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The Philippines will elect a new leader Monday


Voters in the Philippines go to the polls on Monday. Vice President Leni Robredo is campaigning hard in the final stretch of her bid for the presidency with raucous rallies.



SIMON: And there's another familiar name on the ballot - Marcos. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., known as Bongbong, son of the late dictator who ruled the country for two decades. NPR's Southeast Asia correspondent, Julie McCarthy, is covering the campaign and joins us now from Manila. Julie, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Ferdinand Marcos Sr. - his wife and her famous closet, Imelda, were run out of the country by a popular uprising 35 years ago. How is it that this family that has come to personify corruption, in many ways, is staging a comeback?

MCCARTHY: Yeah, it is remarkable. Going from political exile to presidential favorite is a remarkable turn. And the Marcos family - they were early and adept users of social media. And they used it to recast their legacy, which airbrushed out the human rights abuses under Marcos Sr. and the kleptocracy of he and his wife, Imelda.

SIMON: And what does the current Marcos say he would like to do for his country?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, he's campaigned on improving the country's pandemic response, but it's really not clear how Bongbong Marcos intends to govern. Instead, on the stump, he's relied on this one theme. Let's listen.


FERDINAND MARCOS JR: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "Unity," he said in this final week of campaigning. "That's what will improve the lives of Filipinos. Unity." Now, there's a lot left blank there. And, of course, his critics say this talk of unity is nonsense when the family itself never apologized for its crimes, which were extremely divisive.

SIMON: And for the past decades, the Philippine government has been trying to recover some of the riches stolen by the Marcos family. Does that just stop if Bongbong Marcos wins?

MCCARTHY: Well, that's the worry, right? The government has recovered over $3 billion in Marcos's ill-gotten wealth, and they're still recovering. Now, Marcos Jr. claims he never possessed or even benefited from that wealth. But his opponents worry that if elected, he could find a way to defang or even kill the commission that's reclaimed what's been stolen.

SIMON: What can you tell us about Marcos's main election rival, the outgoing vice president, Leni Robredo?

MCCARTHY: Leni Robredo has cast herself, Scott, as the counterpoint to Marcos, and the two are in a blood feud. She beat him six years ago for the vice presidency in an upset victory that Marcos has not forgotten. But Robredo, who is this kind of earth mother figure, has ignited a grassroots movement that clamors for clean, honest government. And she draws huge crowds projecting that. Here she is in her hometown last night.


LENI ROBREDO: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "We know that if there's a clean government, it's the people who benefit from it," she says. And the people who support her are thronged in the streets just outside my window, hoping that Leni Robredo can pull off another long-shot victory over Marcos Jr. on Monday. It's a thrilla in Manila.

SIMON: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Manila. Thanks so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.
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