans are very attractive as partners for foreign investors because they have a great deal of influence on decision-makers. A Filipino nuclear family with an average of four children has dozens of relatives over several generations. Such an extended family has an interest in placing members in different areas: in the civil service, with the security organs, in the business world, in the church, as a work migrant abroad or even with a guerrilla group. So there is always someone with connections and influence to help the family. Elections favor candidates with well-known surnames, after which numerous public buildings in their strongholds are named. In Ilocos Norte, Ferdinand Marcos‘ birthday has even been a public holiday since 2019. The clan names are more familiar to all than party abbreviations. As shown by Joseph Estrada, who rose from actor to president, celebrities are now establishing new dynasties. Now two of Estrada’s sons have been elected to the Senate, in which three families hold a quarter of the seats. To break the system of political clans, it would have to be forbidden for people to hold public offices that were last held by relatives. Such proposals have been around for a long time. But that would have to be decided by the parliament full of clan representatives. That won’t happen under Marcos.

Dr. Wolfgang Sachsenroeder had the following anaylsis of the election victory of the Marcos clan at the website of the South East Asiia Party Forum:

The Marcos Clan:  Back to power after 36 years

Posted on May 16, 2022

An electoral triumph with a professional social media campaign

For the late dictator’s wife, Imelda Marcos (92), her eldest son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the new president of the Philippines, is close to a reincarnation of her husband. In an interview in 1991, when she and her children were allowed to come back to Manila from their exile in Hawaii, she said: “He sounds like his father. I listen to Bongbong, it’s eerie. Like Ferdinand was there. Even in his mannerisms. His voice. His movements. His hand movements.  When he walks. I surely feel Ferdinand the First was born again in Ferdinand the Second.” (Asia Times)

For the generation of Philippinos which ousted Marcos the First in 1986, the feelings of Imelda might be very similar or even the same, only negative and bitter. After the triumph of the people power movement and the widespread euphoria for freedom and democracy, the return to power of the Marcos clan and the resounding victory of Ferdinand the Second, nicknamed Bongbong, must be more than disappointing. Already disappointed with the last few presidents, they fear the worst for the struggling democracy. The triumph with 31 million votes, more than double of challenger Leni Robredo, the outgoing vice-president, was not a surprise, though, because the pollsters were quite accurate this time and had predicted the victory long before election day. There are as usual, allegations of election irregularities but in terms of organisation, counting, and transmission of the local results to Manila, which were outsourced to a private logistics company, the election commission (COMELEC) fares better than the regional average, especially in view of the difficult geography of the archipelago and the social conditions of the poor parts of the population. However, what happens on the ground in constituencies dominated by political families and their influence on “their” voters is a different story. Families and family clans dominate the political scene in many ways, in the regions often enough with private armies, and on the national level with money. Many of the billions plundered by the new president’s late father are still at large, and the protection of these treasures, according to many commentators, will be a central task of Ferdinand the Second in the coming six years. But the extended clan is in a good position. Apart from Ferdinand, eight of his relatives, six Marcoses and two Romualdez, the Imelda clan, have been elected to different positions, while his sister Imee is already a senator. And the cooperation with the clan of outgoing president Duterte, via the latter’s daughter, vice-president elect Sara Duterte-Carpio, is as useful for Marcos as it reflects the importance of family ties and clan structures in the country’s politics.

Bongbong Marcos has been nominated by the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP or Federal Party of the Philippines), one of the younger political parties in the country. Founded in 2018 by supporters of President Duterte, its membership is supposed to be around 1.5 million. As in most countries in the region, the membership of political parties is rather informal in the Philippines, it comes without or with only nominal membership fees and obligations. Do parliamentary or presidential candidates need a political party? That is probably the wrong question, because in all too many situations it works the other way round. The party needs attractive and electable candidates, especially those with deep pockets, and for this crucial quality Ferdinand Bongbong was the ideal candidate. The Marcos family is still being hounded by pending court cases, including outstanding estate taxes, a corruption conviction of mother Imelda, pending on appeal since 2018, and the compensation claims of thousands of victims of the atrocities under martial law during the rule of Ferdinand the First. His son had more than enough money to invest in a sophisticated campaign in the social networks, effectively targeting the younger generations who have no memory of the Marcos dictatorship. With the help of hired influencers and lots of false information the Marcos campaign came up with effective counter-narrative for any accusation and convinced a majority that the son has nothing to do with the sins of his father. One survey found that 72% of voters between 18 and 24 have supported Marcos. But apart from jobs and price control, the main election promise, to unify the country, seems a lot more illusive than realistic. The economic and social fault lines in the country would be a challenge which few would expect the new president to overcome.

However, still now in Western media few apers discussed the implications of the Marcos election victory on Philipine´s foreign policy, especially as Bong Bong Marcos was teaming up with Duterte´s daughter. However, the Chinese Global Times voiced the CCP´s first expectations:

“Xi, Marcos discuss expanding ties, carrying forward friendship

Published: May 18, 2022 12:12 PM

Further development of China-Philippine relations is expected during the new Philippine administration under the leadership of Ferdinand  Marcos,  Jr., Chinese analysts said after Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on the phone with Marcos on Wednesday on bilateral ties and regional development.

Xi congratulated Marcos, Jr. again on his election as President of the Philippines. 

Xi noted that China always gives priority to the Philippines in its neighborhood diplomacy and maintains continuity and stability in its friendly policies toward the Philippines.

He stressed that Marcos has participated in and witnessed the development of the China-Philippine relations, calling Marcos, Jr. a builder, supporter and promoter of China-Philippine friendship. 

The phone call showed China’s particular attention to China-Philippine relations and was a way to deliver sincere congratulations to Marcos, Jr. on his election, Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The Marcos family has historically been friendly to China, Zhuang Guotu, head of Xiamen University’s Southeast Asian Studies Center, told the Global Times on Wednesday, saying Marcos, Sr., former Philippine president and father of the Philippine President-elect, was the first to promote China-Philippine diplomatic relation, which was established under his presidency. 

China and the Philippines are separated only by a strip of water and share common interests. Although the two countries have disputes over the South China Sea issue, they have maintained a stable relationship for decades. In recent years, the friendship between China and the Philippines has also improved, said Zhuang, concluding that he believes better bilateral relations are expected after Marcos, Jr. takes office.

The Chinese president also pointed out that the two sides have effectively managed differences through dialogue and consultations in the past, promoting cooperation on various matters and achieving fruitful results in bilateral relations.

China is ready to expand and strengthen the existing cooperation on national economy and people’s welfare with regard to infrastructure, agriculture, energy and education, as well as the anti-COVID-19 fight and post-pandemic recovery. This approach will foster new growth areas and promote development and revitalization of the two countries and the region, he said.

China will, as always, actively support and assist the Philippines in its economic and social development and work with the Philippines to strengthen strategic communication and coordination over major international and regional issues to safeguard peace and development there, Xi added.

Xi stressed that the world has greatly changed and we are now in times where new challenges to peace and security that have no precedent in history have appeared. The Chinese president said that he hopes the Philippines will continue to pursue an independent foreign policy.

Last week, the US and ASEAN held a special summit in Washington, DC. As this year marks the 45th anniversary of the ASEAN-US Dialogue Relations, the summit was aimed at strengthening the two sides‘ cooperation. However, Qian believes the summit served as part of US‘ Indo-Pacific strategy to secure global leadership. 

The victory of Marcos, Jr. in election is a positive sign in China-Philippine relations that made the US quite anxious, Qian said. 

Given that the Philippines was once a US colony, it shares a defense alliance with the US and that it has strong pro-US forces among the military and elite class. Marcos, Jr. has to balance the country’s relations with the US while developing an effective pragmatic cooperation with China, Qian said. 

Marcos, Jr. said the new Philippine government will make China-Philippine relations a priority in the country’s foreign policy and is ready to strengthen exchanges at all levels and deepen cooperation with China in economy, trade, infrastructure, energy, culture and education.

A recent survey conducted by the Global Times Research Center and the Center for Chinese International Strategy Studies of Renmin University of China showed that nearly 80 percent of Chinese respondents think the US is the biggest disruptor of relations between China and ASEAN members, but about 90 percent considered  China-ASEAN ties as friendly and over 75 percent hold a positive attitude toward their future.

Within the ASEAN, secretly the USA seem only relying on the 3 more pro-American ASEAN countries bilaterally, with the back channel talks with Vietnam to establish a US military base there like the Soviet Union in Cam Rhan or like the US and GB base in Singapore. which had so far no success . Nevertheless, the fight between China and the USA in the Indo-Pacific has flared up. The Chinese advances in Cambodia to turn a port into a military base have so far been met by Hun Sen as dismissively as Vietnam has been toward US advances. The Chinese attempts to slowly establish further military bases in Sri Lanka and the Solomon Islands are now encountering the resistance of a coloured revolution in Sri Lanka and, in the case of the Solomon Islands, proposals from Australian and US politicians for military intervention to simply cut off the way for the Chinese to the Indo-Pacific are voiced very openly. The USA and China look also very closely to  the Philippines if the Bongbong Marcos clan with the Duterte daughter will go more of a neutralist way or more of a pro-Chinese way – at least it is clear to the USA that the Philippines are no longer going back to the good old days of Subic Bay and the Marcos clan like the KMT in Taiwan remember  that the USA in their view  was“betraying“ them, be it  the USA under Roosevelt/ Truman/Stillwel or Nixon giving China to Mao or under Reagan toppling Marcos in favour of the democratic People’s Power Revolution in the Philippines, as they also compare the US withdrawal from the Greater Middle East and most recently Afghanistan with themselves and South Vietnam in 1975. However the question is if the Marcos and Duterte clan want some sort of a Chinese Subic Bay. In addition, the USA cannot offer a free trade agreement like the EU with ASEAN, since TPP and TTIP has been already be canceled under Trump and are no longer up for discussion under Biden, especially under pressure and the lasting aftermath of Trump’s American First economic nationalism, at best bilateral free trade agreements, while China has since RCEP and the New Silk Road. One gets the impression that the USA, unlike the EU, is still paying very little attention to ASEAN in its Indo-Pacific strategy. However, Biden now launched the Indo- Pacific Partnership Economic Framework (IPEF). But his first trips to Asia were going to Japan and South Korea and with the Asean states he only had a virtual meeting. The USA won´t rely too much on the Philipines, but try to prevent that Bongbong Marcos is getting too close to Beijing and under no circumstances will allow a Chinese Subic Bay . However at the moment this is very unlikely. While Duterte  at the beginning was vistiting China and claimed that XI-Putin-Duterte- Eurasia would be the new center of gravity in the new world order, while he wanted to solve the islands dispute with China  bilaterally, he didn´t totakly break with the USA and while liimiting some military drills, he still tscij to the other military obligations with Washington. Bong Bong Marcos might have his clan´s feeling of US betrayal for his father, but also won´t throw hisself in the China´s arms or allow a Chinese Subic Bay. And China´s dimensions of military bases and power projection of the PLA are more focused at The South China Sea, the East China Sea, Taiwan and  in scope limited to the Solomon islands.  However under Bong Bong Marcos and Duterte´s daughter it will be more Family first and Philipines first!

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