The “destabilizing” charisma of Imee Marcos
MANILA — Disinformation scholar Jonathan Corpus Ong was in the middle of his winter vacation in Virginia last year when he received an email from Senator Imee Marcos’ office.
Ong, a Cambridge-educated sociologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, was invited to attend the Senate Election Reforms Committee hearing on “detecting foreign interference in elections via online platforms.” social media”.
It was in January 2021, 16 months from the May 2022 elections.
Ong initially thought the invitation was “funny”, but immediately realized it was the perfect opportunity to brief Filipino policymakers on the complexity of misinformation.
“We have tried to push forward appropriate and comprehensive reforms, rather than token or superficial disinformation reforms,” Ong told ABS-CBN News Online.
But Ong was reluctant to come forward because of a “striking irony”.
“We found it ironic that a family that had previously been cited by academic research and journalistic investigations as having a social media connection [disinformation] presided over potential attempts to regulate it,” Ong said, referring to his 2018 research.Architects of networked disinformation.”
He consulted Ona Caritos of the election watchdog SLOW, a frequent contact for the Marcos-led panel.
“Sabi ko should I be worried? Sabi lang niya just make sure you answer directly… Magaling ‘yan, so maghanda ka.
Political science professor Jean Franco described Imee as the perfect blend of his parents, the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and former first lady Imelda Marcos.
“Siya yung politiko her talaga family. Imee really came of age during their father’s dictatorship so she really saw and witnessed everything and especially given her role in the Kabataang Barangay. So I guess that l ‘helped hone his political skills,’ Franco said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Online.
Despite human rights abuses under martial law, Imee embraced their family’s heritage with pride, often glorifying his father’s schemes contrary to what critics say.
Producing narratives is something the Marcos family does consistently, and they stick to it with astonishing discipline, as scholars and journalists have noted.
“I am still terribly impressed by the thoroughness of the brainwashing operations the Marcos family undertook to bring about their rehabilitation in less than four decades,” veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas wrote in her op-ed after Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.’s landslide victory last May.
Ong ended up attending the hearing on January 20, 2021.
There he witnessed Imee’s “intellectual chops” in navigating the highly complex and technical problem of disinformation and its potential implications in the upcoming election.
“It was evident in the hearing that Senator Marcos did the work, did the research, she knows the parameters,” he said.
But Ong was on guard during the nearly 2-hour hearing, acutely aware that this was more than a meeting “for the benefit of legislation”.
With Imee’s position as chair of the crucial panel, “she was able to control and set the proceedings and the agenda [on disinformation]Ong noted.
Ong said he was bowled over by Imee’s “assertion of power” in using his own research to advance his case, primarily against over-regulation.
“She was able to surprise experts, academics by reframing and recontextualizing academic findings to ensure control of the situation… She cited and referenced academic studies but in a manner framed by her own argument. So I thought that was interesting.
During the hearing, Imee displayed a “true speech tita na medyo maldita persona”, according to Ong.
“Ang galing niya during this hearing. I was both unsettled by her and charmed by her,” Ong admitted.
Indeed, Imee has always been characterized as being the “closest” among the children of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
“She speaks in the vernacular, minsan she engages in gay lingo, mas masa, so to speak,” Franco said.
Ong, who does digital ethnography, also observed the same as early as 2019.
“I would point out that his own YouTube channel is a powerful innovation. We saw that build in 2019. Yung 2019 study namin really followed the consistency of #ImeeSolusyon. He was definitely leaning into his babaeng bakla, his true speech, his charming maldita personality. It slowly built and continued,” Ong said.
Ong explained why such a kind character appeals to Filipinos.
“We love the bitchy female lead character. Wasn’t GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) at its most popular pag may pinapagalitan siya? Yung mga improvised moments ni GMA na pinapagalitan yung staff nya is when people look up to him. It is an affirmation of strength and determination to get things done. So kumbaga, the female equivalent of the strongman character… She just embodies the female archetype of that,” Ong said.
He also argued that Imee played one of the most pivotal roles in his brother’s campaign rooted in “unity”.
“Imee played an important strategic role in a campaign where BBM played a safe and good role; she had to carry out direct attacks,” he said, of the “Len-Len” series that poked fun at Leni Robredo.
Imee herself acknowledged this “role” after her brother’s victory.
“The Len-Len series was my way of responding to problems. I just couldn’t let it go… Mabait ang kapatid ko. But for me, it is very, very important to address the issues head-on. It’s also the Filipino political tradition that we have the satire, you scoff, you take it jokingly, but at the same time it’s important that the issues are ventilated and known and that 80.7 million people are of okay, andami-daming nanood. So it was a lot of fun,” Imee said on ANC Headstart.
While Marcos’ rehabilitation was seen as a “long-term project”, Ong said there was “an element of things coming together right now” that ultimately made their return possible.
“The Duterte administration and how mainstream media has been marginalized, how the culture of social media influencers has been turbocharged, our distrust of liberal elite politicians, which I think , is a legacy of Duterte. This way of thinking about politics in terms of camps, Duterte really reinforced that. So that really paves the way for the Marcos to come back. Parang, all of these factors contributed,” he said.
Meanwhile, Imee is expected to play a key role in the Senate under his brother’s administration, while his first cousin and new House Speaker Martin Romualdez will do the bidding in the lower house.