MANILA - A political comeback that could be decades in the making, the family of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr. is poised to return to Malacañang as his son and namesake, nicknamed Bongbong, got the biggest votes during the May 9 elections based on unofficial count.
The younger Marcos, 64, has more than twice the number of votes his nearest rival, Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo, received.
That's despite his opponents running a campaign highlighting atrocities during his late father's rule, along with allegations of hidden wealth and unpaid taxes. There were even multiple attempts to have him disqualified from the election altogether.
So what was the Marcos camp's formula to overcome not only intense opposition, but to convince more than 31 million Filipinos to vote for him? Several analysts and groups say it was a mixture of political machinery, messaging, and disinformation.
Marcos' running mate, Presumptive Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of outgoing chief executive Rodrigo Duterte, was the most preferred presidential candidate in early pre-election surveys last year.
But after Duterte-Carpio went on to run for the vice presidency, the resulting UniTeam tandem with Marcos topped Pulse Asia's pre-election survey in December, with the former senator getting 53 percent voter preference. Pulse Asia said it was the first time that an aspirant for Malacañang emerged as being preferred by a majority of Filipinos.
For political analyst and former Ateneo School of Government dean Tony La Viña, the explanation behind the high support for the Marcos-Duterte tandem was simple: Marcos supporters backed Duterte, and Duterte supporters backed Marcos.
"That the strength of Marcos is not just because he has a lot of Marcos loyalists, that's one-fourth of the country. But there's this other fourth of Duterte loyalists. And here, these two combined," he said on an interview with ABS-CBN News last May 9.
Though there were attempts by opponents like Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso and Senator Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao to break the bailiwicks of the UniTeam standard bearers, these attempts were unsuccessful, La Viña said.
Even what the analyst called Robredo's "coalition" of groups ranging from the Catholic Church to various militant organizations was not enough to break the combination of Marcos and Duterte-Carpio supporters.
"You could see in that campaign, you could see here that this coalition of Robredo is the broadest coalition we've ever seen in Philippine politics. The most ideal to the most conservative," La Viña said. " But it's not enough."
Another factor that secured votes for Marcos was endorsements from the country's various political clans, especially in vote-rich provinces.
Marcos' camp itself has previously claimed that 73 of the country's 81 governors supported him before the election.
The following have publicly backed Marcos in the elections:
- Jonvic Remulla, governor of Cavite Province (2,302,353 registered voters)
- Delta Pineda, governor of Pampanga (1,580,473 registered voters)
- Hermilando Mandanas, governor of Batangas (1,819,071 registered voters)
- Ramil Hernandez, governor of Laguna (2,045,687 registered voters)
Of these provinces, Marcos won in Cavite, Pampanga, and Laguna during the 2016 vice presidential elections.
Batangas voted in favor of Robredo during that race. But in this year's polls, Marcos got 719,492 votes, and Robredo, 655,811.
What could be considered more dramatic is Marcos' apparent flipping of two other provinces where Robredo won in 2016 -- Tarlac and vote-rich Cebu.
In Tarlac, once considered a stronghold of Robredo's Liberal Party, Marcos received 425,599 votes, while she only had 289,600. The former senator had the backing of incumbent Gov. Susan Yap, who ran unopposed.
Over in Cebu, home to 3,288,778 registered voters, Robredo bested Marcos with 807,992 votes against the former senator's 307,676 in 2016.
But in the 2022 race, incumbent Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and her One Cebu party threw their support behind Marcos. The end result: Marcos won 1,055,985 votes against Robredo's 391,080.
Marcos ran his campaign on a theme of unity and making the nation rise again following the COVID-19 Pandemic.
He has also released different policy statements on initiatives like subsidizing the price of rice, sustaining Duterte's "Build, Build, Build" infrastructure program, and boosting the country's agricultural sector.
"In terms of messaging, the rule in terms of messaging, my understanding of political marketing is that the message should be short, it should be simple, and it should be continually repeated," Pulse Asia president Ronald Holmes said in an April 25 interview.
Holmes explained the rhetoric similar to Marcos' resonated more with a larger portion of the population compared to pronouncements about good governance, which was made by Robredo's team.
Holmes explained that messages about good governance may not appeal to people whose lives have seen little to no impact under any kind of governance, good or bad.
He added this state of affairs was caused by citizens not articulating what they want their political leaders to do, and not sufficiently holding them accountable.
As for political analyst Julio Teehankee, another reason behind the effectiveness of Marcos' messaging is a successful "re-branding" away from the legacy of his father, who ruled the country from 1965 until 1986.
"So after more than three decades after EDSA, siguro naisip nila, 'Pa'no ba natin babaguhin ang imahe ng mga Marcos sa publiko?' And naalala ko nga noong early 90s, noong kababalik nila galing exile, ang isa sa mga unang sinabi ni Bongbong Marcos back then is, 'Let history be the judge of my father's deeds,'" Teehankee said in a May 10 interview.
It was this refusal to apologize for the wrongdoings done under his father's administration, coupled with changing the narrative about the Martial Law era, that gave Marcos the "winning formula", according to Teehankee.
"So as early as 2010, binabago na nila yung kwento. At napakabago pa lang ng social media ng mga panahon na yun," Teehankee noted. "Walang nag-challenge. Kase noong time na yun, very dominant yung post-EDSA narrative na wala na yung mga Marcos na yan."
According to fact-checking initiative Tsek.ph, there was a deluge of disinformation in the run up to the 2022 elections, with a report of theirs saying the two candidates most affected by it were Marcos and Robredo.
However, most of the disinformation pertaining to Marcos was positive, while most of the disinformation about Robredo was negative.
The report added that the largest source of misinformation was from Facebook, followed by YouTube and Tiktok.
Marcos has repeatedly denied that he made use of online trolls.
With 31,104,175 votes against Robredo's 14,822,051, as tallied by various accredited groups using data from the Comelec server, there is little doubt that Marcos is on his way to becoming the 17th president of the Republic of the Philippines.
But as the country draws further away from election season, Filipinos expect him to address high consumer prices and solve an economic crisis fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic while paying off a more than P12 trillion debt.
For Holmes, who is also a political scientist, in order to exact accountability from government officials beyond the elections, it is important for Filipinos to sustain their numbers during political rallies when they exert pressure on those they voted for.
"Hopefully, people will be aware that it's not just a question of attending rallies," he said. "It's really, the more important thing is exacting accountability, especially from those who have basically delivered promises to us, that they may not necessarily fulfill."
In a YouTube vlog entry following the elections, Marcos made this vow to Filipinos, especially the 31 million who voted for him: "Hindi namin kayo bibiguin."
Once officially proclaimed, Marcos is expected to succeed Duterte noontime of June 30.