Ferdinand Marcos Jr has promised a government that will deliver for all Filipinos during his inauguration speech, even as he paid tribute to the legacy of his dictator father, whose rule was marked by widespread corruption and rights abuses.
Marcos Jr, who began his term as president of the Philippines on Thursday, said he would emulate his father. “I once knew a man who saw what little had been achieved since independence in a land of people with the greatest potential for achievement. And yet they were poor. But he got it done. Sometimes with the needed support, sometimes without. So will it be with his son. You will get no excuses from me,” he said.
His mother, Imelda Marcos, 92, who once described it as her son’s destiny to become the president, sat metres away as he spoke at the public ceremony at the National Museum in Manila.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, 64, won last month’s elections by a landslide, 36 years after his father, who ruled for more than two decades, was chased from the Malacañan Palace by a popular uprising. Marcos Jr’s election victory was fuelled by disinformation spread widely on social media, glorifying his father’s rule.
Marcos Jr told the ceremony he was not there to talk about the past, but did refer to his father on multiple occasions. He would heal divisions, he said, stating: “The changes we seek will benefit all and will shortchange no one.”
On Thursday morning, as the inauguration was under way, survivors of his father’s regime gathered to take their own oath “to guard against tyranny, falsehoods and the trampling of people’s rights and freedoms”.
They gathered at Bantayog ng mga Bayani, a monument, museum and research centre dedicated to the thousands of people imprisoned, tortured or killed during Marcos Sr’s rule. Marcos Jr has downplayed or denied such abuses.
Marcos Jr succeeds Rodrigo Duterte, who remains enduringly popular at home but has attracted international condemnation for his “war on drugs”. As many as 30,000 people are dead as a result of extra-judicial killings linked to the campaign, according to estimates cited by the international criminal court, which is investigating the matter.
In his speech, Marcos Jr praised Duterte for building infrastructure, but also acknowledged “shortcomings in the Covid response”, which he promised to fix.
Analysts have commented on the delicate dynamics between the two leaders. Marcos Jr ran in tandem with the president’s daughter Sara Duterte, who is now the vice-president – an arrangement that displeased Rodrigo Duterte, who wanted his daughter to campaign for the top job.
Duterte last year called Marcos Jr a “spoiled child” and “weak leader” and implied he used cocaine. However, Marcos Jr has the power to block the ICC’s prosecutors from entering the Philippines to investigate Duterte.
Marcos takes over at a challenging time for the Philippines, where food and fuel prices have soared, and poverty rates increased as a result of the pandemic.
He was criticised on the campaign trail for failing to give concrete policy plans and for only taking questions from journalists he considered sympathetic.
In his speech on Thursday he said his team was developing a “comprehensive, all-inclusive plan for economic transformation”, and referred to the devastating impact of the climate crisis on the Philippines and the need to tackle plastic pollution.
Marcos Jr promised to promote food self-sufficiency, which he said was a most pressing need as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine. “The most vulnerable when it comes to food are the countries furthest away from the conflict,” said Marcos, who has appointed himself agriculture secretary.
Marcos also referred to Sara Duterte’s role as education secretary, saying the curriculum in schools “must be rethought”. But he quickly added that it was the sciences and vocational classes that needed updating – not the history syllabus. The failure adequately to teach young people about the history of martial law, which was imposed by Marcos Sr in 1972, has been cited as a factor that allowed disinformation portraying the era as a golden age to spread widely.
While Marcos Jr referred to his father during his speech, he did not acknowledge the suffering or economic mismanagement endured during his rule. The Marcoses and their cronies plundered up to $10bn (£8.2bn).
In a statement, the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law, which represents martial law victims and human rights advocates, said it would continue to call for the return of plundered funds and unpaid taxes. “The sacrifices of the thousands who fell and the millions who suffered during the long dark years of the Marcos dictatorship will serve as inspiration in our continuing quest for a just and democratic nation,” it said.