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Social Media and Bongbong's Victory

Marcos was called a corrupt and extravagant ruler. He exercised his power as president to become one of the most infamous thieves in the country’s history.

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TRIAS KUNCAHYONO
· 10 menit baca

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The victory of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., in the Philippine presidential election on May 9, has not only drawn attention domestically and globally but also aroused a myriad of questions.

Nearly 40 years after the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the Philippines now enters a new chapter of history. Have the Filipino people forgiven or pardoned the "sins" of his father, Marcos Sr.? Marcos, who ruled for 21 years (1965-1986), was notorious for cruelty and brutality. And because of the enormous illicit wealth amassed by the Marcos family and their cronies, the Marcos regime was called a kleptocracy (from the Greek words: thief and rule).

Marcos not only got rid of his political opponents ruthlessly -- such as in the case of senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, who was shot at the airport on his return from the US in 1984 -- but ruled tyrannically by enacting emergency law from 22 Sept., 1972 to 1981. From 1981 on, the emergency law was officially no longer in place, but Marcos retained the jurisdiction of the emergency law before he was finally ousted in 1986.

His atrocities prompted no less than 600 of his political opponents to end up in military prisons, along with 246 Catholic priests and nuns. He accused the Catholic church of using radio stations and leaflets to carry out plots of subversion.

His government was then labeled as "constitutional authoritarianism". The military-backed dictatorship was imposed aboard the political vehicle Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (new community movement). His atrocities prompted no less than 600 of his political opponents to end up in military prisons, along with 246 Catholic priests and nuns. He accused the Catholic church of using radio stations and leaflets to carry out plots of subversion.

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Marcos was called a corrupt and extravagant ruler. He exercised his power as president to become one of the most infamous thieves in the country’s history. Corruption was carried out massively, from syphoning foreign and military aid to building a domestic crony-capitalism system. He and his cronies laundered money to the tune of at least US$10 billion in corrupt assets in foreign banks, including in Switzerland and Liechtenstein (David Chaikin and JC Sharman, 2009).

The Supreme Court decreed in 2003 that Marcos' wealth, which exceeded his combined official income from 1965 to 1986, was an illegally amassed asset. Nearly 30 years since its creation in 1986, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) seized 167.5 billion pesos, or about US$4 billion of more than US$10 billion allegedly stolen by Marcos.

Many other stories are around how Marcos and his cronies abused power, which finally came to an end in February 1986 in the wake of the People Power Revolution. He was dethroned, fled and died in exile in 1989. Almost 40 years later, it turns out the dynasty is still alive, even back to throne.

FILE - In this April 2, 2018, file photo, former Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. talks to reporters in front of the Philippine Supreme Court in Manila, Philippines. Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was toppled in a 1986 revolt, announced Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, that he would seek the presidency in next year's elections in what activists say is an attempt to whitewash a dark period in the country's history marked by plunder and human rights atrocities.
AF/AARON FAVILA

FILE - In this April 2, 2018, file photo, former Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. talks to reporters in front of the Philippine Supreme Court in Manila, Philippines. Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was toppled in a 1986 revolt, announced Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, that he would seek the presidency in next year's elections in what activists say is an attempt to whitewash a dark period in the country's history marked by plunder and human rights atrocities.

Was it a sign of the Filipino people having pardoned the "sins" of Marcos and his cronies that in the presidential election led them to choose Bongbong as the 17th president of the Philippines? Or did Bongbong deserve to be chosen to lead the country amid people’s desperation in the face of various current problems, including poverty (17.6 million people or 16 percent of the population live below the

poverty line), dynastic politics, corrupt bureaucracy and government, nepotism, vote buying (in elections and other cases), bad law enforcement and rife deadly persecution without prosecution (especially in the era of outgoing President Rodrigo Dutarte).

According to official government figures, members of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency killed 5,903 people during anti-drug operations from 1 July, 2016 to 30 Sept., 2020. The figure did not include those killed by unknown perpetrators who Human Rights Watch and human rights monitors accused of collaborating with the police and local officials in carrying out the murder. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) put the death toll at 8,663, although domestic human rights groups, including the government's Human Rights Commission, believed the actual figure could be three times the number reported by OHCHR (Human Rights Watch, World Report 2021).

The role of social media

According to the Election Commission (Comelec), the number of registered voters was 65.7 million (The Filipino Times, 11/11/2021). More than 37 million (56 percent) were aged 18-41, and five million voted for the first time (Nikkei Asia, 7/5/2022). Among those who voted for the first time, 4,094,614 were women aged 18-21 years.

Apart from acknowledging only 11,103 victims, the sitting government passed the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act in 2013.

Most of them were born after the Marcos dictatorial regime ended (1986). Therefore, they did not experience the authoritarian Marcos era, which according to Amnesty International had imprisoned 70,000 people, tortured 34,000 people and killed more than 3,200 people during the enforcement of the emergency law. Apart from acknowledging only 11,103 victims, the sitting government passed the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act in 2013. Having no legislation precedence in Asia, the law sought to hold the state accountable for its violations (Kyodo News, 8/3/2022; Center for International for Private Enterprise, 20/4/2022).

Younger generations live in the age of social media. Social media plays a very important role and greatly influences the community. Bongbong propagandists used social media to whitewash history, with the aim of giving Marcos Sr. a “new accolade” (Kyodo News, 8/3/2022).

Social media campaigns were carried out to rebrand the Marcos Sr. era as -- rather than a period of martial law, horrific human rights violations, corruption, looting of state coffers and economy verging on collapse -- a golden age; prosperous, crime-free, an age of freedom. They tried to convince people that overthrowing Marcos was a mistake because he was able to make a better Philippines.

Ferdinand Marcos (left) and his wife, Imelda Marcos, at an event in Manila, Philippines, 1985.
AFP/ROMEO GACAD

Ferdinand Marcos (left) and his wife, Imelda Marcos, at an event in Manila, Philippines, 1985.

The campaigns were actually launched at least a decade ago. They edited hundreds of videos and then uploaded them to YouTube, which were later reposted on the Facebook page. These seem to have convinced millions of Filipinos that the stories about the Marcos family, its ruthlessness and its unparalleled greed, were unfair slander. "There is a spectrum of lies and distortion in these videos," said Fatima Gaw of the University of the Philippines' Department of Communication Research.

Bongbong, who claimed his family had fallen victim to false information, invented his own. Glorification of Marcos Sr. and support for Marcos Jr. flooded Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter in the buildup to the May election. Social media was also used as a means to counter other candidates with false or distorting information.

Jonathan Corpus Ong (gma network.com), a researcher specializing in disinformation at the Universities of Massachusetts and Harvard, said Bongbong's social media power was the result of a long-term investment stored to rehabilitate the family’s image. CIPE says Marcos' family and supporters were successful in using social media to spread fake news, allowing Marcos Jr. to return to politics. Social media exploited the Philippines' weak democratic institutions to convince people to support Marcos Jr. in his efforts to restore the dynasty.

There were thousands of other accounts of 91,000 users in the Philippines by mid-2021.

Facebook's parent company, Meta, removed up to 400 Philippine accounts for engaging in malicious activity in the run-up to the election. But that's not enough. There were thousands of other accounts of 91,000 users in the Philippines by mid-2021.

The number of social media users in the Philippines accounts for 80.7 percent of the population. The marked difference in number between internet users and social media users implies that many Filipinos have multiple social media accounts. According to digital researchers, some users may engage in troll-like behavior, either having multiple fake accounts and/or being not human or bots (Aries A Arugay, ISEAS Perspective 2022/33.

Japhet Quitson (www.csis.org, 22/11/2021) says that social media is a fundamental force in Filipino society. The accessibility of social media makes it a prime platform for influencing public opinion. Political actors are will do anything to solicit public attention through social media.

Bongbong, according to Aries A Arugay, replicated what Rodrigo Duterte did in the 2016 election. The 2016 presidential election was widely regarded as the first poll in the Philippines to have used social media as the main means in wooing voters.

Duterte won the presidential election with the help of social media-using "legions". Philippine political pundits attributed the victory to the smart use of social media in Duterte's campaign to spread fake news. Duterte's victory was largely due to his cunning social media strategy, exaggerating power through virtual manipulation and ignoring the symbiotic relationship between online passion and grassroots political mobilization (Rappler, 28/1/2021).

 In this photo provided by the Office of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. visits the tomb of his father at the National Heroes Cemetery in Metro Manila, Philippines, on Tuesday May 10, 2022. Marcos, the namesake son of longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos, apparent landslide victory in the Philippine presidential election is raising immediate concerns about a further erosion of democracy in Asia and could complicate American efforts to blunt growing Chinese influence and power in the Pacific.
AP/KANTOR FERDINAND MARCOS JR

In this photo provided by the Office of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. visits the tomb of his father at the National Heroes Cemetery in Metro Manila, Philippines, on Tuesday May 10, 2022. Marcos, the namesake son of longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos, apparent landslide victory in the Philippine presidential election is raising immediate concerns about a further erosion of democracy in Asia and could complicate American efforts to blunt growing Chinese influence and power in the Pacific.

The Philippines is also the top-ranked country with the largest number of citizens, as they admit, following social media influencers. On average, only 22.1 percent of the global community use influencers as their main source of information. The figure is 51.7 percent in the Philippines, and reliance on influencers is also widespread in politics and elections. Influencers beat legitimate institutions such as conventional media, academia and civic organizations.

Lack of verification standards and the reputation of credibility enable influencers to produce content with distorting information, yet strong impact. This is what Duterte “cleverly” did in 2016. And Bongbong has just done it too. Bongbong rejected a debate on TV and refused to be interviewed by the media, especially the mainstream media, which spoke out against him.

Regional sentiments

Another factor that contributed to Bongbong's landslide victory was the unification of two dynasties -- Marcos and Duterte -- both traditionally having strong political influence. The Marcos dynasty has strong support in Ilocos, northern Philippines -- Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan and La Union provinces as well as the Cagayan Valley (Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino). Bongbong also

received support from the central region, Leyte. The Duterte dynasty, which installed Sara Duterte as vice president and the mayor of Davao City, in 2010-2013 and 2016-2022, controls the southern Philippines, Mindanao.

Bongbong also served as deputy governor and governor of Ilocos Norte (twice) and as a member of Congress representing Ilocos Norte, the province's main supporter of the Marcos dynasty. In sum, regional sentiment has contributed greatly to the victory of the two.

It was akin to Indonesia’s slogan “Enak Jamanku To” (you see, my era was better off).

Bongbong’s slogan appeared to appeal to people who might have felt betrayed by the promise of the 1986 revolution, which was the creation of a better life, eradication of corruption, poverty reduction, law supremacy and democracy, established prosperity, no dynastic politics and equality. He promoted the slogan "Together We Will Rise Again", while reminding the citizens that during his father's time, the Philippines enjoyed a golden era. It was akin to Indonesia’s slogan “Enak Jamanku To” (you see, my era was better off).

Apparently the people no longer questioned the emergency law, human rights violations, corruption, cronyism, and so on, which occurred in the past. They were no longer concerned about human rights violations during the Duterte era. They rather focused on how to get a job, especially post-pandemic. Young people appeared to be most concerned about innovative solutions to get out of adversities caused by the pandemic. Bongbong, despite his father's terrifying legacy, said that he offered a new government with good governance, sustainability and inclusivity, education, health care and social services. All these remain to be proven.

Trias Kuncahyono,
KOMPAS/ EDDY HASBI

Trias Kuncahyono,

Trias Kuncahyono, Senior Journalist

(This article was translated by Musthofid).

Editor:
NASRULLAH NARA
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