The Explainer Special: They Never Left!

Manuel L. Quezon III
6 min readSep 28, 2023

A deep dive into three decades of public opinion and what it reveals

Here is the teaser for the presentation:

Who was former president Ferdinand E. Marcos? Are Filipinos becoming forgetful or victims of misinformation? Looking at SWS surveys…

  • Was he a severe, brutal, or oppressive president? In 1986, 45% said so. By 2022, however, only 23% thought so.
  • Did he steal from the people? In 1987, 52% thought that he stole money from the people. By 2022, only 19% said so.

Did the Duterte administration play a role in creating a positive reputation for former president Marcos? Do Ilocanos, in general, have a strong admiration for Marcos Sr.?

The Presentation

The same questions on Ferdinand Marcos were asked soon (within eight months) after his fall, and during the terms of Ramos, Aquino III and Duterte. The results of these surveys formed the basis for the paper still being written, but the main points of which were put forward for discussion.

The outline of the paper to come.

A contrast between the generation that experienced the dictatorship and Edsa, and the generations that did not experience either, was discussed.

The findings on positive descriptions of Marcos.

The findings on negative descriptions of Marcos.

Factors (sex, generation, education, area of residence and ethnicity) in relation to opinion.

The explanation of possible reasons was interesting. Working with the definition of Ronald Mendoza that “fat dynasties” are those where family members have two or more positions in the town/city/province, and that dynasties have been getting fatter for two decades now, then the primary political interaction of Filipino voters is with increasingly pervasive dynastic politics which makes national dynasties familiar, expected, territory.

The percentage of the population that has family members in the bureaucracy is very large, and the effect of removing bureaucrats in the aftermath of the fall of Marcos, may have alienated large swathes of the population against Edsa and the democracy it established.

When it came to textbooks, in the guise of “balance” (use of words like “alleged” for example) may have served as a veiled justification of the Marcoses.

As indicated by the reversal of negative public opinion by 1995, disenchantment or disappointment in the post-EDSA era (see slides in “Additional “Insights,” below) may have, in retrospect, rehabilitated the Marcoses.

Some administrations found it useful to ally with the Marcoses, Estrada, Arroyo, and Duterte in particular, helping to normalize and rehabilitate them.

Was there, on the other hand, nostalgia for a strongman? Here the panel said there didn’t seem to be evidence of this.

Additional Insights

One interesting factor may have been when the surveys were taken. The first was taken at the peak of Cory Aquino’s popularity; the second, the much-discussed 1995 rehabilitation of the Marcoses one, was taken at the nadir or lowest point, of Ramos’s popularity (and his was the continuation, in effect, of the EDSA coalition); the third came when disappointment with the Aquino III administration had solidified; and the last was taken at the peak of Duterte’s popularity.

A contextual note on the surveys as a whole is that there was a long trough, so to speak, from the height of per capita GDP before the Marcos-era collapse of the economy, to the recovery of per capita GDP to 1982 levels: this was in 2002. Furthermore, while perennially optimistic (the one instance, post-EDSA, Filipinos stopped being optimistic, was at the time of Joseph Estrada: “This is when I knew Erap was in trouble,” remarked Steve Rood), Filipino optimism didn’t combine with Filipinos feeling they were better off today than they were yesterday, until late in the term of Benigno S. Aquino III: meaning Aquino did not get credit for achieving, at last, both economic growth and a reduction in inequality (my take on this: it was therefore Duterte who reaped the political points and positive public opinion).

Interestingly, favorable but never majority, opinion towards ditching democracy or adopting more authoritarian methods, peaked under Duterte -but also fell to more traditional levels, by the end of his term.

On the other hand, while still a plurality, democracy hasn’t had majority opinion for it, since 2010 though it had nearly recovered by 2021.

An EDSA Addendum

Most surprising of all is public opinion as reflected another set of questions asked in 2022. The consensus that Edsa was a positive thing remains a majority one, with a large plurality that at least some of what it was supposed to achieve, was fulfilled. There exists then, a Marcos rehabilitation combined with a continuing EDSA consensus that it was and remains, important.

Some thoughts

Looking at the same questions over time, some things to bear in mind, based on the discussions during the open forum:

We forget, Steve Rood reminded the audience, that the 1986 Snap Election was a close one although research supports the view Marcos lost -but narrowly. Even at this lowest point, after February, 1986, he still held a respectable core of support; this recovered, in large part, by 1995 (significantly, the lowest point of the Edsa Coalition’s second act, Ramos).

Rood asserts the verdict (disappointment) with EDSA was registered then, and that on the whole, public opinion was no longer colored by EDSA, but that Marcos might have been measured against his successors and that, based on the disappointing performance of the post-Ramos presidents, these retroactively burnished Marcos’s reputation.

This suggests that the focus on social media, as having accomplished the rehabilitation of Marcos, is a flawed lens. If Marcos had essentially been rehabilitated by 1995, then what social media arguably accomplished, was to latch on to this reality, and make those who felt positive about Marcos, realize they were a (growing) majority and not a minority: this growing realization gutted the self-confidence (and political legitimacy) of the EDSA coalition.

I have my own thoughts on what was going on from 1987–2015 (to my mind, the era of t he Rise and Fall of the Fifth Republic) and 1992–2022 (the era of the Marcos Restoration) and t he newest iteration of the reform vs. populist division but the survey findings essentially harmonizes with my own views: though I will revise them based on some of the interesting findings. The durability of EDSA as something positive and lasting on its own, is one thing worth pondering, considering it coexists with the rehabilition of the Marcoses themselves: suggesting that what was repudiated was specifically the Aquinos, but not the democratic project itself.

Originally published at https://mlq3.substack.com.

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Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Spot.ph. Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.