Julie Smit –
When Filipinos voted in the 9 May national elections, those hoping for change and an end to the disastrous human rights situation under incumbent president Rodrigo Duterte were already resigned to the fact that the election would not be fair and that their hopes had little chance of being realised. Their fears were confirmed when the results were announced, giving the “UniTeam” tandem of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter Sara a landslide victory, some 60 % of the votes.
Marcos Jr. is the son of the former dictator of the same name, who was responsible during his presidency (1965 – 1986) for massive human rights atrocities and stealing billions of dollars from public funds. He was finally forced into exile in Hawaii with his family after a popular uprising in 1986. For the thousands of victims of martial law under Marcos between 1972 and 1981 it had always been unthinkable that the Marcos clan could ever return to power. However, members of his family, including his son Ferdinand Marcos Jr., returned in 1991 and started a long campaign to restore their image, once again playing an active role in politics. Rodrigo Duterte has regularly expressed his admiration for the former dictator, favouring his rehabilitation and arranging for his body to be moved to the Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila shortly after coming to power in 2016.
Sara Duterte, who had followed in her father’s footsteps as mayor of Davao in the Southern island of Mindanao and was considered to have the best chances of becoming the next president, decided to run for the vice-presidency rather than opposing Marcos in a bid for the presidency. It was a tactical decision that paid off for the tandem. Like Marcos Jr., who has refused to publicly acknowledge the crimes of his father and has promised if elected president to protect Rodrigo Duterte from investigation by the International Criminal Court into accusations of crimes against humanity linked to his bloody “war on drugs” during his term in office, Sara Duterte staunchly defends her father’s policies and promises to ensure their continuation.
Philippine civil society had campaigned intensively for decades against the rehabilitation and return to power of the Marcos clan. When Marcos Jr. announced his candidature, martial law victims and rights groups launched the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA), describing his announcement as “a brazen show of disregard and contempt for the thousands of Filipinos killed, disappeared, tortured, displaced and violated, and the Filipino nation whose economy was plundered and wrecked during the Marcos dictatorship”. Their slogan “Never Again” was prominent.
International Observers find evidence of widespread election irregularities
In view of the appalling human rights situation under Duterte and the widespread corruption and violence that has accompanied earlier elections in the Philippines, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) saw an urgent need for independent monitoring of the elections and sponsored an International Observer Mission (IOM) that would cover the election period from February 2022 through election day on May 9 up until the confirmation of the elected candidates in June. ICHRP is a global network campaigning for a just and lasting peace in the country that works closely, among others, with the human rights organisation Karapatan, one of ASTM’s partners in the Philippines.
The seven-member IOM included the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, a member of the Belgian Parliament, the Former Secretary General of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and representatives of ICHRP. During April and May they visited several regions of the country and held discussions with a broad sector of the population, including national and local election candidates.
Presenting their findings in an Interim Report released on May 19, the members of the IOM stated that “the May 9 2022 Philippine National Elections were marred by a higher level of failure of the electronic voting system than ever before, a higher level of blatant vote-buying, a disturbing level of red-tagging and a number of incidents of deadly violence. A large number of voters did not get to cast their vote, many found their name was no longer on the voter roll, and many had to trust that election officials would later put their marked ballot paper through a Vote Counting Machine (VCM).” Furthermore Filipino overseas workers had experienced obstacles to voting; it is estimated that less than one third of them may have voted.
The observers also reported that from the start the election campaign had been marred by human rights violations. Already in the second week of campaigning five people, including two volunteer teachers at a school for Indigenous People, were killed, accused of being members of the Communist Party. In addition to the political killings, there was evidence of shootings, abductions, death threats, arrests, red-tagging and harassment of candidates, their supporters and journalists.
Especially after it became clear that the popularity of Marcos’ main opponent, the current vice-president Leni Robredo, was increasing, she and members of her family were targeted in smear campaigns on social media by the Marcos camp. Generally the election campaign was marked by large-scale disinformation tactics, in particular the recasting of the long rule of Ferdinand Marcos as a golden age for the country, a period of stability and substantial investment in infrastructure. In fact many of these infrastructure projects led to massive borrowing, leaving the country with massive foreign debts, and also served to line the pockets of Marcos and his allies.
In view of the serious election irregularities identified by the observers mission, ICHRP considers that the election can in no way be considered “free and fair”.
Signs of things to come
Many Filipinos are deeply concerned that with the Marcos-Duterte tandem in office and the recent appointment of Sara Duterte to the position of Education Secretary this falsification of the martial law era will become the prevailing narrative in schools, preventing students from learning the truth about those times. Just days after the election, as a sign of what is likely to come, a renowned children’s book publisher, Adarna House, was accused by the National Intelligence Coordination Agency of being infiltrated by communists and radicalizing children against the government for publishing a set of books, the “Never Again Bundle”, about the martial law period under Marcos Sr. The disturbing incident has led to a strong backlash of protest from writers, historians and the academe as well as civil society groups.
In a reaction, Tinay Palabay, Secretary General of the human rights network Karapatan believes that countering disinformation on the martial law regime will now become more important than ever in the face of a “tsunami of fake news and disinformation about the realities in contemporary Philippine history, especially during the Marcos Sr. and Duterte Sr. regimes. We should do all we can to contend with the further miseducation of young Filipinos.”
While Philippine civil society is extremely apprehensive about what lies ahead under the Marcos-Duterte tandem, a mass movement opposing the new regime has emerged from the election campaign even stronger and is ready to continue to stand up to any future suppression and violation of rights.
ICHRP has expressed its support for and solidarity with the “growing movement challenging the fraudulent elections in the Philippines and the threat to basic rights posed by an incoming Marcos presidency” and calls on the international community to increase its focus on the human rights situation in the Philippines and step up its support for democracy and justice in the country.
 For detailed information on the work of ICHRP and the IOM: https://ichrp.net/
 The practice of accusing people, especially activists or government critics, of being members of or linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines is commonly referred to as red-tagging. It regularly leads to death threats and the extrajudicial killing of those targeted.