Philippines polls: Palace intrigue, theatre & dynasties

Philippines' elections: Palace intrigue, theatre and dynasties

The Phillippines needs a new citizens protest, akin to the one which had ended the two-decade-long rule of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Credit: AFP Photo

The Philippines holds the dubious distinction of having the second most overcrowded prison system in the world, losing the first position by a whisker to Haiti. In the last few years, prisons in the Philippines have become overcrowded by 436 per cent. Quezon City in the Philippines is a case in point – ABC News has reported that the prison was created to imprison 262 but hosts over 3,000 prisoners. The country has also been in the news for its mismanagement of the pandemic over the past two years. 

Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, the Philippines has slid 51 places to 102 out of 139 countries in the World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law index. President Duterte has often been compared with the former US President, Donald Trump, having admired him every step of the way. The respect was mutual, with regular phone calls and praise for each other's work. Duterte, comparing himself to Adolf Hitler, famously said in 2016 that "Hitler massacred 3 million Jews... there's three million drug addicts. There are. I'd be happy to slaughter them." The fact remains that Hitler had killed at least 6 million Jews. The German government was quick to disassociate itself from his statement. Trying every minute to project himself as a strongman, Duterte also asked President Barack Obama to "go to hell" after being criticised for his anti-drug campaigns. He has been known to use derogatory words for the Pope, every possible President in the West, and his opposition.

Unfortunately for Duterte, the Philippines constitution allows only one term for its President. After trying to circumvent the law, Duterte announced he would contest the country's vice presidency. The elections in the Philippines for the President and Vice President are held separately, which had opened this option for Duterte. He had wanted his daughter, Sara Duterte, to be elected the President so that he could hold on to dear power. However, his daughter has been vocal against her father's policies and has blamed him publicly for his government's mismanagement of the ongoing vaccination programme. This may be a tactic to win over those opposed to his brand of politics, and by disassociating herself from his breed, she may be trying to play a fast one on the voters. In the upcoming elections, scheduled for May 2022, Sara Duterte seems to be running for the presidency. If she wins the election, Duterte's sway over the Filipino government may continue until 2028.

To add to this drama, in yet another calamitous turn of events, the most likely candidate for Vice President seems to be Ferdinand 'BongBong' Marcos Jr., son of the former dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. The latter had to flee the country in the face of citizen protests, using a helicopter to escape from his rooftop to his exile in Hawaii until he died in 1989. One of his legacies was his wife, Imelda Marcos' 3000 pair of shoes that she had to leave behind. BBM, as Marcos Jr. is popularly known, is on a comeback trail and his mother, Imelda Marcos, is eager to occupy the matriarch's role to undo the blemish to her family.

It is a sad state of affairs when a country is not able to break away from its tragic past, and the rulers try to rewrite its history to justify their actions or those of their party's. In an age when most young people gather their knowledge of history from WhatsApp forwards, the importance of education must be underscored. In the Philippines, or any other country, which tries to rewrite its history, there must be mechanisms in place which prohibit the change of school curriculum to feed the young minds.

In all probability, two dynastic scions will take power this spring in the Philippines. There will be an air of promise typically associated with the young or anything new. But if history is any bit a predictor of the future, Duterte's long shadow will continue to rule the country, still calling the shots. It will be unfortunate for the country that currently faces 10.35 per cent unemployment and is sliding on all indexes. Its inflation is on the rise, and it takes 33 days to start a new business in the country, compared to 18 days in Bangladesh, the new shining star in South/East Asia. Duterte has little to show for his years in power, and he knows that he might be tried in the International Criminal Court for ordering extrajudicial killings under the garb of anti-drug campaigns. This is a scenario many in the Philippines would wait to see the culmination of – his campaigns have killed thousands, ostensibly to cleanse the country of the drug menace and the communist insurgency.

It may be the time in the Philippines for a new citizens protest, akin to the one which had ended the two-decade-long rule of a dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., in 1986, and brought Corazon Aquino to power.

(The author is the founder of ZEducatr and a former Chief of Communications with the United Nations in New York, where he worked for more than a decade.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.