The prospects for the Philippines under newly elected President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos have as much to do with a murky past as they do with modern challenges. Choosing the son of a former dictator may not make sense to many abroad, or to the many liberals at home who are now doing some serious thinking. But more cold and hard truths lie ahead for the Philippines.
The crimes of members of the very recent past of the Marcos clan itself have not yet been fully accounted for. Ferdinand Marcos Snr fled the country after years of a dictatorship that looted an estimated US$10bn (£8bn) of public funds.
There is also a question mark over the Marcos family’s unresolved estate tax liabilities. A 1997 high court decision ordered the Marcoses to pay 23 billion pesos (£350 million) in estate taxes. When asked about the issue in the run-up to the election, Marcos Jr. dismissed this as “fake news.” “Let the lawyers discuss it.”
But this is just the latest unsolved case against the Marcos clan. The matriarch of the Imelda family, the mother of Marcos Jr., still has more than a dozen cases pending against her after being convicted of seven corruption charges in 2018. But no one should seriously expect these to come to a resolution. or hold Imelda accountable. she for her stealing obscene amounts of the wealth of the country under her husband’s reign, something the family vehemently denies.
The shamelessness of the Marcos clan towards this denounced looting in a country struggling with crippling levels of poverty has recently been well covered by the media. Imelda was photographed in her home with a Picasso on the wall, despite it being one of many items seized by anti-corruption measures in 2014. An excellent investigative Reuters report published a week before the election put the uncovered the brazen way Marcos Jr. could prevent further family repossessions.
Read more: The brutal personal costs of human rights abuses in the Philippines
The Philippines’ bloated and archaic legal system is in desperate need of reform, but no president has the incentive to do so when he can govern using it. Without a true separation between government and the judiciary, presidents, especially those with landslide victories, can rule and flout the rules. Under Marcos Jnr there is little to suggest that any reform is forthcoming.
Unfortunately, the cronyism extends far beyond the justice system and into an economy that desperately needs a revival after the devastating decline of former President Rodrigo Duterte. The Philippines is regularly ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for “crony capitalism,” meaning that it is based on a transactional relationship between the government and powerful oligarchs who own and control much of the country’s economy. These are the very oligarchs that Duterte railed against and vowed to eradicate.
Marcos Jnr also inherits a series of problems. For one thing, the nation’s economy relies too heavily on its army of overseas workers around the world who send their remittances back to support those at home.
In 2018, it was estimated that these remittances constituted 11% of the country’s GDP. Nurses, sailors, domestic workers and construction workers, estimated to number around 2.2 million worldwide, provide vital income to a nation that is falling behind others in the region.
Tourism has been greatly affected as a result of the pandemic and, given the outgoing Duterte administration’s mishandling of COVID, much remains to be done to improve the state of national health care before the country can be rebuilt. international tourism.
If all that weren’t enough, the country still lacks critical infrastructure to be able to respond to the massive natural disasters that regularly beset the country. Volcanic eruptions, super typhoons, landslides, earthquakes, all devastating in their own right, have left behind the need for temporary housing, leading the country into a development trap it cannot get out of.
Some research even suggests that the endemic corruption in Philippine politics is rooted in the country’s geographic challenges and mismanagement of the response.
Perhaps most worrying is the prospect of a continuation of a normalized culture of violence under Duterte. Marcos Jr. and his vice president, Duterte’s daughter Sara, are prepared to continue, if not take advantage of, the security state that allows attacks on journalists and leaves extrajudicial killings uninvestigated.
The blatant militarization under Duterte is apparently the main political problem for Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte. They plan to make military service compulsory for all adults and make the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps compulsory in university programs, facing opposition from student groups.
While communist and Islamist insurgencies continue to threaten the country, further militarization, based on Duterte’s war on drugs and the use of the military in various branches of government, is risky.
These longstanding insurgencies stem from deep social and political grievances, many legitimate, with the state. And increased violence at the hands of an enlarged military is unlikely to address the root causes of the conflict. Duterte’s army demolished the city of Marawi in 2017 when it was besieged by local clans claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic State and not bothering to rebuild it, leaving thousands displaced and resentful.
Marcos Jnr has a lot to reform and rebuild. The electorate will support him for six to 12 months as they do with all their new leaders. It will take capitalizing on this wave of support with bold new steps to rebuild much-needed robust infrastructure and trust in institutions for the next Marcos to take the throne in another 35 years.