the challenges for the new president Marcos

The prospects for the Philippines under newly elected President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos face both a dark past and modern challenges. Choosing the son of a former dictator may not make sense to many on the outside, or to the many liberals in the country now thinking deeply. But more cold hard truths lie ahead for the Philippines.

The crimes of members of the very recent past of the Marcos clan have still not been fully explained. Ferdinand Marcos Snr fled the country after years of a dictatorship that looted an estimated $10 billion (£8 billion) in public funds.

There is also a question mark over the Marcos family’s unresolved estate taxes. A 1997 Supreme Court decision had ordered the Marcoses to pay 23 billion pesos (£350 million) in estate taxes. When asked about the issue in the run-up to the election, Marcos Jr. dismissed the issue as “fake news.” “Let’s leave it to the lawyers to discuss it.”

But this is only the latest unresolved case against the Marcos clan. The ancestress of the Imelda family, Marcos Jr.’s mother, still has more than a dozen cases pending against her after she was found guilty of seven counts of graft in 2018. But no one should seriously hope that these will come to a resolution or that Imelda will be held accountable. for stealing obscene amounts of the wealth from the country under her husband’s rule, something the family vehemently denies.

The Marcos clan’s shamelessness at this reported looting in a country grappling with crippling levels of poverty has been covered extensively in the media recently. Imelda was pictured at home with a Picasso on the wall, despite it being one of several objects seized by anti-corruption measures in 2014. An excellent Reuters investigative report published a week before the election exposed the brutal way Marcos Jr was able to prevent further recoveries from the family.

Read more: The Brutal Personal Cost of the Philippines’ Human Rights Violations

The Philippines’ bloated and archaic justice system is in dire need of reform, but no president is incentivized to do so if he can use it. Without real separation from government and the judiciary, presidents — especially those with landslide victories — can rule and break the rules. Under Marcos Jr, there is little sign of reform coming.

Unfortunately, favoritism extends far beyond the legal system and in an economy in dire need of a revival after the crippling downturn under former President Rodrigo Duterte. The Philippines is regularly considered one of the worst countries in the world for “crony capitalism,” meaning it relies on a transactional relationship between the government and powerful oligarchs who own and control much of the country’s economy. These are the same oligarchs that Duterte acted against and promised to exterminate.

Economic problems

Marcos Jr also inherits a series of problems. For starters, the country’s economy is too dependent on the army of overseas workers around the world who send their money back to support those who stay at home.

In 2018, these remittances were estimated to account for 11% of the country’s GDP. Nurses, sailors, domestic workers and construction workers, estimated to be about 2.2 million worldwide, provide vital income for a country that lags behind others in the region.

Tourism has been greatly affected by the pandemic, and given the poor handling of COVID by the outgoing Duterte administration, much remains to be done to improve the state of domestic health care before international tourism can rebuild.

As if that weren’t enough, the country still lacks critical infrastructure to respond to the massive natural disasters that regularly besiege the country. Volcanic eruptions, super typhoons, landslides, earthquakes – all devastating in their own right – have all resulted in a need for temporary housing, pushing the country further into a development trap that it can’t get out of.

A woman in yellow in front of a destroyed house.
Typhoons, earthquakes and other natural disasters ravage the Philippines, causing enormous challenges.

Some research even suggests that the corruption endemic in the Philippines’ politics is based on the country’s geographic challenges and the mishandling of the response.

Perhaps most disturbing is the prospect of a continuation of a culture of violence normalized under Duterte. Marcos Jr and his vice president – Duterte’s daughter Sara – will continue, if not build on, the security state that allows attacks on journalists and allows extrajudicial killings to go undetected.

Unabashed militarization under Duterte is apparently the main policy issue of Marcos Jr and Sara Duterte. They plan to make military service compulsory for all adults and to mandate the training corps of reserve officers in college programs, for which they face opposition from student groups.

As communist and Islamic insurgency continue to threaten the country, further militarization, building on Duterte’s war on drugs and the use of the military in various branches of government, is risky.

These protracted uprisings stem from deep social and political grievances — many of which are legitimate — with the state. And more violence by an expanded military is unlikely to address the root causes of the conflict. Duterte’s army devastated the city of Marawi in 2017 when it was besieged by local clans who claimed to have ties to the Islamic State and failed to rebuild the city, leaving thousands displaced and outraged.

Marcos Jr has a lot to reform and rebuild. The electorate will support him for six to 12 months, as will all their new leaders. Harnessing this wave of support with bold new measures to rebuild much-needed robust infrastructure and trust in institutions will be necessary for the next Marcos to take the throne in 35 years.

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