Seeking return of disputed 'golden age', some Philippine voters back son of dictator Marcos

·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, campaigns for presidency

By Neil Jerome Morales and Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA (Reuters) -Street vendor Nellie Baraquio will cast a ballot in a presidential election in the Philippines for the first time on Monday, and the campaign sticker on her worn-out ice box leaves little doubt about who is getting her vote.

The 38-year-old believes the red-shirted man smiling in the sticker, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, is the best bet to lead her nation, despite his late father and namesake having presided over what critics say was the darkest chapter in the country's recent history.

Baraquio, who sells cigarettes, snacks and soft drinks on a sidewalk in the capital Manila, had no interest in voting in earlier elections. This time, she says she is lured by the prospect of a better economy under Marcos, who has spoken of his father's 20-year rule as a "golden age" of development.

"This could be the destiny of the Philippines. I will vote for the first time because of Marcos," said Baraquio, who like many Filipinos, is struggling with high food and utilities costs.

"I can work for myself and not rely on the government. But I want prices to go down," Baraquio said. "I heard during their (Marcos) time, life in the Philippines was comfortable."

The country did enjoy solid economic growth under Marcos Snr, although it was fuelled by huge debt and eventually triggered an economic and social crisis, as well as growing inequality.

Fact-checking organisation VERA Files said in a December report that Marcos Jr was the "top beneficiary" of disinformation online to spruce up his image while discrediting rivals.

The 64-year-old denies fuelling disinformation.

"We are the victims of disinformation," said Marcos spokesperson Vic Rodriguez. "We just want to close this campaign on a high note."

Recent polls show Marcos leading by more than 30 points over his closest rival, Leni Robredo, who narrowly beat him in the 2016 vice presidential contest.

Marcos is running with Sara Duterte-Carpio, the popular daughter of the outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte-Carpio is leading opinion polls on the vice-presidential race and could be key to a Marcos victory if she succeeds in rallying her supporters behind him.

CONTRASTING NARRATIVES

Construction worker Patrick Uy is having a tough time making ends meet for him and his six children with a $10 daily wage.

He too is hoping a vote for Marcos could change that.

"I hope Marcos lowers the prices of electricity, gasoline and rice," said the 49-year-old. "I'm excited to see him win."

Under the elder Marcos's rule, thousands of opponents were beaten, tortured, disappeared or were killed, Amnesty International said, while billions of dollars went missing from state coffers, according to a government agency created to recover the ill-gotten wealth.

Marcos and his family have often said that their vast fortune was legitimately obtained.

Working in Marcos's favour this time, political observers say, is the demographic profile of this year's voters, with 56% aged 18 to 41, and no direct memory of the Marcos dictatorship and its overthrow in a 1986 "people power" uprising.

Many supporters like Baraquio and Uy believe historical narratives of corruption, cronyism and economic decay of the Marcos era were concocted by political rivals.

"I do not believe those. At the time of Marcos, the Philippines had no debt. Now, we are deep in debt," Uy said.

"They say Marcos is a thief. They have been rich long ago, they have been in service for a long time already."

(Writing by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty and Lincoln Feast.)

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