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GMA, PNoy, and BBM: How First Children Become Presidents

Are they destined for Malacañang?
by Arianne Merez
14 hours ago
Photo/s: Echo Antonio

At noon on June 30, president-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. will take office as the Philippines' 17th chief executive and in the last 36 years since the restoration of the democracy, he is also the third child of a former president to lead the country.

Marcos Jr. joins an elite club of presidents' children to take office in Malacañang after Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III in 2010 and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, twice in fact, after a popular revolt in 2001 and an election three years later.

Bongbong Marcos will also be the first namesake of a former Philippine president to be elected president, named after his father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. During his proclamation as the winner of the elections in late May, his mother, former first lady Imelda Marcos beamed as she said: "I have two presidents!"

For children of former presidents who are elected president, how much of their success is destiny?

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READ: Marcos is Proclaimed President-Elect, What's Next?

Like father, like son

Children of world leaders getting elected to become presidents themselves are not exclusive to the Philippines. The United States has the Quincys and the Bushes, and Singapore has the Lees.

What sets the Philippines apart, however, is the country's culture and history of attributing titles, positions, and achievements to the kinship that extends to politics according to University of Santo Tomas Political Science Asst. Prof. Ronald Castillo.

"The people tend to see an attribution of qualities coming from a predecessor to a son or daughter or even to a wife or husband," Castillo told reportr.

Filipinos see it in their day-to-day lives going as far back as the Spanish colonization period.

Even Jose Rizal documented it in his Noli Me Tangere using the character of Doña Victorina who packaged herself as a 'Madam Doctor' just because she was married to a doctor -- who turned out to be a quack.

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"Many Filipinos have this kind of thinking that because a certain member of the family possesses certain attributes, other members of the family also have those attributes," Castillo said.

It's a culture acknowledged by Marcos Jr. as seen in his election victory statement when he said: "Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions."

The Philippines, as a society, is also "very familial" which is why it comes as no surprise that Filipinos elect politicians from the same clans according to sociologist Enrico Baula, who teaches  Behavioral Science at the De La Salle University-Manila.

"We appoint, we vote, we assign people who are related because as a familial society, we trust only people who are family," Baula told reportr.

"We treat people like family and we are one of the few countries that refer to strangers in familial terms such as 'ate', ''nay'. We even refer to a president, who is the head of a bureaucratic body, as 'tatay'," he added.

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We see it in outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte or Tatay Digong and his immediate predecessor, the late Aquino or Kuya Noy.

EXPLAINER: Tatay Digong, Mama Leni: Why Filipinos Vote for 'Family'

'Sentimentality' and the name

Aside from political dynasty, electing children of former presidents to the presidency also shows the "sentimentality" of Filipinos according to Baula.

Noynoy Aquino, for instance, revived the yellow ribbon and Laban sign of his mom Cory for his 2010 campaign stoking emotions of the People Power Revolution. In the 2022 elections, TikTok and YouTube videos of the Marcos Sr. era dominated social media, touting his two decades in power as the Philippines' golden age, despite documented cases of human rights abuse and corruption.

READ: Imee Marcos on History: We Will Not Revise, Just Telling Our Side of the Story

"We see a sentimentality of Noynoy to Cory and Bongbong to Marcos Sr. Filipinos, as they are familial, are also very traditional, meaning we operate more on sentiments and emotions," he said.

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There is also that "grandioseness" of politicians in the Philippines that makes elections a name-recall and popularity contest according to analyst Castillo.

"We see politicians who have supporters who act like fanboys or fangirls. Sometimes, it's not even a political question, it's a popularity contest. For instance, 'bakit mo iboboto 'yan?' and the answer will be something to the effect of 'Uy Marcos sikat 'yan, Aquino sikat. Iboto 'yan kasi anak 'yan ng dating presidente'," he said.

And when it comes to choosing between "established" names in politics versus neophytes, many Filipinos still prefer to support those who have a history of being in public service -- whether good or bad.

"For many, there is comfort in knowing or having an idea of what kind of politiko you are facing and it shows beyond the presidency," Baula said.

"Look at almost all the branches of our government, it's family," he added.

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