After Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. announced on Oct. 5 that he would run for president in the 2022 elections, recurring claims praising his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and his authoritarian regime notably increased.
This did not surprise researchers from the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center (UP TWSC) who conduct studies on the Marcos regime.
“It’s par for the course that when a Marcos is running for public office, propaganda in favor of the family will proliferate,” said Miguel Paolo Reyes, one of the researchers.
From October to early December, VERA Files Fact Check (VFFC) debunked eight Marcos-related falsehoods, a jump from the six other fact checks published from January to September.
In all, 14 posts containing pro-Marcos claims were debunked this year, more than double of the six that were fact-checked in 2020.
The types of Marcos propaganda circulating on social media mostly exaggerated myths on Marcos Sr. and his regime, featured denials of graft and corruption charges against the family, and vilified the administrations that came after 1986.
“Implicit in all Marcos propaganda is the desirability of authoritarianism and of having a brilliant and uncompromising leader that will wield such dense concentration of power as he sees fit,” explained another UP TWSC researcher, Joel F. Ariate Jr.
VERA Files Fact Check analyzed these posts, and found these out:
1. Most Marcos propaganda exaggerated “achievements” of Marcos Sr. and his regime
Seven of the 14 posts related to Marcos Sr. debunked by VERA Files Fact Check this year revived or rehashed myths about the late dictator, as well as false and misleading claims about his regime’s alleged economic and infrastructure-building achievements.
“A lot of false claims about Ferdinand Marcos and/or the Marcos regime are partly anchored on fact[s] … However … most of the time the benefits of Marcos-era programs were either overstated/exaggerated or outright falsified,” Reyes said.
To illustrate his point, Reyes explained that the 13th month pay bill signed by Marcos in 1975 did not cover all employees, and that the KADIWA retail store, a project implemented by the Marcos administration, did not “eradicate hunger among the poor” as claimed.
Marcos-related disinformation contained “utterly false projections of sustained prosperity and development during Marcos’ two-decade rule,” Reyes added.
For instance, the exchange rate never stood at P2.00 to the dollar during Marcos’ rule from 1965 to 1986, as debunked in three fact checks by VERA Files this year.
The Philippines was not the top country in Asia in terms of economic prosperity during Marcos’ rule, and it also never ranked second to Japan. Both claims were also thrice-debunked by VERA Files Fact Check this 2021.
“Such propaganda is designed to make the return to the Marcos ‘Golden Age’ highly desirable—the then/now contrast is sharpened,” Reyes added.
Myths about the older Marcos’ purported achievements are also untrue.
Marcos Sr. did not have the highest bar score grade in Philippine history at 98.01%. He was never awarded by the Americans for fighting the Japanese during World War II.
2. Some Marcos propaganda refuted the graft and corruption charges against them
Five of the 14 Marcos-related posts debunked by VERA Files Fact Check attempted to convince social media users that the Marcoses did not steal from the country’s coffers.
Out of these, two Facebook (FB) posts cited court suits dismissed in favor of the Marcoses to falsely claim that the family did not commit graft and corruption. VERA Files fact-checked these claims here and here.
The Marcoses lost in several lawsuits at the Supreme Court and the Sandiganbayan, contrary to a claim in a video that they supposedly won all cases filed against them.
A 2018 video by pro-Marcos vlogger Rita Gadi also resurfaced, falsely claiming that the money deposited by the Marcoses in Swiss banks was not ill-gotten wealth. A statement from former first lady Imelda Marcos was twisted to make it look like an outright denial of the allegations of stealing.
3. Post-Marcos administrations were also vilified
The alleged successes of Marcos’ rule were juxtaposed with the purported failures during the administrations of former presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos.
While the economy slowed down during the Aquino administration, the downfall during the Marcos regime was three times worse.
Figures cited for a comparison of the annual budget during the administrations of Marcos, Aquino, and Ramos were also incorrect and needed context.
4. Photo and text, videos were most used propaganda format
Most of the pro-Marcos propaganda used photos and videos, generating hundreds of thousands of shares from netizens.
Nearly a third (5) of the 14 posts carried multiple falsehoods, ranging from between three to seven false claims each. Such compilations repeated and reinforced previously debunked falsehoods.
Two of the posts were in video format, two used photo and text, and one was a 1,214-word text post.
VERA Files Fact Check debunked a FB post that garnered 204,000 shares as of October — the most shared post among the pro-Marcos claims debunked this year. It misleadingly credited the Marcos administration for building the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Another video raked a combined total of 8.4 million views on both FB and TikTok. It erroneously claimed that the Marcoses were not guilty of human rights violations.
5. Propaganda on Marcos Sr. and his regime were amplified by pro-Marcos, other FB accounts
Most of the top sources and shares of Marcos propaganda are FB pages by self-proclaimed Marcos Sr. loyalists who are supporting the son.
Eleven out of 30 FB pages, as well as three of five FB groups that posted or shared propaganda on Marcos Sr. and his regime, carried the word “Marcos” in their page or group name.
“Pro-Marcos content creators are adept in creating a community around their content. Many of them are now experts in engaging (real time or otherwise) their audience (organic or paid), which, in turn, keeps them motivated in sharing (dis)information online,” Larah del Mundo, another researcher of UP TWSC, said.
Several other FB pages, while not named after Marcos, carried pro-Marcos propaganda posts and content in favor of Marcos Jr.
Celebrity Richard Poon and vlogger Tricia Arias, who have expressed support for Marcos Jr.’s presidential bid, helped amplify pro-Marcos disinformation. And so did the official FB page of comedian Brod Pete (Herman Salvador).
FB page PSSAP Underground, self-labeled as an “educational research page,” also featured several pro-Marcos propaganda. The FB page of the political party Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino gave a platform to pro-Marcos vlogger Rita Gadi as well as COVID-19 skeptics and anti-vaxxers.
Meanwhile, three of the FB pages that published pro-Marcos disinformation carried the names of President Rodrigo Duterte and his daughter, Marcos Jr.’s running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
Three TikTok accounts reuploaded videos containing old myths on Marcos and his regime, such as those posted on YouTube by sirlester channel and PweDelie TV, among others.
VERA Files Fact Check tracked the names of these public FB pages and groups that shared or posted Marcos propaganda using the social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle.
Promise of gold fuels pro-Marcos disinformation spree
According to Reyes, certain beliefs held by Marcos loyalists might be the reason why they keep sharing the propaganda.
For him, certain instances in 1998 and 2013, when Mrs. Marcos promised to distribute their wealth to the people, may explain the support behind the political family.
“It’s crucial to the Marcoses’ appeal to some supporters, the idea that returning them to power would help them distribute their wealth for our collective salvation,” Reyes said.
Confirmation bias, or one’s tendency to process information by looking for and interpreting information consistent with one’s beliefs, could also explain why pro-Marcos supporters only look at content that praises the Marcoses.
Fact checks have ‘minimal impact’ on Marcos propaganda, says researchers
Since 2016, VERA Files Fact Check has been debunking claims praising Marcos Sr. and his regime. Ariate, however, said he believes that fact checking only has a “minimal impact” on preventing the spread of Marcos myths.
“Alert to fact-check is hooked on virality, which means that the twisted information it will try to counter has already done its damage,” he said.
In 2018, the UP TWSC set up Twitter and Facebook accounts named “Did a Marcos Lie Today?” to debunk lies and statements by the Marcoses. But Marcos Sr.’s daughter, Imee, still became senator and used her position to share Marcos propaganda, Ariate said.
The project made the researchers realize that fact checking to impact the Marcos’ political narrative is ineffective, despite increased efforts in producing fact checks.
Reyes, meanwhile, said he believes that many people dismiss fact checks done by mainstream media due to distrust sown by different people and organizations.
“The distrust is sown by columnists such as Bobi Tiglao (who is among those who dismiss Vera [Files] as a CIA-funded outfit) and the likes of [former senator and Marcos defense minister Juan Ponce] Enrile, who claims unimpeachable authority over anything and everything martial law, the red-taggers over at the NTF-ELCAC who claim that media support terrorists, pro-administration bloggers with a wide following, etc,” he explained.
Should Marcos Jr. win as president in the 2022 elections, Ariate warned that existing fact-checking efforts will eventually render fact checking irrelevant.
“The Marcoses will endlessly spew all their propaganda points and the fact checkers will keep repeating their previous fact checks not noticing that they are so far out now in the news cycle. And any recycled, reshared content in social media gets buried with haste by the algorithm that’s always looking for the new and the controversial,” he said.
A minority composed of fact checkers and academics will keep debunking claims propping up the Marcoses, but Ariate said he believes that this minority’s efforts “will not tarnish the Marcos narrative of preferring authoritarian rule.”
“Fact checkers’ efforts will be starved of an audience, thanks largely to social media and the public’s by now-ingrained disinterest in truth,” he said.
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Miguel Paolo Reyes, Joel F. Ariate Jr., and Larah Vinda B. Del Mundo, email interview, Dec. 10, 2021
World Bank, GDP per capita (current US$) – Philippines, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, accessed Dec. 13, 2021
ABS-CBN News, The best of times? Data debunk Marcos’s economic ‘golden years’, Sept. 21, 2017
Rappler, Marcos years marked ‘golden age’ of PH economy? Look at the data, March 5, 2016
World Bank, GDP per capita (constant 2015 US$), accessed Dec. 10, 2021
Twitter, DID A MARCOS LIE TODAY? (@did_lie), accessed Dec. 15, 2021
Miguel Paolo Reyes, email correspondence, Dec. 15, 2021
Jose F. Ariate Jr., email correspondence, Dec. 15, 2021