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Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is sworn in as the Philippines 17th president

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the late dictator, was sworn in today as the 17th president of the Philippines.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Romualdez Marcos Jr.

PRESIDENT FERDINAND MARCOS JR: Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

MARCOS: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTINEZ: On hand was outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte, who spent his last days in office extending what critics called his record as an autocrat and renewing a crackdown on the press. NPR's Julie McCarthy is our Southeast Asia correspondent and is tracking this from the U.S. right now. Julie, tell us about the ceremony. What kind of tone and message was Marcos trying to cast with this inauguration before, well, more than a hundred million people of his country.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, it was a baton-passing like no other the Philippines has seen, A. History came full circle in one of the most remarkable rehabilitations of a disgraced family. The Marcos regime was ousted for abusing human rights and plundering the nation. The family was forced into exile. And today was the culmination of their decadeslong bid to regain power. Imelda Marcos may be best known for her shoe collection, but she was once the driving force behind this comeback, and she was there today at 92.

MARTINEZ: So how did they persuade millions of Filipinos to give them a second chance, I mean, in a landslide, no less?

MCCARTHY: That's right. Well, they created a myth about themselves. Historians say they rewrote history and whitewashed the crimes of Marcos Jr.'s parents. They also took advantage of public disenchantment with 30 years of successive governments that had failed to improve people's lives. But for those who suffered under martial law imposed by Marcos Jr.'s father 50 years ago, the son becoming president is anathema to them, and that antagonism is likely to hound Marcos through his six-year term. Today, he acknowledged the divisions and extended something of a fig leaf. Here's what he said in his address.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCOS: We are here to repair a house divided, to make it whole and to stand strong again. We shall seek, not scorn, dialogue, listen respectfully to contrary views, be open to suggestions coming from hard thinking and unsparing judgment.

MCCARTHY: You know, Marcos will need allies to face his biggest challenge - reviving the Philippine economy. The Philippines was one of the worst hit in the two-year-long pandemic. I saw it last month in Manila. It was difficult to do even basic things, like simple banking. So it's a long road back.

MARTINEZ: And I know that Marcos' predecessor, Duterte, ruled as a strongman in his six-year term. His daughter Sara is now the vice president, elected separately in the system. Any indication that Marcos will opt to stay the course Duterte set?

MCCARTHY: Well, that's what people are waiting to see. You know, Duterte was this brash character. He threatened and jailed critics. He led a violent anti-drug war that was widely condemned for human rights abuses. But you have Marcos, who is nonconfrontational and comes off as collegial. He wouldn't criticize or debate his opponents, and that let him stay above the fray and project himself as a nice guy. On domestic policy substance, analysts told me they expect him to stay the course as long as it's popular. Officials in the United States will be watching to see if Marcos follows Duterte's foreign policy, which tilted towards China. But Washington hopes Marcos will help the U.S. maintain an opposition to China and its expansion into islands in the South China Sea and the areas of the Pacific.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy on the Philippines' new president installed today. Julie, thanks.

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

Rachel Martin is a host of 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.