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Voters in the Philippines stream to the polls to choose a new president


Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the Philippine strongman who was ousted in the 1980s, has taken an early lead and appears to be on the verge of becoming the Philippines' next president. With more than 60% of the votes counted, Marcos has what looks to be a prohibitive lead over his main challenger, vice president Leni Robredo. Joining us from Manila is NPR's Julie McCarthy. Julie, so what's the trajectory numbers for Marcos?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, the numbers are preliminary, but it's shaping up to be a lopsided victory. As you said, more than 60% of the votes counted. Marcos Jr. has amassed well over a majority of those ballots, some 60%. And if that holds, analysts say it would be an unprecedented margin of victory in contemporary political terms. He's got an 11.7 million vote lead over his nearest challenger, Leni Robredo. You know, the election offered the country this stark choice. It was the vice president, Leni Robredo, who had largely served as a restraint on the outgoing president, Rodrigo Duterte, or Ferdinand Marcos, the son and namesake of the dictator who was driven from power in a popular uprising in the 1980s. And, you know, Marcos' pursuit of the presidency was a family affair to fully restore their once disgraced dynasty to power.

MARTÍNEZ: How did he do that? What was the strategy he used?

MCCARTHY: Well, the strategy really was to say little. I mean, he did not expose himself on public stages in debates with his fellow presidential contenders. He didn't provide access to the mainstream media. They were kept at an arm's length, while bloggers and vloggers and YouTube users were granted wide berth in his campaign. And they used disinformation to an extraordinary degree. And the Marcos social media army was relentless with Leni Robredo. Online trolls attacked her intelligence, the fact she's a woman. With the Marcos political machine, she was up against a juggernaut. Eugene Manalastas (ph) voted for Robredo today. It was personal for him. And he told us that cronies of Marcos Sr. had muscled his family out of its printing business years ago. And he says Marcos Jr. was just whitewashing all of these abuses. And he's worried that that revisionism worked for Marcos. Here he is.

EUGENE MANALASTAS: He was able to brainwash, convince or rebrand their family name. That's the problem. I think social media has a lot to do with this.

MARTÍNEZ: Julie, what do Marcos' voters say about that rewriting of history?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, many accept the narrative that Marco Sr. led a golden age. Many are young voters born after the Marcos era and never learned their history. But, you know, Benjamin Ano Nuevo (ph), who is 67, didn't claim ignorance. He's interested in Marcos' promises to help retirees. And I asked him if it bothered him that Marcos had repackaged the family history, airbrushed out all these ugly episodes. And here's what he said.

BENJAMIN ANO NUEVO: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "I'm not bothered by what Marcos said, lying. For me, I'm resolved to vote for him," Benjamin said. And he did. And what that illustrates is how facts don't seem to matter here. And that has analysts and citizens worried about whether disinformation will now be the formula for political success.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in Manila. Julie, thank you.

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

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.