Philippine Elections 2022: Bongbong Marcos Stories as Told by Filipino Voters.

AuthorRuud, Arild Engelsen

Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s overwhelming victory in the 2022 presidential election begs questions about how popular perceptions of him influenced voting decisions. (1) We conducted three weeks of fieldwork in the Philippines in April and May 2022, in Batangas, Manila Metro, Leyte and Ilocos Norte, (2) conducting over 50 unstructured or semi-structured interviews and two surveys (in Leyte and Manila) of altogether 35 respondents. The interviewees included both hardcore "Bongbong" supporters and ordinary voters.

The Philippines has been characterized as "patient zero" for fake news, (3) while Bongbong and his campaign have been accused of using social media to whitewash the contentious tenure of his father, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who ruled the country from 1965 until 1986. Stories about the supposedly idyllic Marcos Sr. era, supposedly characterized by peace and prosperity, circulated on social media for years prior to the election. Although most Filipinos today have no personal experience of the Marcos era, we often heard such idealized accounts of that era in our interviews. The assertions in many of our informants' stories are factually wrong and the impact of this historical revisionism needs to be analysed. However, our interest lies in how voters use these stories to rationalize their political choices. As the veracity of the individual stories is not our aim, we have left the stories as they were told to us.

We suggest that Filipinos were not harking back to a golden past, but used both the Marcos era and its aftermath as inchoate illustrations of political, cultural and social anxieties in contemporary society. Their apparently straightforward opinions about the presidential candidates, if considered as legitimatizing narratives, became acts of hyperbole and paraphrasing that stood in for their non-verbalized sentiments. As such, they functioned as versions of what James C. Scott has called "hidden transcripts". (4)

One oft-recounted story concerns the "Marcos gold", the supposedly huge hoard of gold or vast bank deposits held by the family. Few questioned the existence of the Marcos fortune, although its provenance remained mysterious and mythical. Some insisted that Marcos Sr. had already been rich before coming to power, possibly as a successful lawyer. According to some extremely poor informants in Manila, this explained his "900 trillion dollars" pay check. A tricycle driver in Tolosa in Leyte insisted that the Marcoses had made clever investments. Others retold the famous story of the Yamashita gold--the gold hoard supposedly hidden by the Japanese somewhere in the Philippines during the Second World War--that Marcos Sr. allegedly discovered. Some referred to a legendary "golden Buddha", although again they did not question how it ended up in the President's private hands. People who claimed to know about this gold hoard believed Bongbong had access to it, and some told us that he would use it to repay the country's debts.

Most informants retold these stories with a slight smile and perhaps a shrug, as if they thought they were a joke. Similar shrugs and the half-ironic distancing suggest that Filipino voters, like everyone else, will hear stories--whether from friends and neighbours, or from social or traditional media--and treat them with a pinch of salt. The justifications for supporting Bongbong often seemed incoherent, at times rambling, the points often half-baked and unsubstantiated. Some justifications that were offered clearly came from unreliable sources--prompting even neighbours who were listening in to...

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