Filipino Torontonians await results of controversial election back home

Torontonians are watching as the people of the Philippines are poised to choose between the son of a former dictator and a social activist for president.

New president will take office at end of June

Marissa Corpus, a national spokesperson for watchdog Coalition Kontra Daya, says there are more than 39,000 registered voters in Toronto for the Philippine national election. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Filipinos in Toronto are anxiously awaiting the results of a national election mired with controversy back home. 

The election, which wrapped up on Monday, has largely been a two-way race between former senator Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr. and Leni Robredo, a lawyer and social activist serving as the current vice-president. The winner will take office June 30, replacing current president Rodrigo Duterte,

Marcos Jr. is the son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., whose brutal 20-year rule under mostly martial law saw numerous allegations of mass cheating and human rights abuses.

Marcos Jr. has spent years "changing history" about his father's rule, says Marissa Corpus, a national spokesperson for Philippine election watchdog Coalition Kontra Daya. The coalition of various groups held a prayer vigil outside the Philippine consulate in Toronto Monday night.

"[His campaign] spent a lot of money in changing the story that the Marcos years were the golden years, when it was the other way around," Corpus told CBC Toronto. 

"And not everyone checks and does research."

Marcos Sr. fled to Hawaii with his wife Imelda in 1986 following the "people power" revolution, which restored democracy in the Philippines. The couple had stolen US$5-10 billion from the national treasury, and are the Guinness World Record holders for "greatest robbery of a government." 

The junior Marcos has been running his campaign largely on social media, refusing to participate in presidential debates. He's focused on platforms like TikTok, where many users are too young to remember his father's rule.

Philippine presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. waves after casting his vote at Mariano Marcos Memorial Elementary School in Batac, Ilocos Norte on Monday. (Jam Sta Rosa/AFP/Getty Images)

Marcos Jr.'s running mate is Sara Duterte, daughter of the current president, whose "war on drugs" policy has led to human rights violations and a clamping down on the free press.

"We want decency, we want good governance, and we want honesty, and to remove corruption," Corpus said.

Many Filipino registered voters in Toronto

Some Filipinos who have become Canadian citizens cannot vote in their country of origin unless they've successfully applied for dual citizenship, because they lose their civil and political rights when they become citizens of another country. Despite this, Corpus says there are 39,108 registered voters for the Philippine election in Toronto alone.

Canadian Filipinos who don't have voting rights have still been able to sway the polls by sending money back to a country with one of the world's highest poverty rates. Many send remittance to family members and their allowances can influence how they cast their ballots. Billions of dollars are sent to the Philippines every year from workers overseas, according to the country's immigration bureau.

Filipino Torontonian Uly Esguerra attended a march in Little Manila two weeks ago. Though he'd never attended a protest before, Esguerra told CBC Toronto he felt as though he was losing the Philippines as he knew it.

"It feels so different now," Esguerra says. "It's not that people are inherently bad, it's that some people are maybe victims of misinformation, and that's what I wanted to fix."

Uly Esguerra says he wants what enjoys about his life in Canada to be enjoyed by people in the Philippines. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Esguerra has been in Canada since the 1990s, but lived in the Philippines as a child. He says he was 12 when the elder Marcos and his wife left the country, describing tanks in the streets and the looming threat of civil war.

"Seeing what's happening now, how all that was forgotten— not completely forgotten, but twisted— it's crazy how it got there," he said.

"How we choose to embrace the iron fist, autocratic rule over democratic ideals, and it's happening everywhere now." he said.

Esguerra said he wants what he enjoys about his life in Canada "to be enjoyed by people there." 

"And I feel like with the choices that were made today, that might not be what's going to happen."