I do not expect everyone to understand the political landscapes of other countries. Given its geographic and political distance, I expect even less when it comes to understanding the Philippines, my home country. However, being an influential country in Southeast Asia, I believe there is value in knowing its landscape and applying its situation to other regions.
The Philippines just had the 17th presidential election in May 2022, whereby the citizens have supposedly elected Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the former dictator.
While I believe in allowing people to make a reputation and legacy for themselves, regardless of their past and family, it is difficult to sympathise with a man who came from a regime that robbed the country of US$10 billion, has never repaid their debts or even apologised for it, upholds they never did anything wrong, and continues to benefit from their ill-gotten wealth today.
Hence, the question: how did it come to the Philippines to elect the legacy of a dictatorship? One answer lies in historical revisionism.
A Bit of History
The Philippines was originally an archipelago of islands inhabited by tribes of native people with diverse languages, cultures, and histories before Spain colonised and unified the country in honour of King Philip of Spain. After nearly 400 years of colonial rule, the United States of America bought the Philippines for US$20 million in 1898. The Philippines only gained independence post-World War II in 1946, living in relative peace until the country elected Ferdinand Marcos. He began a dictatorship after establishing martial law in 1972 and was ousted in 1986 during the non-violent People Power Revolution.
Marcos Jr. engaged in the rewriting of history to paint his family’s regime in a positive light.
It is worth noting that the country did indeed benefit from Marcos’ rule for a period of time, as he helped a new country with post-war recovery, developing infrastructure and supporting a growing economy. However, the prosperity ends there– but Marcos Jr. engaged in the rewriting of history to paint his family’s regime in a positive light. Historical revisionism, in this instance, is the “conscious, intentional misstatements about things in the past, distant or recent.” One could think of it as “alternative facts” but for entire historical figures, events, and contexts.
Historical Revisionism and the 2022 Philippine Elections
Marcos Jr. campaigned for the presidency in the most subtle way compared to other candidates. He created a new narrative surrounding his father’s legacy as the Philippines’ brutal dictator. He misconstrued martial law, corruption, torture, murder, intimidation, and press censorship as an era of peace and prosperity — and many people, young and old, believe it. Apart from that, he portrays himself as the “everyman” candidate who wants to make the country a better place, despite coming from a rich, political dynasty. Convincing millions of people (many of whom actually experienced the Marcos regime) of this narrative was no small task, but social media provided the means to do it.
The Philippines is THE social media capital of the world with 89 million active social media users (about 81% of the country’s population). News media all over the Philippines and the world reported the use of paid internet trolls and bots, purposefully spreading misinformation and sowing distrust and political turmoil. However, the real kicker comes with a callback to the infamous Cambridge Analytica.
Marcos Jr. ran for the vice presidency in 2016, losing to the current vice president Leni Robredo but he soon began the long con. He hired Cambridge Analytica post-2016 elections (the company that used personal data from social media to skew the 2016 US Presidential elections and the Brexit referendum, among others) to run a disinformation campaign that would depict his father as this not-so-bad guy.
His family knowingly preyed on vulnerable members of society
Through Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok, Marcos Jr. successfully convinced a huge portion of the population that this dictatorship wasn’t a dark period in Philippine history, and he gained votes from far too many Filipino people in very bad faith. What is particularly frustrating is that his family knowingly preyed on vulnerable members of society — people who lack access to education and those from lower socioeconomic classes — who will suffer most in the case of another dictatorship.
It is easy to blame poor and uneducated people for this election result but it is ultimately the fault of a political dynasty that is power-hungry, greedy, and willing to sacrifice the security and wellbeing of the entire Philippine population.
The Impact of Historical Revisionism on Filipinos Today
This election is very fresh in everyone’s minds so it is impossible to say for sure what impact historical revisionism will have on the Philippine political landscape in the coming years. However, there are a few things we can anticipate.
The completely unfair rewriting of history puts young Filipinos at a disadvantage by never providing them with a true account of what happened during the Marcos regime. It also prevents the Filipino people from ever holding the Marcos dynasty accountable for what they did to the country, not to mention it is the complete betrayal of everyone who lived through such a brutal regime.
Many people continue to dispute Marcos Jr.’s win in the Philippine presidential elections but regardless of what discourse may come from these discussions, historical revisionism has done its damage.
Edited by Emma Chiaratti