By JIM GOMEZ – Associated Press
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the namesake son of a ousted dictator, praised his father’s legacy and glossed over his violent past as he was sworn in as president of the Philippines on Thursday after a stunning election victory which opponents say was won by whitewashing his family’s image.
His rise to power, 36 years after a military-backed ‘People Power’ revolt ousted his father from office and sent him into global infamy, is shaking up politics in Asian democracy, where a holiday, monuments and the Constitution of the Philippines commemorate the end of the tyrannical reign of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
But in his inaugural speech, Marcos Jr. defended the legacy of his late father, who he said accomplished a lot that hadn’t been done since the country’s independence.
“He did it, sometimes with the necessary support, sometimes without. It will be the same with his son,” he said to the cheers of his supporters in the crowd. “You will have no excuse from me.”
“My father built more and better roads, produced more rice than any administration before his,” said Marcos Jr. He hailed the infrastructure projects of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who also ended his six-year term with a legacy of violence, strongman rule and contempt for those who got in his way.
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The new president called for unity, saying “we will go further together than against each other. He did not address the human rights atrocities and looting his father was accused of, saying he would not talk about the past but about the future.
Activists and survivors of the martial law era under his father protested the inauguration of Marcos Jr., which took place in a noon ceremony on the steps of the National Museum in Manila. Thousands of police, including riot squads, SWAT commandos and snipers, have been deployed to the Bayside tourist district for security reasons.
Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and US Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff were among foreign dignitaries who attended the event, which included a 21-gun salute, military parade and flyovers Air Force planes.
“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’ rule. “For victims of martial law like me, it’s a nightmare.”
Marching through the streets, protesters displayed signs reading “Never Again Martial Law” and “Reject Marcos-Duterte”.
Such historical baggage and antagonism should plague Marcos Jr. during a six-year presidency beginning at a time of intense crises.
The Philippines has been among the hardest hit countries in Asia by the two-year coronavirus pandemic, after more than 60,000 deaths and prolonged shutdowns that plunged the economy into its worst recession since World War II and worsened the poverty, unemployment and hunger. As the pandemic subsided earlier this year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed up global inflation and raised fears of food shortages.
Last week, Marcos Jr. announced he would temporarily serve as agriculture secretary after taking office to prepare for possible food supply emergencies.
He also inherits the decades-old Muslim and communist insurgencies, criminality, gaping inequalities and political divisions stoked by his election.
Last month, Congress declared him and his running mate Sara Duterte, the incumbent president’s daughter, a landslide victory in the running for vice president.
“I ask you all to pray for me, to wish me good luck. I want to do well because when the president does well, the country does well,” he said after his proclamation to Congress.
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 with solid political capital as they face enormous challenges and doubts arising from the reputation of their fathers. It was the first majority presidential victory in the Philippines in decades.
Incumbent President Duterte presided over a brutal anti-drug campaign that killed thousands of mostly poor suspects in an unprecedented scale of killings that the International Criminal Court was investigating as a possible crime against humanity. The investigation was suspended in November, but the ICC attorney general has requested that it resume immediately.
Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte have been called in to help prosecute her father and cooperate with the international tribunal.
Marcos Jr., a former governor, congressman and senator, refused to acknowledge the massive human rights abuses and corruption that plagued his father’s reputation.
During the campaign, he and Sara Duterte avoided controversial issues and focused on a vague call for national unity.
His father was overthrown 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 between 5 and 10 billion dollars during his tenure.
A Hawaiian court later found him responsible for human rights abuses and awarded $2 billion to more than 9,000 Filipinos who filed charges against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial executions and disappearances.
Imelda Marcos and her children were allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991 to stage a stunning reversal of their political fortunes, aided by a well-funded social media campaign to refurbish the family name. Imelda, the 92-year-old family matriarch, attended the inauguration in a traditional light blue Filipino dress, hugged her son and posed for photos on stage.
Marcos Jr.’s alliance with Sara Duterte, whose father remains popular despite his human rights record, and a powerful name from one of the country’s best-known political dynasties, helped him take hold of the presidency. Many Filipinos also remained poor and became disenchanted with post-Marcos administrations, said Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian.
“It allowed the Marcos to present themselves as the alternative,” Heydarian said. “An unregulated social media landscape has allowed their disinformation network to rebrand the dark days of martial law as the so-called golden age of the Philippines.”
Along Metro Manila’s main avenue, democracy shrines and monuments erected after the fall of Marcos in 1986 feature prominently. The anniversary of his ousting is celebrated every year as a special national holiday, and a presidential commission that has worked for decades to recover the Marcos’ ill-gotten riches still exists.
Marcos Jr. hasn’t explained how he will handle these reminders of the past.
Associated Press reporters Joeal Calupitan, Aaron Favila and Iya Forbes in Manila, Philippines, and Kiko Rosario in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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