Ferdinand Marcos Jr praises his dictator father as he is sworn in as new Philippines president

·4 min read

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of a dictator who kept the Philippines under the grip of martial law for years, praised his father as he was sworn in as the country's new president.

His rise to power comes 36 years after an army-backed popular revolution ousted Marcos Snr, who became notorious for his acquisition of personal wealth at the expense of his country.

Even today, the day he was removed from power is a public holiday and monuments and the Philippine constitution stand as reminders of his tyrannical rule.

Mr Marcos Jr won a landslide victory in last month's election, after what his critics say has been a decades-long effort to change public perceptions of a family that lived lavishly at the top of one of the world's most infamous kleptocracies.

In a speech as he officially took office, the 64-year-old did not seek to distance himself from his forebears, and indeed stood next to his mother Imelda on the platform on which he was sworn in.

He said: "I once knew a man who saw what little had been achieved since independence... but he got it done sometimes with the needed support, sometimes without.

"So will it be with his son. You will get no excuses from me.

"My father built more and better roads, produced more rice than all administrations before his," Mr Marcos Jr added, as he also praised the infrastructure projects established by his equally controversial predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

Calling for unity, he did not mention the human rights atrocities and theft of wealth his father was accused of, saying he wanted to focus on the future, not the past.

He said securing sufficient food supplies would be among his top priorities as he begins his six-year term.

"The role of agriculture cries for the urgent attention that its neglect and misdirection now demands," said Mr Marcos, who has appointed himself as agriculture minister.

The economy of the Philippines has been among the worst-hit in Asia by the two-year coronavirus pandemic, and it has suffered further after Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent global inflation soaring and sparked fears of food shortages.

Read more: How Putin's invasion is causing a worldwide food crisis - and what can be done

It comes as the leader of another large democracy in the southeast Asian/Pacific region, Indonesian president Joko Widodo, offered to deliver a message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, in a bid to bring about a resolution to the conflict that threatens to unleash worldwide hunger and destitution.

Mr Widodo is chair of the G20 and has been appointed one of six leaders the United Nations' "champions" of a Global Crisis Response Group, aiming to reduce the impact of food price hikes on people around the globe.

But activists and survivors of the era in the Philippines that saw many people imprisoned for speaking out against Mr Marcos Sr protested against the new president's inauguration.

Thousands of police officers, including those wearing riot gear and carrying weapons, were deployed in Manila for security.

Among the foreign dignitaries who attended were Chinese vice president Wang Qishan and Doug Emhoff, the husband of Kamala Harris, the vice president of the United States, which was the former colonial power until 1946, excluding the period of Japanese WW2 occupation.

The country remains at the sharp end in the battle for allegiances in the Pacific region, with President Duterte having previously announced his "separation" from the United States, declaring realignment with China, but then subsequently falling out with Beijing over its assertiveness in the seas between the two countries.

Mr Marcos Jr also inherits decades-old Muslim and communist insurgencies, gaping inequality, political divisions and crime, which President Duterte tried to solve with a highly controversial war on drugs.

Mr Duterte's daughter Sara was also elected Mr Marcos Jr's vice-president.

The brutal anti-drugs campaign left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead and was being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a possible crime against humanity until the probe was suspended in November.

The ICC chief prosecutor has asked that it be resumed immediately.

Mr Marcos Jr and Ms Duterte have faced calls to help prosecute her father and cooperate with the international court when they take office, but they have avoided controversial issues and focused on a call for national unity.

Marcos Sr was forced from power by a largely peaceful pro-democracy uprising in 1986 after a 14-year period of martial law and died in 1989 while in exile in Hawaii having never admitted doing anything wrong despite accusations that he, his family and cronies amassed personal wealth while in office of an estimated $5bn-$10bn (£4.1bn-£8.2bn).

Among the possessions of Marcos Sr's wife Imelda discovered when protesters overran the presidential palace were a collection of between 1,000 and 7,000 pairs of shoes, depending on reports.

The now 92-year-old returned from exile in 1991 and has since then lived in Philippines.