Philippines to elect new leader on Monday: NPR

Voters in the Philippines head to the polls on Monday for that country’s presidential elections. Throwback to the last days of the campaign.



SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Filipino voters head to the polls on Monday. Vice President Leni Robredo is campaigning fiercely on the home stretch of her presidential bid with loud rallies.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It’s party time.

SIMON: And there’s another familiar name on the ballot – Marcos. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., known as Bongbong, son of the late dictator who ruled the country for two decades. NPR Southeast Asia correspondent Julie McCarthy is covering the campaign and joins us now from Manila. Julie, thank you for being with us.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: Ferdinand Marcos Sr. – his wife and famous wardrobe, Imelda, were driven out of the country by a popular uprising 35 years ago. How come this family that has come to personify corruption, in so many ways, is making a comeback?

MCCARTHY: Yeah, it’s remarkable. Going from political exile to presidential favorite is a remarkable shift. And the Marcos family – they were early adopters and followers of social media. And they used it to recast their legacy, which erased the human rights abuses under Marcos Sr. and the kleptocracy of him and his wife, Imelda.

SIMON: And what does the current Marcos say he would like to do for his country?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, he campaigned to improve the country’s response to the pandemic, but it’s really unclear how Bongbong Marcos intends to govern. Instead, on the stump, he relied on that theme alone. Let’s listen.

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FERDINAND MARCOS JR: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCARTHY: “Unity,” he said during this final week of campaigning. “That’s what will improve the lives of Filipinos. Unity.” Now, there are a lot of things left blank there. And, of course, his critics say this talk of unity is nonsense when the family itself has never apologized for its crimes, which have been extremely divisive.

SIMON: And for decades, the Philippine government has been trying to recover some of the wealth stolen by the Marcos family. Will it stop if Bongbong Marcos wins?

MCCARTHY: Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? The government clawed back over $3 billion in Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth, and they’re still recovering. Now, Marcos Jr. claims he never owned or even benefited from that wealth. But his opponents fear that if elected he could find a way to defuse or even kill the commission that recovered what was stolen.

SIMON: What can you tell us about Marcos’ main electoral rival, incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo?

MCCARTHY: Leni Robredo has cast herself, Scott, as Marcos’ counterpoint, and the two are in a blood feud. She beat him six years ago for vice president in an upset win that Marcos hasn’t forgotten. But Robredo, who is that kind of mother earth figure, has sparked a grassroots movement calling for clean and honest government. And she draws huge crowds projecting it. Here she is last night in her hometown.

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LENI ROBREDO: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCARTHY: “We know that if there’s a clean government, it’s the people who benefit,” she says. And the people who support her are thronging the streets right outside my window, hoping that Leni Robredo can pull off another long-winded win over Marcos Jr. on Monday. It’s a thrill in Manila.

SIMON: NPR’s Julie McCarthy in Manila. Thank you so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

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