Duterte drops out of the Senate race, while Marcos leads in the polls

The outgoing Philippine president paves the way for the son of the country's former dictator. Weak state institutions and a deteriorating economy favour “strong men” in power, experts say. In the Philippines, the era of authoritarianism is described as a "golden age".

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte dropped out of the race for a Senate seat a few hours after his right-hand man, Senator Christopher "Bong" Go, made official his decision to drop out of the presidential race.

Duterte said he prefers to “better focus” on the government’s pandemic response and ensure “orderly and peaceful elections,” his spokesman said.

Now the son and namesake of the country’s former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, is leading in the polls and has formed an alliance with Duterte’s daughter Sara, the outgoing mayor of Davao who is running for the post of vice president.

For his part, Duterte’s son, Sebastian Duterte, is running for mayor of Davao, a post the outgoing president held before his daughter.

In the polls, Bongbong Marcos is followed by the outgoing Vice President Leni Robredo, the mayor of the capital Francisco (Isko) Moreno Domagoso, and boxing star Manny Pacquiao.

At this point, having another Marcos back in the presidency appears highly probable. According to pollster Social Weather Stations, almost half of the Philippine electorate would vote for Marcos Junior.

The level of support for Leni Robredo, who is running second, is significantly lower at 18 per cent. However, the election is still up for grab and the outcome unpredictable.

The former dictator’s son faces possible disqualification because of a prior conviction in connection with a tax evasion case, which might prevent him from moving in to Malacañan Palace, the presidential residence.

Various analysts have tried to understand Marcos’s popularity, especially since his father imposed martial law in the 1970s and violently repressed political opponents.

According to Professor Richard Javad Heydarian, the answer is in the population's lack of trust in democratic institutions and a certain nostalgia for authoritarianism, described in Marcos's social media campaigns (but also in school textbooks) as “a golden age”.

Support for Marcos senior waned in the 1980s, after the blatant assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino II and the gradual deterioration of the economic situation.

The prosperity of previous years had been ensured by huge loans which left the Philippine economy in a desperate state. According to some estimates, the population is still paying for the debts left by the Marcos family, and will still do so at least until 2025.

However, the presidents who came to power after the dictator went into exile in Hawaii in 1986 failed to ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and the development of democratic freedoms.

For many Filipinos, this has meant high utility costs, poor public infrastructure and education, and weak state institutions.

Thanks to their control of the key sectors of the economy, the country’s 40 wealthiest families held 76 per cent of the national wealth in 2013.

Even the justice system in the Philippines is still notoriously corrupt.

Heydarian points out for example that although Bongbong and his mother Imelda have been charged several times of tax fraud, they never served any time in prison after they were allowed to return to the country in 1991.

For all these reasons, most Filipinos might prefer “a strong leader” without elections.

In a Pew Research Center poll last year, 47 per cent of respondents believe that “most elected officials do not care" about the interests of ordinary voters.

A 2017 poll found that 80 per cent of the population was open to a potentially authoritarian leader and only 15 per cent would fight for a liberal democratic system.