Declaring victory, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. faces calls to ensure democracy in Philippines

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visiting tomb of his father
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visits the tomb of his father at the National Heroes Cemetery in Manila.
(Office of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.)

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the Philippines’ former dictator, declared victory Wednesday in this week’s presidential election and faced early calls to ensure respect for human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

Marcos garnered more than 31 million votes in an unofficial vote count from Monday’s polls in what’s projected to be one of the strongest mandates for a Philippine president in decades. His vice presidential running mate, Sara Duterte, appeared to have also won by a landslide.

Marcos’ spokesman, Vic Rodriguez, said that Marcos’ electoral triumph was a victory for democracy and that the president-elect promised to seek common ground across the political divide.


“To the world: Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions,” Rodriguez quoted Marcos as saying. His father’s iron-fisted rule was marked by torture and the ruthless suppression of opponents and critics.

The separately elected president and vice president will take office June 30 after the results are confirmed by Congress. Allowed to serve a single six-year term, the two are poised to lead a nation in dire need of economic recovery following two years of COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns.

They’ll also inherit huge expectations of alleviating crushing poverty, eliminating gaping inequalities and ending Muslim and communist insurgencies and political divisions, which were inflamed by the turbulent presidencies of their fathers. Duterte is the daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte.

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Most of Marcos’ key rivals have conceded defeat, including former boxing star Manny Pacquiao. Marcos’ closest challenger, Vice President Leni Robredo, a human rights lawyer who ran on a promise of badly needed reforms, has only acknowledged his massive lead.

“As a boxer and an athlete, I know how to accept defeat,” Pacquiao said in a video message. “But I hope that even if I lost in this fight, my fellow Filipinos who are wallowing in poverty were a winner, too.”

The United States, a longtime treaty ally of the Philippines, was among the first foreign governments to issue a comment following the elections. It expressed willingness to work with the next Filipino president after an official proclamation but stressed that the relationship should be grounded on respect for human rights and the rule of law.


“We look forward to renewing our special partnership and to working with the next administration on key human rights and regional priorities,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

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He cited a long alliance “that shares democratic values and interests” and added that the U.S. government would continue “to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, which is fundamental to U.S. relations with the Philippines and in other bilateral contexts.”

Price sidestepped the question of whether the U.S. had any concerns over Marcos’ apparent victory. He said the elections and subsequent vote count followed international standards without any major incident.

China congratulated the “leading candidates” and the Philippines for the smooth conduct of the elections. Beijing said it would continue to work with Manila “to stay committed to good neighborliness and friendship, focus on post-COVID growth, expand win-win cooperation and bring more tangible benefits to both peoples.”

Marcos, 64, has said he wants to pursue closer ties with China, as did President Duterte, who in the end wound up relying on the U.S. military alliance despite initial misgivings, as Beijing showed no willingness to compromise on its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea on the Philippines’ doorstep.

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The election outcome was an astonishing reversal of the army-backed but largely peaceful “People Power” uprising that ousted Marcos’ father in 1986 — a democratic triumph in a region considered a human rights hot spot where authoritarian regimes flourish.


Marcos has steadfastly defended his father’s legacy and refused to apologize for the massive human rights violations and plunder under his rule. He visited his father’s grave at the national heroes’ cemetery Tuesday, laying flowers and, at one point, appearing overcome with emotion.

He and Sara Duterte campaigned on a platform of national unity without saying how they would heal the wounds that have festered since their fathers’ presidencies.

Marcos, a former provincial governor, congressman and senator, has kept mum on key political, economic and foreign policy issues, including how he would address calls for the prosecution of President Duterte, who oversaw a bloody anti-drugs campaign that alarmed the international community and sparked an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch asked Marcos to take immediate action to improve human rights conditions in the country once he takes office, including by helping the ICC prosecute Duterte, freeing his long-detained critic, Sen. Leila de Lima, and ordering the military and police to stop targeting activists and rights defenders.

More hard-line left-wing groups and survivors of the Marcos dictatorship rejected the younger Marcos and Sara Duterte outright, accusing them of whitewashing their fathers’ legacies on the campaign trail and in social media propaganda.

“Our generation has shown that even the most ruthless tyrant can be defeated by the people’s collective action,” said SELDA, a group of ex-political detainees and human rights victims in the martial-law era under the elder Marcos. “Now is the time to harness that power again — the power to change the course of history and reject this nefarious pair of traditional politicians.”