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Dictator’s son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is sworn in as Philippine president

“Wow, is this really happening?” asked one activist who was tortured during the rule of the elder Marcos, who was ousted 36 years ago in a “People Power” revolt.
Image:
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. after being sworn in on Thursday in Manila, Philippines.Aaron Favila / AP
/ Source: Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines — Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the namesake son of an ousted dictator, was sworn in as Philippine president Thursday in one of the greatest political comebacks in recent history but which opponents say was pulled off by whitewashing his family’s image.

His rise to power, 36 years after an army-backed “People Power” revolt booted his father to global infamy, upends politics in the Asian democracy, where a public holiday, monuments and the Philippine Constitution stand as reminders of his father’s tyrannical rule.

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Activists and survivors of the martial law era under his father protested Marcos Jr.’s inauguration, which took place at a noontime ceremony at the steps of the National Museum in Manila, the capital. Thousands of police officers, including anti-riot contingents, SWAT commandos and snipers, were deployed in the bayside tourist district for security.

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, were among foreign dignitaries attending.

“Wow, is this really happening?” asked Bonifacio Ilagan, a 70-year-old activist who was detained and severely tortured by counterinsurgency forces during the elder Marcos’s rule, before the inauguration. “For victims of martial law like me, this is a nightmare.”

Such historical baggage and antagonism stand to hound Marcos Jr. during a six-year presidency beginning at a time of intense crises.

The Philippines has been among the worst-hit countries in Asia by the two-year coronavirus pandemic, after more than 60,000 deaths and extended lockdowns sent the economy to its worst recession since World War II and worsened poverty, unemployment and hunger. As the pandemic was easing early this year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent global inflation soaring and raised fears of food shortages.

Last week, Marcos Jr. announced he would serve as secretary of agriculture temporarily after he takes office to prepare for possible food supply emergencies.

He also inherits decades-old Muslim and communist insurgencies, crime, gaping inequality and political divisions inflamed by his election.

Image: The Philippines Inaugurates New President Marcos Jr.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. places his hand on a bible as he takes his oath in Manila on Thursday. Ezra Acayan / Getty Images

Congress last month proclaimed his landslide victory, as well as that of his running mate Sara Duterte, the daughter of the departing president, in the vice-presidential race.

Marcos Jr. received more than 31 million votes and Sara Duterte more than 32 million of the more than 55 million votes cast in the May 9 election — massive victories that will provide them robust political capital as they face tremendous challenges as well as doubts arising from their fathers’ reputations. It was the first majority presidential victory in the Philippines in decades.

Departing President Rodrigo Duterte presided over a brutal anti-drug campaign that left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead in an unprecedented scale of killings the International Criminal Court was investigating as a possible crime against humanity. The investigation was suspended in November, but the ICC chief prosecutor has asked that it be resumed immediately.

Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte have faced calls to help prosecute her father and cooperate with the international court when they take office, a looming political dilemma.

Marcos Jr., a former governor, congressman and senator, has refused to acknowledge or apologize for massive human rights violations and plunder under his father’s rule and has defended his legacy. During the campaign, he appealed to be judged “not by my ancestors, but by my actions.”

His father was forced from power by a largely peaceful pro-democracy uprising in 1986 and died in 1989 while in exile in Hawaii without admitting any wrongdoing, including accusations that he, his family and cronies amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion while in office.

A Hawaii court later found him liable for human rights violations and awarded $2 billion to more than 9,000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

His wife Imelda Marcos and her children were allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991 and worked on a stunning political comeback, helped by a well-funded social media campaign to refurbish the family name.

Marcos Jr.’s alliance with Sara Duterte, whose father remains popular despite his human rights record, and powerful name recall as a member of one of the country’s most well-known political dynasties, helped him capture the presidency.

In addition, many Filipinos remained poor and grew disenchanted with post-Marcos administrations, Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian said.

“These allowed the Marcoses to present themselves as the alternative,” Heydarian said, adding that “an unregulated social media landscape allowed their disinformation network to rebrand the dark days of martial law as supposedly the golden age of the Philippines.”