MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The namesake son of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos appears to have been elected Philippine president by a landslide in a stunning reversal of the 1986 pro-democracy “people power” revolt that ousted his father .
Marcos Jr. got more than 30.8 million votes in the unofficial results with more than 97% of the votes tallied Tuesday afternoon. His closest challenger, Vice President Leni Robredo, a human rights champion, won 14.7 million votes in Monday’s election, and boxing great Manny Pacquiao appeared to have the third-highest total with 3.5 million.
His running mate, Sara Duterte, the daughter of the incumbent president and mayor of the southern city of Davao, had a formidable lead in the race for the separate vice presidency.
The alliance of the descendants of two authoritarian leaders combined the voting power of their families’ political strongholds in the north and south, but heightened concerns among human rights campaigners.
Dozens of anti-Marcos protesters gathered outside the Electoral Commission, blaming the agency for the breakdown of vote-counting machines and other issues that prevented people from voting. Election officials said the impact of the faulty machines was minimal.
A group of activists who suffered under the dictatorship said they were furious with Marcos’ apparent victory and would oppose him.
“Possible victory based on a campaign built on blatant lies, historical distortions and mass deception is tantamount to cheating your way to victory,” said the Campaign Against Return of the Marcos and Martial Law group. “This is unacceptable.”
Etta Rosales, a former president of the Human Rights Commission who was arrested and tortured twice during martial law in the 1970s, said Marcos Jr.’s apparent victory brought her to tears but wouldn’t stop him from continuing his efforts to hold the Marcos to account.
“I am just one of many who have been tortured; others were killed, I was raped. We suffered under the Marcos regime in the struggle for justice and freedom and this is happening,” Rosales said.
Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte avoided volatile issues during their campaign and instead stuck to a battle cry of national unity, even as their fathers’ presidencies opened up some of the most turbulent divisions in the country’s history. .
Marcos Jr. did not claim victory, but thanked his supporters in a late-night “address to the nation” video, where he urged them to remain vigilant until the vote count was over.
“If we are lucky, I will expect your help not to waver, your confidence will not waver because we have a lot to do in the times ahead,” he said.
Robredo didn’t concede defeat but acknowledged Marcos Jr.’s huge lead in the unofficial tally. She told her supporters that the fight for reform and democracy would not end with the elections.
“The voice of the people is becoming clearer and clearer,” she said. “In the name of the Philippines, which I know you also love so dearly, we should hear that voice because at the end of the day, we only have this one nation to share.”
She asked her followers to keep standing up: “Press for the truth. It took a long time for the structure of the lie to be erected. We now have the time and the opportunity to fight and dismantle this.
The election winner will take office on June 30 for a single six-year term as leader of a long-troubled Southeast Asian nation hard hit by two years of COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns. by crushing poverty, gaping inequalities, Muslim and communist insurgencies and deep political divisions.
The next president will also likely face demands to prosecute incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte for thousands of murders during his anti-drug crackdown – deaths already under investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Amnesty International has expressed deep concern that Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte avoid discussing past and present human rights abuses in the Philippines. “If confirmed, the Marcos Jr. administration will face a wide range of pressing human rights challenges,” the rights group said in a statement on Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch also called on Marcos Jr., if he takes office, to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.
“He should declare an end to the ‘War on Drugs’ that has resulted in the extrajudicial execution of thousands of Filipinos, and order an impartial investigation and proper prosecution of those responsible for these unlawful killings,” said Phil Robertson, Director group assistant. for Asia.
Marcos Jr., a 64-year-old former provincial governor, congressman and senator, defended his father’s legacy and staunchly refused to acknowledge and apologize for the massive human rights abuses and the plunder under the reign of the strongman of his father.
After his ouster by the largely peaceful 1986 uprising, the elder Marcos died in 1989 while in exile in Hawaii without admitting any wrongdoing, including accusations that he, his family and cronies amassed between 5 and 10 billion dollars while he was in power. A Hawaiian court later found him responsible for human rights abuses and awarded $2 billion from his estate to compensate more than 9,000 Filipinos who had sued him for torture, incarceration, executions extrajudicial and disappearances.
His widow, Imelda Marcos, and their children were allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991 and worked on a stunning political comeback, aided by a well-funded social media campaign to restore the family name.