Marcos Is Returning to Power. What Does This Mean for The Philippines?

Does history go around in circles?

If it's the Philippines we're talking about then maybe yes, it does...

I am referring to the rise to power of Ferdinand "Bong Bong" Marcos Jr: son of Ferdinand Marcos Sr who ruled Philippines with authoritarian rule from 1965 until he was ousted in 1986 on charges of greed, corruption, and extravagance. As an example, with the fall of the regime in 1986 it was discovered that his wife Imelda owned a collection of 3,000 pairs of designer shoes from Gucci, Charles Jourdan, Christian Dior, Ferragamo, and Chanel to Prada... Shoes acquired on the backs of the people of the Philippines.

The Markos family neither apologized for the mismanagement, nor returned the national money accused of stealing.

If that was not enough, their son assumed back power... To the extent that the BBC noted that his election was a major blow to those people in the Philippines who fought to hold the Marco’s family accountable for the old abuses.

The question remains: How does a family like Marco’s, accused of so much corruption and even expelled from the country, manage to return to power? The reasons are many and varied. Marcos's return to power has long been prepared with the "help" of social media, fuelled by hundreds of videos and posts depicting the Marco’s regime as a golden age of prosperity as opposed to an era of human rights violations, corruption, and a country on the brink of collapse. Another reason is that Filipinos tend to choose "powerful leaders" who  promise economic growth even if that is at the expense of law and freedom (interestingly, an approach that is becoming more and more entrenched in many Southeast Asian countries). A great example of this is the outgoing President Duterte, who was known for his tough profile/rhetoric and unconventional and authoritarian methods, culminating in his War on Drugs. However, perhaps the most important reason is the diachronic failure of all governments since 1986 to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged Filipinos, leading to a great frustration and "absurd" electoral choices...

Everything is geopolitics

How does the election of Marcos Junior affect the Sino-American relations?

It is a fact that the Philippines plays a key role in the geopolitical feud between the United States and China. Their territorial waters include part of the South China Sea, a strategically important offshore canal over which China also claims national sovereignty.

Immediately after his election to power, the President of the Philippines received the congratulations of the United States and China. The congratulations of the two superpowers also combined wishes for closer cooperation with the Philippines.

The United States has a long history with the Philippines, which was an American colony for most of the first half of the last century, before gaining independence in 1946. The Philippines is also the oldest security ally of the US in Southeast Asia (under the Mutual Defence Treaty of 1951) and one of the five treaty allies of the US in the Pacific region to be exact. However, their relations with the Marco’s family have been soured since 1995. The reason was a court ruling against the Marcos for refusing to cooperate with the District Court of Hawaii, which ordered the family to pay victims of the Marcos dictatorship two billion dollars of money they had embezzled.

At the same time, taking into consideration Marcos’ long-standing ties with China, this Court issue can potentially challenge the US - Philippines relations, giving rise to a more balanced relationship with the big players of the region. His comments right after his election are indicative of this: "I do not subscribe to the old thinking of the Cold War where we had this spheres of influence where you're under the Soviet Union or you're under the United States. I think that we have to find an independent foreign policy where we are friends with everyone. It is the only way. "(

It is also a fact that Philippine’s relations with China have had their ups and downs as well, dominated by territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea / South China Sea. China claims almost the entire resource-rich trade waterway and has consistently ignored a 2016 decision by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that declared its historical claim to be without basis. Philippine-China relations had improved during the outgoing President's (Duterte) term. However, it is still uncertain whether the new President Marcos will seek a new deal with his Chinese counterpart over the disputed South China Sea that will derogate from The Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration's decision.

How will the US and Biden will respond to such a scenario, also remains to be seen...

The fact of the matter is that Marcos’ election comes at a time when the United States is increasingly focused on the region. The relevant US strategy, which was unveiled last February, called for a significant expansion of US engagement in the region by strengthening a network of alliances and security partnerships, with an emphasis on tackling China's growing influence and ambitions.

The US believes that China is behaving aggressively, especially with regard to Taiwan and its activities in the South China Sea. As a result, successive US governments have increased military spending to challenge the Chinese navy. The United States is also developing security partnerships on the perimeter of East Asia to curb and limit Chinese naval activities in their local seas. These developments seem to indicate a growing threat of war in the Indo-Pacific. Biden's latest statements that the United States will militarily defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion are indicative of the latent war climate...

Biden's statement came amidst the Russian war in Ukraine. Perhaps to make clear to everyone that Taiwan is not Ukraine... and that the US will not tolerate any actions that undermine its strategic interests in the region.

 One thing is certain.

 The grey areas have ended with the war in Ukraine, forcing everyone to take sides in this conflict... A conflict that will most likely affect the Indo-Pacific region...

Time will show whether Marcos will be willing to bear the cost of the US dispute with China in the area...

About this article

Written by:
  • Orestis Tziapouras
| Published on: Jun 17, 2022