On Thursday, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the namesake son of a deposed dictator, was sworn in as president of the Philippines, completing one of the biggest political comebacks in recent history, which his opponents claimed was accomplished by whitewashing his family's reputation.
His ascension to power, 36 years after an army-backed "People Power" rebellion banished his father to global infamy, upends politics in the Asian democracy, where a public holiday, monuments, and the Philippine Constitution serve as reminders of his father's dictatorship.
Marcos Jr.'s noontime inauguration event on the steps of the National Museum in Manila was contested by activists and survivors of his father's martial law regime. Thousands of police officers, including anti-riot squads, SWAT commandos, and snipers, were positioned in the bayside tourist sector for security purposes.
Foreign dignitaries in attendance included Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and the spouse of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Doug Emhoff.
Before the inauguration, Bonifacio Ilagan, a 70-year-old activist arrested and severely tortured by counterinsurgency forces during the older Marcos' regime, exclaimed, "Wow is this happening?" This is a nightmare for military law victims like myself.
During a six-year presidency commencing in a period of tremendous challenges, such historical baggage and hatred are likely to follow Marcos Jr.
The Philippines has been one of the hardest-hit countries in Asia by the two-year coronavirus epidemic, which has caused more than 60,000 deaths, prolonged lockdowns, the worst economic recession since World War II, and increased poverty, unemployment, and hunger. As the pandemic began to subside at the beginning of this year, Russia's invasion of Ukraine caused global inflation to spike and created fears of food shortages.
Marcos Jr. stated last week that he would act as interim secretary of agriculture following his inauguration to prepare for potential food supply issues. "I think the problem is severe enough," he stated, adding that he has instructed his top advisors to prepare for "emergencies, especially when it comes to the food supply."
In addition, he inherited decades-old Muslim and communist insurgencies, criminality, yawning inequalities, and political tensions that his election has exacerbated.
Congress declared his landslide victory and that of his running partner Sara Duterte, the daughter of the outgoing president, in the vice-presidential election last month.
"Please pray for me and wish me well. I want to succeed because when the president grows, so does the nation. "After his congressional declaration, he stated without questions.
Marcos Jr. received more than 31 million votes, and Sara Duterte received more than 32 million of the more than 55 million votes cast in the election on May 9 — colossal victories that will provide them with substantial political capital as they face formidable challenges and skepticism stemming from their fathers' reputations. It was the first majority victory for a Philippine president in decades.
Rodrigo Duterte, the departing president of the Philippines, oversaw a brutal anti-drug campaign that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of suspects, the vast majority of whom were poor. The International Criminal Court is investigating whether these killings constitute a crime against humanity. The investigation was halted in November, but the head prosecutor of the ICC has requested that it be reopened immediately.
A political problem is brewing for Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte, who have been asked to help prosecute her father and cooperate with the international court if elected.
Marcos Jr., a former governor, congressman, and senator, has refused to accept or apologize for his father's foremost human rights atrocities and plunder and has maintained his legacy.
During the campaign, he and his wife, Sara Duterte, avoided complex topics and emphasized a call for national unity, even though their fathers' administrations had created some of the most violent splits in the country's history. Marcos Jr. pleaded to be judged "not by my ancestors, but by my actions."
His father was removed from power in 1986 by a largely peaceful pro-democracy revolt and died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 without admitting any wrongdoing, including allegations that he, his family, and associates acquired between $5 billion and $10 billion while in office.
Over 9,000 Filipinos who filed a complaint against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances were ultimately granted $2 billion by a Hawaii court for human rights breaches.
Imelda Marcos and her children were permitted to return to the Philippines in 1991 and mounted a remarkable political comeback with the aid of a well-funded social media campaign to restore the family's reputation.
The partnership between Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte, whose father remains popular despite his human rights record and his enormous name recognition as a member of one of the country's most prominent political dynasties, helped him win the presidency. Richard Heydarian, a Manila-based analyst, stated that many Filipinos remained poor and were disillusioned with post-Marcos regimes.
"These allowed the Marcoses to present themselves as the alternative," said Heydarian, who added, "an unregulated social media landscape allowed their disinformation network to re-brand the dark days of martial law as supposedly the golden age of the Philippines."
After the collapse of Marcos in 1986, large democratic shrines and monuments were erected along the main thoroughfare of metropolitan Manila. An annual memorable national holiday commemorates his removal, and a presidential panel that has battled for decades to retrieve the Marcoses' ill-gotten fortune still exists.
Marcos Jr. has not elaborated on how he will respond to such jarring memories of the past.