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Philippines election

Protesters opposing the election of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte as president and vice president of the Philippines hold a May 10, 2022 vigil in the capital Manila. (Photo: Lauren De Cicca/Getty Images)

Marcos' Victory in Philippines Election Bodes Ominously for Human Rights: Amnesty

"The widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings that occurred in the martial law era and violations committed more recently during the Duterte administration must never be allowed to happen again."

Brett Wilkins

Amnesty International on Tuesday said the election of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte—the son of a former U.S.-backed dictator and daughter of the current president—as president and vice president of the Philippines points to an "ominous moment for human rights."

"The new government should make a dramatic course correction and move away from the past six years under Rodrigo Duterte."

With an initial tally nearly finished, Marcos, the son of former President Ferdinand Marcos, has secured more than 50% of the vote and enjoys an insurmountable lead over his nearest rival, liberal candidate Leni Robredo.

Meanwhile, Sara Duterte—a former two-term mayor of Davao City and daughter of current President Rodrigo Duterte—has won her separate election for the vice presidency in a landslide.

In a statement, Amnesty International (AI) Asia-Pacific deputy regional director Emerlynne Gil called the victorious candidates' unwillingness to address human rights violations in the Philippines "deeply concerning."

"During the campaign period, it seemed that they were deliberately refusing to take a position on past and present violations," she said, "including those committed under martial law in the 1970s and early 1980s, and in the context of the Rodrigo Duterte administration's 'war on drugs.'"

"If confirmed, the Marcos Jr. administration will face a wide array of urgent human rights challenges," Gil continued. "The new government should make a dramatic course correction and move away from the past six years under Rodrigo Duterte, when authorities increased attacks against political opponents and human rights defenders, cracked down on press freedom, and oversaw widespread and systemic killings in the so-called war on drugs."

"The widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings that occurred in the martial law era and violations committed more recently during the Duterte administration must never be allowed to happen again," she stressed.

"It is only through a genuine commitment to justice, truth, and accountability for such violations," Gil added, "that the Philippines can move forward in building respect for the rule of law and human rights."

While campaigning for president in 2016 on an extreme law-and-order platform, Rodrigo Duterte, the former "death squad mayor" of Davao City, promised to kill 100,000 criminals. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 people have been killed during his anti-drug campaign, many of them in vigilante slayings.

Last September, the International Criminal Court authorized an investigation into possible crimes against humanity perpetrated during Duterte's rule.

According to AI's 2021 country report on the Philippines, "lack of accountability continued to facilitate unlawful killings and other human rights violations under the government's 'war on drugs' campaign... Human rights defenders, political activists, and politicians were subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, and harassment. Indigenous peoples were the target of attacks by the authorities and unknown assailants."

Dozens of human rights defenders and at least 10 journalists have been murdered during Duterte's rule.

"It is only through a genuine commitment to justice, truth, and accountability for such violations that the Philippines can move forward in building respect for the rule of law and human rights."

The 1965 election of Ferdinand Marcos was the culmination of two decades of American interference in the internal politics of the Philippines, a former U.S. colony. After Marcos declared martial law and his regime jailed, tortured, and murdered thousands of people, successive U.S. administrations—seeking to stop the spread of communism and maintain U.S. hegemony—supported the dictatorship with billions of dollars in aid and diplomatic cover.

Bilateral relations, already seriously strained, collapsed during the Reagan administration as Marcos sought to renegotiate the status of key U.S. military bases in the Philippines. In 1986, Marcos was ousted in the People Power Revolution that sent him and his family fleeing to Hawaii.

Marcos' kleptocratic rule bankrupted the Philippines. By the end of his tenure, his family had allegedly embezzled $5 to $10 billion from the country's central bank. Meanwhile, 70% of Filipinos were living in poverty, compared with 28% in 1965.

However, many Filipinos—especially those too young to remember Marcos' rule—believe martial law was good for the country.

Washington Post reporters Regine Cabato and Shibani Mahtani explained last month that Marcos Jr.'s popularity "has benefited from a yearslong, carefully crafted campaign to rewrite history, harnessing the power of social media to blur the lines between fact and fiction" in a nation with the world's highest internet usage rate.

"In the global war on the truth, the Philippines is especially vulnerable," they wrote. "About 99% of its population is online, and over half find it difficult to spot fake news."

"Pro-Marcos propaganda is now proliferating on platforms like TikTok and YouTube that appeal primarily to Gen Z," the reporters noted, "ushering in a new era of fun, hip, glossily edited content that is harder to regulate online."

"The old dictatorship is now being upgraded and modernized, peppered with songs and emoji," they added. "Through the power of social media, one of the Philippines' most despised families is being rehabilitated into one of its most revered."


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