Biden calls to congratulate presumptive Philippine president

AP Photo/Aaron Favila
Presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. celebrates outside his headquarters in Mandaluyong, Philippines on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden called Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday to congratulate him over his apparent landslide victory in the Philippine presidential election, Manila’s ambassador to Washington said.

Biden is among the first world leaders to recognize the electoral triumph of Marcos Jr., the namesake son of the ousted dictator whose candidacy alarmed human rights activists and pro-democracy groups.

“President Biden told him Washington is looking forward to working with him and cited the shared history of the longtime treaty allies,” Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez told The Associated Press, adding the two spoke for more than 10 minutes.

Marcos Jr. had more than 31 million votes in the unofficial count from Monday’s elections in what’s projected to be one of the strongest mandates for a Philippine president in decades. His vice presidential running mate, Sara Duterte, appeared to have also won by a landslide.

Marcos Jr. cited the long robust relations between Manila and Washington and said his administration would work to continue building on that. He invited Biden to attend his inauguration on June 30 but the U.S. leader said he was dealing with urgent concerns that may prompt him to stay in the U.S. but would send a high-level American delegation, Romualdez said by telephone.

Marcos Jr.’s declared victory Wednesday, saying his electoral triumph is a boost to democracy and promised to seek common ground across the political divide, his spokesman, Vic Rodriguez, said.

“To the world: Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions,” Rodriguez quoted Marcos Jr. as saying.

The election outcome was an astonishing reversal of the army-backed but largely peaceful “People Power” uprising that ousted Marcos’s father in 1986 — a democratic triumph in Southeast Asia where authoritarian regimes flourish.

Marcos Jr., 64, campaigned on a vague national unity theme while avoiding volatile issues in an effort hard-line leftist groups and survivors of the elder Marcos’s dictatorship likened to whitewashing of his father’s crimes. On Tuesday, he appeared overcome with emotions while visiting his father’s grave — which was moved to the national heroes’ cemetery under current President Rodrigo Duterte.

Several of Marcos Jr.’s key election rivals have conceded defeat, though the closest challenger, Vice President Leni Robredo, a human rights lawyer who ran on a promise of badly needed reforms, has only acknowledged his massive lead. The U.S. State Department said the elections and subsequent vote count followed international standards without any major incident.

The tabulated results still must be confirmed by Congress. Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte would then start their single, six-year term leading a Southeast Asian nation battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, wealth inequality, Muslim and communist insurgencies, and political divisions, which were only inflamed by the turbulent presidencies of their fathers.

Earlier, China congratulated the “leading candidates” and the Philippines for the smooth conduct of the elections and said it would work with Manila to “stay committed to good neighborliness and friendship” for the benefit of both nations’ people.

Marcos Jr. has said he wants to pursue closer ties with China, though Beijing during the outgoing Duterte’s presidency showed no willingness to compromise on their conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea and military, fishing and other operations in those waters.