Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr promised to invest heavily in infrastructure, mitigate the impact of climate change and “shed the last bead of sweat” for his countrymen as he took office as the Philippines’ 17th president.
Marcos, the country’s first president to be elected by a majority of the popular vote since his father Ferdinand Marcos, invoked the late dictator’s legacy and that of Rodrigo Duterte, the outgoing populist president, on Thursday.
“My father built more and better roads, produced more rice than all administrations before his,” said Marcos Jr, wearing a white barong, a traditional Filipino shirt. “President Rodrigo Roa Duterte built more and better than all administrations succeeding my father’s.”
Marcos is taking power at a time when the south-east Asian nation of 110mn is struggling to keep its economy on keel after the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic while balancing relations between the US, its traditional ally, and regional hegemon China.
The Philippine peso has been one of Asia’s poorest performing currencies this year, reflecting investors’ concerns about the risks of global recession and rising rates.
Marcos Jr has sought to reassure markets by naming a technocratic economic team headed by Benjamin Diokno, the central bank governor. He has also indicated that he would pursue smoother ties with Washington than Duterte, who suspended a visiting forces agreement with the US and reoriented the Philippines’ foreign policy toward China and Russia.
Douglas Emhoff, the husband of US vice-president Kamala Harris, represented Washington at the inauguration.
Marcos Jr promised to present Filipinos with a six-year “comprehensive infrastructure plan” in which “no part of our country will be neglected” and to clean up plastic waste, describing the Philippines as the world’s third-biggest plastics polluter.
“You will not be disappointed, so do not be afraid,” Marcos said. “With every difficult decision that I must make, I will keep foremost in my heart and in my mind the debt of gratitude I owe you for the honour and the responsibility that you have conferred on me.”
Marcos’s landslide win in last month’s election marked an extraordinary comeback for one of the Philippines’ most powerful and notorious political families.
His path to power was ensured with the help of an image-crafting campaign that critics said whitewashed the violence and corruption that marked the Marcos years, and with support from the Duterte family.
The outgoing president reburied the elder Marcos with honours after taking office in 2016 and his popular daughter Sara Duterte, 44, joined Marcos Jr’s ticket as vice-president.
Victims and survivors of his father’s rule, during which thousands of people were jailed, tortured and killed, sought to disqualify Marcos Jr, but the country’s supreme court voted to dismiss their petitions this week.
Marcos Jr’s 92-year-old mother Imelda, who was convicted of graft in 2018 in a case now under appeal, was among those attending his inauguration.
Speaking in English and Tagalog, Marcos projected a conciliatory and inclusive tone, saying he had “110mn reasons” to have “faith in the Filipino”.
“I will try to spare you; you have your other responsibilities,” Marcos said. “But I will not spare myself from shedding the last bead of sweat or giving the last ounce of courage and sacrifice.”
After a campaign in which Marcos shunned interviews and gave few specifics on his policy plans, observers described his speech as a signal that he had larger policy ambitions.
“It was a shrewd speech that was aimed at the middle class, promising to leave them alone while addressing the common expectations for presidents to decide things for the public,” said Manuel Quezon, a columnist and editor at large with the Philippines’ Inquirer newspaper.