Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the Philippines’ late dictator, has been sworn in as the country’s new president.
Marcos Jr’s inauguration on Thursday marks a stunning political comeback for one of Asia’s most famous political dynasties, 36 years after the elder Marcos was toppled and forced into exile in a popular uprising.
Known as “Bongbong”, the 64-year-old Marcos Jr won a rare landslide victory in last month’s presidential election, helped by what critics have said was a years-long campaign to whitewash his family’s image.
He succeeds Rodrigo Duterte, who gained international notoriety for his deadly drug war and has threatened to kill suspected dealers after he leaves office.
The new president, in a speech that echoed his campaign slogans of unity, promised to take the country far on his watch with policies benefiting everyone, and thanked the public for delivering what he called “the biggest electoral mandate in the history of Philippine democracy”.
“You will not be disappointed, so do not be afraid,” he said at the inauguration ceremony, surrounded by his immediate family and with his sister Imee, a senator, and 92-year-old mother Imelda, a former four-time congresswoman, seated close by.
Marcos Jr also praised his late father’s rule, but said his presidency was not about the past, but a better future.
“I once knew a man who saw what little had been achieved since independence …. but he got it done sometimes with the needed support, sometimes without,” he said. “So will it be with his son. You will get no excuses from me.”
The late Marcos ruled the Philippines for two decades from 1965, almost half of it under martial law, helping him to extend his grip on power until his overthrow and his family’s retreat into exile during the 1986 People Power Revolution. Thousands of Marcos opponents were jailed, killed or disappeared during his rule, and the family name became synonymous with cronyism, extravagance and the disappearance of billions of dollars from state coffers.
The Marcos family has rejected accusations of embezzlement.
Activists and survivors of the martial law era under his father protested against Marcos Jr’s inauguration, which took place at a noon ceremony at the steps of the National Museum in Manila. More than 15,000 police, soldiers and coast guard personnel were deployed across the capital to ensure security.
‘Tough road ahead’
Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan, reporting from Manila, said Marcos Jr. faced a “tough” presidency.
“Marcos Jr’s inauguration is far more grand than that of his predecessors. There’s parades and more pomp than usual, which has been a trademark of the Marcos family,” she said. “But it is expected to be a tough road ahead for his administration. The country is facing its worst economic setback in decades, as well as an education and public health system in crisis, and a deeply polarised society.”
Voters are counting on the former senator and congressman, who campaigned on the slogan “together, we shall rise again”, to deliver on pledges to create jobs and bring down consumer prices in a country of 110 million people, nearly a quarter of whom live on less than $2 per day.
In his inaugural speech, Marcos Jr, who has appointed himself agriculture minister, said he would improve food sufficiency, infrastructure, waste management and energy supply, and give full support to millions of overseas Filipino workers.
“I fully understand the gravity of the responsibility you put on my shoulders. I do not take it lightly but I am ready for the task,” he said.
“I will get it done.”
Richard Heydarian, a Manila-based author, columnist and academic who specialises in politics, said Marcos Jr’s “number one priority will be, and should be, economic recovery over the next six months and first year”.
“That will set the tone for his administration for the years to come.”
Marcos Jr’s inauguration comes days after a last-ditch attempt by activists to thwart him failed when the Supreme Court dismissed petitions seeking to disqualify him for tax offences decades ago.
The new leader’s opponents fear he could use his victory to entrench himself in power.
“Marcos Jr’s refusal to recognise the abuses and wrongdoings of the past, in fact lauding the dictatorship as ‘golden years’, makes him very likely to continue its dark legacy during his term,” warned left-wing alliance Bayan.
“Wow, is this really happening?” asked Bonifacio Ilagan, a 70-year-old activist who was detained and severely tortured by counterinsurgency forces during the elder Marcos’s rule.
“For victims of martial law like me, this is a nightmare.”