Gwynne Dyer

“Bongbong” Marcos didn’t just win the presi­dential election in the Philippines this week. He won it by a two-to-one landslide, despite the fact that he is the extremely entitled son of a former president who stole at least $10 billion, and a mother who spent the loot partly on the world’s most extensive collection of designer shoes (3,000 pairs).

Moreover, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, to give him his real name, has virtually no accomplishments other than that name. Yet his name and his inherited wealth, originally stolen from the parents of the people who voted for him, have enabled him to hold various political offices almost continuously (apart from five years in exile) since he was 23.

Equally deplorable is the electoral triumph of his vice-presidential ally, Sara Duterte, daughter of the mass murderer Rodrigo Duterte. The latter is leaving the presidency at the end of his six-year term, still wildly popu­lar despite the many thousands of extra-judicial killings of alleged “drug fiends” that he has ordered.

Indeed, those killings are precisely why Rodrigo Duterte is so popular, and his daughter basks in the reflected glory of his violence. A lot of Filipinos adore politicians and other prominent people who are loud, rude and macho—but it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes they elect murderers and thieves; sometimes they elect apprentice saints.

The senior Ferdinand Marcos was legitimately elected president in 1965 but declared martial law when he was nearing the end of his second term in 1972. Martial law lasted for another 14 years, with Marcos’s henchmen dividing their time between stealing public funds and torturing or killing perceived opponents.

After that first President Marcos ran the country’s economy into the ground, he was ousted in 1986 in the first of the “people power” non-­violent revolutions. The saintly Cory Aquino, whose husband had been assassinated on Marcos’s orders, was elected to the presidency, while everybody applauded the Philippines’ restored democracy.

But in 1998 the Filipinos elected Joseph “Erap” Estrada, a former movie star famed for playing the villain, in another landslide. He immediately began feathering his nest, and, after three years was impeached for “plunder”. But it took a second “people power” popular uprising to get him out.

The 2004 Global Transparency Report listed Estrada as number ten on a list of the “World’s All-Time Most Corrupt Leaders”, but he was a mere piker compared to Ferdinand Marcos Sr, who held the No 2 spot.

After the fall of Estrada there were two modestly competent and non-criminal presidents—and then, in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte. Another landslide, of course, and if Duterte stole a lot in the past six years it has not yet been exposed, but he killed even more people than Marcos Senior.

Duterte delighted in insulting people—he called both Barack Obama and the Pope “son of a whore”—and his supporters lapped it up. And this time the Filipinos haven’t even paused for an interlude of dignity and sanity before electing “Bongbong” Marcos to succeed him.

It’s as if the same country were to elect Viktor Orbán, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency with only brief intervals in between, just to see what would happen.

The Philippines is a leading contender for the title of “world’s most populist country”, which is hard to explain because its lost twin behaves in a quite different way. Just to the west of the Philippines is Indonesia, another country of many islands whose people are ethnically and linguistically very close to the Filipinos.

Per capita income is about 30 per cent higher in Indonesia, mainly because of oil, but the economies are basically quite similar. Both countries lived for decades under murderous dictators, and both finally overthrew them in non-violent revolutions, the Philippines in 1986, Indonesia in 1998.

However, since Indonesia became a democracy it has elected only presidents who were neither killers nor thieves, while the Filipinos hurl themselves enthusiastically at any plausible fraud who gains a bit of notoriety. Why?

It could have something to do with the fact that Indonesia was converted to Islam around the same time the Philippines became Christian (and specifi­cally Catholic), but probably not. Each is the majority faith in a wide variety of countries, and neither manifests a single distinctive political style across the span of all those countries. So what is it, then?

Two hypotheses, both weak, come to mind. First, the Philippines has an unusually powerful elite of big, rich families with strong regional bases. This week’s vote, for example, was shaped by a recent alliance between the Marcos family (northern and central Philippines) and the Duterte family (southern Philippines).

The other hypothesis? Ninety-nine per cent of adult Filipinos are online; and Filipinos aged 16 to 64 spend, on average, nearly four hours a day connected to social networks.

—Author Gwynne Dyer is an international journalist based in London


Now that the lid has been blown off the 1997 Sabga Committee Report and the 2021 Judith Committee Report on the soul-crushing horrors suffered by generations of children in state care, we plead with the politicians and their loyalists not to compound the tragedy by exploiting these little ones for political gain.

The resumption of physical school for the children of Trinidad and Tobago has come with what some are deeming the “new normal” of conflict resolution in our society at large. Some appeared unaffected, while others struggled at ascertaining the source of this colossal habit; where was it bred and cultivated.

Last week I read two releases issued by the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young. Both releases refuted claims by media outlets and publications involving him and his work.

If one reads the newspapers and watches the news every day, it could be easy to despair about this country or even the world, more so since the start of Covid-19.

Never one to despair, my delight in this country and its people was heightened after my most recent experience at Massy Stores, Maraval, last Saturday.

When Mervyn Allamby was killed in July 2008, there was loud, prolonged ­harrumphing about the existence of gangs and gang warfare in the country.

His name on the streets was Kojo, young people saw him as their “Robin Hood”. He purportedly looked out for many of them. Disputes raged as to whether or not he was a gang member, or in fact the leader of one such organisation. He was known then as the owner and sponsor of a football team in some part of the matrix of hotspot areas among communities in San Juan. Jamaican dancehall sensation Jah Cure was reported as coming to the funeral.

Mr Andrews wrote an interesting letter to the editor on Saturday (“Rename roads with colonial names after our own heroes”). I agree names can change and perhaps they ought to, but I would like to suggest that we do not rid ourselves of them too hastily.

Many of the street names in Woodbrook carry a lot of history. Some are the names of Trinidadian veterans of the Boer War, for example. Others bear the names of the children of the owner of the properties that became lower Woodbrook. Often they are people who contributed something to Trini­dad, albeit in the colonial era.