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MANILA, Philippines – It’s over. He has won, proclaimed TV host and actress Toni Gonzaga on Tuesday, February 8, after thousands of Filipinos at the giant Philippine Arena in Bulacan danced to Bagong Lipunan, the marching song that the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos used to whip up support for Martial Law.
Its modern version is now used by the dictator’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, in his campaign to win the presidency in the May 2022 elections.
“Tapos na. May nanalo na. Tapos na ang laban! (It’s over. He has won. The fight is over),” a beaming Gonzaga said, noting the outpouring of love for the elder Marcos, whose government closed down ABS-CBN, her home network, during Martial Law in the 1970s. The media network was closed down again in 2020 by lower house allies of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Marcos Jr and his running mate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte were proclaimed on Tuesday at the Philippine Arena, which was at half capacity to observe protocols for the launch of the official campaign period. The Marcos campaign had announced they were expecting 25,000 attendees for the ticketed event. No crowd estimate has been given yet on the actual turnout.
They came from all over the country. A man from Lanao del Norte said, “Why BBM [Bongbong Marcos]? Who else?” An elderly couple from Caloocan went to the arena carrying the portrait of the dictator Marcos, saying the father is their champion, and they came here for the son. The wife carried a photo of a young Bongbong.
In a battle for preserving bailiwicks and locking in swing areas, Vice President Leni Robredo’s province mates, the Bicolanos, came for Marcos too. A group from Masbate, Camarines Sur, and Albay showed up in their UniTeam uniform. “We are here to support BBM. The bravest people in the country will fight for BBM,” the man said.
The choice of Philippine Arena was a strategy of consolidation – to show that their strong ground support are actual people, and not trolls as their critics allege.
In the morning before the ticketed proclamation rally Tuesday, social media posts circulated about supposed Facebook users giving away tickets to the arena along with P200 cash. Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez said this was “another black propaganda and cheap political gimmicks.”
Another staple song for the campaign is the OPM classic Umagang Kay Ganda (a beautiful morning), which was sung live by theatre legends Robert Seña and Isay Alvarez and others. Played live to a colorful arena and streamed to almost 100,000 viewers on Facebook, the power of the campaign became apparent even for critics too.
Message of hope
As he stood on stage, Marcos spoke, stood and gesticulated like his father – a delight to loyalists but a chilling view to those who remember the dark years of Martial Law.
His speech, lasting 20 minutes, skipped the boring recitations of plans and platforms. Wearing red and under bright lights, Marcos repeated key messages of hope, presenting himself as the great unifier.
Despite the country’s complex problems and challenges, only one message reverberated in the Philippine Arena on Tuesday: Marcos will solve them all.
“Ipagkaisa po natin ang buong Pilipinas. Pagandahin po natin ang ating minamahal na bansang Pilipinas. At tayo ay sama-sama po tayong babangong muli. Maraming maraming salamat po. At mabuhay ang Pilipinas,” Marcos said.
(Let’s unite the Philippines. Let’s improve our beloved Philippines. Let’s come together and rise again. Thank you very much and long live the Philippines.)
“This is false nostalgia,” said economist JC Punongbayan, who had been writing articles debunking myths that the dictatorship was an economic golden era for the country. “It snowballed into this moment. This is a culmination of years of strategic disinformation about the economy of martial law, and other aspects of Martial Law,” said Punongbayan.