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Asia Stream: The Philippine Election -- Dynasty and Disinformation

Nearly 50 years after Ferdinand Marcos Sr. declared brutal martial law, the Philippines is poised to elect his son. Has history been forgotten?

NEW YORK -- Welcome to Nikkei Asia's podcast: Asia Stream.

Every week, Asia Stream tracks and analyzes the Indo-Pacific with a mix of expert interviews and original reporting by our correspondents from across the globe.

New episodes are recorded biweekly and available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other major platforms, and on our YouTube channel.

This week, we focus on one of Asia's most dynamic but flawed democracies: the Philippines. With the election just days away, we get under the hood of the electoral system and investigate the powerful role that dynasties play in the country, with a special focus on Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the front-runner on the cusp of taking power. We then take into account that other essential, if dangerous, tenet of modern Philippine democracy: disinformation, and how it is being used to gain support among the country's most vulnerable populations.

In this episode, Asia Stream correspondent Monica Hunter-Hart reports on the dynasty and disinformation dyad with Cliff Venzon, our correspondent in Manila, and Regine Cabato of the Washington Post. Also, Alice French, deputy editor of our Big Story, sends in her Tokyo Dispatch about Japan's energy dilemma triggered by the war in Ukraine, featuring Rurika Imahashi. Asia Stream is hosted by Wajahat S. Khan, our digital editor and executive producer, and produced by Monica Hunter-Hart and Jack Stone Truitt.

Related to this episode:

South China Sea issue will weigh on next Philippine president, by Cliff Venzon

'Bongbong' Marcos cements lead in Philippine presidential race, by Cliff Venzon

Marcos return looms large as Philippines remembers 'People Power', by Cliff Venzon


(Theme Music in)

WAJAHAT S. KHAN, HOST: Hello, and welcome to Asia Stream, where we track, report and analyze the issues and interests of the world's largest region.

I am Waj Khan, Nikkei Asia's digital editor, here in New York City.

Today's episode: Dynasty and Disinformation -- the face of modern democracy in the Philippines.

The Philippine presidential election is less than a week away, and those two uncomfortable characteristics of contemporary politics in the country -- dynasty and disinformation -- are expected to shape the result.

Leading the polls by a wide margin is Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator. The elder Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines for 21 years, including eight years under martial law, before he was overthrown in 1986 by the so-called People Power uprising against his kleptocracy.

But now, in an alliance of a dictator's dynasty with a strongman's dynasty, the younger Marcos has partnered with vice presidential hopeful Sara Duterte, daughter of the tough outgoing president, Rodrigo Duterte.

Although she has maintained distance from her father, Sara Duterte was actually leading the polls before she decided to partner up with Marcos. This alliance of Marcos-Duterte is a potent one, one that spans the country's geography and demography, allying the northern districts loyal to Marcos with the deep south, where the Dutertes are most powerful.

Both Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte have enjoyed the privilege of power under their respective fathers' rules. Marcos entered politics as a vice governor in 1981, when his dad was still ruling the country, and until recently Duterte was mayor of her hometown of Davao City, her father's old job. To prove the point, Duterte's two sons are eyeing congressional and mayoral seats in the upcoming elections, and Marcos' son is also being prepped as an heir apparent.

Dynasties, a longtime staple of Philippine politics, have only tightened their grip on power, consistently over decades. Research shows that so-called "fat" dynasties -- where several members simultaneously hold elected posts -- now occupy almost a third of local offices, 80% of governorships, and two-thirds of seats in Congress. Dynasties thrive in the Philippines' most poverty-stricken areas, and brutal, election-related violence is highest among dynasty-ruled regions.

There has been legal and legislative pushback. But laws that are supposed to curb the influence of political families either don't get passed or don't work -- hardly surprising, given that they've been processed by politicians who themselves belong to dynasties.

There are dozens of political dynasties, big and small, functional and official around the country. But the Marcos name stands out -- and comes with serious baggage because it has played perhaps the most polarizing, traumatic role in the history of Philippine politics.

You're listening to the sound of Asia, streaming in your ear.

From Nikkei Asia, this is Asia Stream.

(Theme music out)

KHAN: Today, Bongbong Marcos' remarkable ascent is a divisive subject and opens up the wounds of the past. However, where some see the entrenched power of dynastic politics and patronage, propelled by a slick PR campaign that has done a remarkable job of whitewashing the Marcos family's sins, a new generation sees vindication.

(Crowd cheers at Marcos Jr. rally)

Indeed, Marcos has found his edge in demographics. The majority of Filipinos who'll vote for president on May 9 are under 30 years old. They didn't grow up under the elder Marcos' martial law regime, under which 70,000 people were detained, 34,000 tortured and over 3,000 killed.

Moreover, the younger Marcos' carefully crafted rise to presidential front-runner status is the culmination of a yearslong, sophisticated social media disinformation strategy pushing his father's rule as a golden era. He's avoided debates and therefore doesn't have to talk about what his family did, and he lets big-name local politicians campaign on his behalf.

Meanwhile, the main rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, has been the target of a constant barrage of online disinformation, much of it about her and her family's sex lives, by pro-Marcos supporters.

The adaptability of the disinformation campaign has been remarkable. When the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia took action against Marcos' trolls, bots, spam and manipulation, and even the powerful Catholic Church rejected the online "historical revisionism," the Marcos campaign responded by pivoting to newer platforms like TikTok ...

(TikTok song with campaign rally plays)

... to appeal to the Philippines' massive vote bank of Gen Zers, converting teenagers and influencers who are far removed from the trauma of martial law to sympathize with the Marcos dynasty.

Can anyone beat the dynastic duo? The only candidate with a shot -- albeit a long one -- at being a spoiler for the Marcos-Duterte ticket is Robredo. She's also the lone female presidential candidate.

Robredo, who beat Marcos for VP in 2016, has carved out a reputation as a fierce critic of Duterte's strong-arm tactics. Although she trails Marcos by double digits, her campaign is experiencing a late surge in numbers attending her vibrant, proudly feminist rallies in a political culture that's as misogynistic as it is dynastic.

While the die is cast -- Philippine dynasties are here to stay, for now -- will one of Asia's most dynamic, if flawed, democracies be able to evolve into a more egalitarian system or be held captive by its own disinformation insurgency?

That, and more, is coming up.

Before we begin, a reminder that Asia Stream listeners get an exclusive discount on Nikkei Asia subscriptions. Type in the code ASIASTREAM, all caps, no spaces, at checkout when you visit Subscribing is the best way to get access to the full range of our top-notch reporting, and to support our work.

Now, we move to our special report on the Philippines election, with Asia Stream correspondent Monica Hunter-Hart investigating those two D's -- dynasty and disinformation -- that shape modern Philippine democracy. Over to you, Monica.

MONICA HUNTER-HART, CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Waj. To walk us through this exciting but complicated election, including how we got here and what's next, we're joined by Cliff Venzon, Nikkei Asia's correspondent in Manila. Cliff, welcome to Asia Stream.

CLIFF VENZON, GUEST: Yeah, it's good to be here. Thanks, Monica.

HUNTER-HART: Cliff, I'm struck by how much the Philippine election is a story of our time... there's the crucial backdrop of social media disinformation, which is a problem across the world. And everywhere you turn, democracy seems to be backsliding. From Trump to Modi to Orban, fringe politics are now mainstream politics. The Philippine election is a particularly overt example of that, because Marcos Jr. is apparently very popular with the people but is literally the son of the guy the people overthrew less than two generations ago. He's actually parading his mother, Imelda Marcos, around on campaigns -- she was convicted just a few years ago of graft for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. Now I guess she's Bongbong's proud mother, but back then, she was the Marie Antoinette-like figure who infamously owned 3,000 pairs of shoes while ruling over a country in poverty. This family stole directly, and massively, from the Philippine coffers. And now they're almost back in business. So Cliff, talk to us about the Marcos rehabilitation effort. How did we get here? How did they get here?

VENZON: So I think we should start right with the Marcos Sr.'s presidency. A bit of history: President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was elected in 1965, was reelected four years after. In 1972, he declared martial law to suppress the threat of communist rebellion. He did a lot of massive infrastructure buildup, which, you know, powered economic growth during that time, but at the same time, a lot of it was also driven by, by debt. So, the huge debt would later on become a headache during the debt crisis in the 1980s. But there's also, apart from the economy, there's also the other side, which is the human rights. During the iron fist rule of Mr. Marcos Sr., a lot of opposition figures were jailed and thousands of activists were tortured and disappeared and killed. I spoke with one torture victim. He's now 70 years old, but when he was arrested or detained, he was a left-wing student activist, he was 23 years old. I mean, he clearly remembers it vividly. One of the tortures inflicted on them was called San Juanico Bridge. San Juanico Bridge is one of the infrastructure projects of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. The torturers would ask them to, to lie between two steel cots like a bridge. When their body sags, or when they, when they fall, they're beaten. It's very symbolic of the, of the polarizing, how polarizing the Marcos Sr. administration was. Like, on one hand, you have this bridge that was built. And then there's also a torture method named after that bridge.

HUNTER-HART: That is just awful, and awfully ironic. Now, even beyond the tortures and extrajudicial killings and imprisonments, the other big cause of anger towards the Marcos Sr. regime was corruption. The huge extent to which Ferdinand and his wife, Imelda, had been stealing from the Philippine people was only really uncovered later, after they were ousted during the massive People Power Revolution of 1986. Tell us about that.

VENZON: During the People Power Revolution, a lot of people -- millions -- went to the streets to protest against the Marcos dictatorship.

(Sound of People Power protests)

VENZON: And the protests didn't last long. Just on the fourth day of the largely peaceful protests, the Marcos family fled to Hawaii. And their ouster led to the discovery of more, of more evidence of ill-gotten wealth.

BBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There is understandable jubilation tonight. Mr. Marcos is gone. "Good riddance," say the majority. [...] Tonight, as Mr. Marcos steels himself for a life of exile, People Power has taken over his beloved Malacanang. They poured through the gates without resistance into a palace which they regard as the equivalent of Hitler's bunker.

HUNTER-HART: As you've reported, initial estimates of stolen wealth were between $5 billion and $10 billion, only about $3 billion of which have been recovered. Hearing all of that, I mean, it sounds like a pretty terrible legacy. It makes me wonder: from a personal perspective -- you grew up in the Philippines. How much did you learn about the Marcoses' plunder in school?

VENZON: I'm 31 years old right now, and I wasn't born yet during the, during the dictatorship or even during the, during the People Power. But of course, at school we were, were told about the Marcos presidency, the basics, right? There were corruption, there were human rights abuses. But as a reporter, as a reporter, it's kinda, it's kind of shocking to learn, you know, the details of the corruption and of the ill-gotten wealth. Like, for instance, the properties in, in the U.S., the towers in, in, in New York, right, the, the jewelries, the shoe collection, it makes you think, right, how can, how can a family in an impoverished country like the Philippines afford this, this opulence, right? So somehow it's also, it's scandalous, right, that during that time when, when many people were, were hungry, or poor, you have your leaders, right, having that kind of lifestyle. So many people right now feel that Philippine schools did not really teach, you know, the full extent of this important moment in Philippine modern history. Right? So, and I think that's somehow contributed to the, to the revival of the Marcos dynasty, because right now, you have social media, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube offering their version of history, and a lot of it is propaganda.

HUNTER-HART: Let's talk about that. What has this process been like, of rehabilitating the Marcoses?

VENZON: To be sure this, this efforts to revive the political fortunes of the family did not start overnight. Definitely not. And it's not solely attributable to social media. So when the Marcoses came back in 1991 from Hawaii, they immediately started, you know, laying the groundwork for their revival. They ran for public offices the following year. Imelda attempted to run for president, actually, she ran for president in 1992, but she lost. But the other family members, including her, would eventually win public offices. And I'd say the, the social media dimension was ramped up sometime in 2016, when Bongbong Marcos ran for the vice presidency.

HUNTER-HART: Right, an election that he lost, to Leni Robredo, the VP who's currently running against him again and is his biggest competition, though she's still likely to lose. So, Marcos Jr. didn't have any luck then. What is his strategy this time? What is he saying he can offer the Philippines?

VENZON: I think what's interesting about Bongbong Marcos' messaging is that he's running under the campaign theme of unity. He's offering unity, a unifying leadership. And that's kind of interesting because his family remains the, I think, probably the most polarizing figures in the Philippines, up to now.

HUNTER-HART: Notably, Bongbong has been asked many times throughout this campaign to apologize for the human rights abuses under his father's administration, but he's declined to do so and has tried to distance himself from that legacy.

FERDINAND MARCOS JR.: What have I been guilty of to apologize about? [...] Will I say sorry for the thousands and thousands of kilometers that were built? Will I say sorry for the agricultural policy that brought us to self-sufficiency in rice? Will I say sorry for the power generation? Will I say sorry for the highest literacy rate in Asia? What am I to say sorry about?

VENZON: So we went to a campaign rally of Bongbong Marcos, and we talked to some of his supporters.

REYNALDO D. SALES: Reynaldo D Sales, 61 years old.

(Sound of his voice lowers, translation rises)

SALES: Not all accusations against his father are true. I don't believe them. [...] Life was not so difficult during his father's presidency. Unlike now. A lot of people don't have jobs. Even a kilo of rice is unaffordable.

ROSIE FERNANDO: Rosie Fernando, 45.

(Sound of her voice lowers, translation rises)

FERNANDO: Based on what his father did, the outcome was good. Up until now, we still benefit from them. I hope Bongbong will also do the same, for a change. Because many administrations have passed and nothing changed. So let's try something new.

HUNTER-HART: Thanks for that, Cliff. Those were excerpts from interviews you conducted this past weekend, just over a week before the election. Now let's discuss the competition. The only other candidate who seems to have a shot -- a very long shot -- at victory is Leni Robredo, the current vice president, who's known as an opposition figure to current president Rodrigo Duterte. That might be confusing for some listeners, by the way, that the VP could oppose the president, but in the Philippines' system, the positions are elected separately. Cliff, tell us about her.

VENZON: Vice President Leni Robredo is a former human rights lawyer before entering politics in 2013. Compared with her opponents, she's a political newbie. You know, she's promising a clean and, and transparent governance.

LENI ROBREDO: My administration is serious about (brief Filipino) investors in level playing field, the assurance (brief Filipino) zero tolerance for corruption.

VENZON: If there's something interesting about Leni Robredo's campaign it's, I think much of it is volunteer-driven. You see volunteers, you see supporters, printing their own shirts, the posters, the you know, the leaflets containing the basics of her, of her platform. And you know, we, Nikkei Asia, followed some supporters on April 23, during her birthday, and we followed this, maybe more than a dozen volunteers, mostly in their 20s, and they were doing house-to-house campaign. Talking to, talking to people, knocking on their doors. And why are they doing this? I asked them. They said that the vice president did a good job during the pandemic despite the meager budget of her office. But they told me that there's just a lot of social media disinformation against the vice president. So in the house-to-house campaign, that's where it, that's what they were trying to do, right? To clarify, or to belie, the false accusations.

HUNTER-HART: Robredo seems to have only a very, very small chance of victory at this point. At the time we published this podcast, just a couple of days before the election, she stood at 23% in a Pulse Asia poll, whereas Marcos Jr. was at 56%. But still, she's attracted an impressive base of supporters. Hundreds of thousands of people are attending her campaign rallies. Going forward, even if she loses, it seems like her campaign has given birth to a kind of third force, a non-dynastic option beyond the two major political dynasties on the block, right?

VENZON: So the analysts are saying that her candidacy somehow built a new political force that would be significant, even after the May 9 elections, as an opposition base, right, that would keep the next president in check somehow. Meanwhile, the, the supporters that we've interviewed, they're saying that the win or lose, they were able to share the advocacies of the vice president, like advocacies on transparent governance, you know, honest, honest governance, things like that.

HUNTER-HART: So let's say that Marcos Jr. does win. What do you expect his presidency to look like, particularly when it comes to the international realm?

VENZON: So, in the international relations, I think there are two important dimensions here, the, the relations with U.S. and relations with China. So Bongbong Marcos has recognized that the Philippines has a special relationship with the U.S. He has recognized the mutual defense treaty, the 1951 mutual defense treaty between the Philippines and the U.S. But at the same time, he also needs China for, you know, in his economic agenda, right? And he needs U.S., also, in the security agenda. So I think he will try to balance it out.

HUNTER-HART: Balance the relationships with the U.S. and China. Got it. How does that approach compare to the other candidates'?

VENZON: Okay, so for instance, when it comes to the South China Sea territorial dispute, other candidates, like Robredo, have a harder line on, on Beijing. Their approach would be stronger on Beijing compared with Marcos, like for instance, Robredo has said that she will boost alliances with like-minded nations to, you know, to press Manila's interest in the South China Sea territorial dispute. But Bongbong Marcos, based on his previous remarks, he's pushing for a more diplomatic approach.

HUNTER-HART: Let's stay with this hypothetical -- that Bongbong Marcos wins. What's the worst-case scenario for the Philippines? Is there a real possibility that Marcos Jr. could be the new Marcos Sr.? Do people fear a return of martial law, even?

VENZON: Of course, there are fears of the return to authoritarianism. But I don't think Bongbong Marcos would go that far. We don't exactly know if, whether or not Philippines will, would return to that path, right? Mr. Bongbong Marcos has said that the circumstances during the declaration of martial law in the '70s were different from the situation right now. And he has said that he would like to focus on post-pandemic recovery. So I'm guessing that he would not want any distractions or anything that would distract his, his economic agenda, right? Because, you know, a return to that path could also spook investors, right? Spook businesses. So, I don't think he likes that.

HUNTER-HART: Right. And I mean, he was one of the ones who had to flee to Hawaii after the People Power Revolution, I think he was 28 years old at the time. Most current voters weren't alive then, but he was there, and you would think he doesn't want to repeat it. On that note, authoritarianism -- that phenomenon is rising across the globe. What lessons can the rest of the world learn from this election about how authoritarian figures gain popularity and power?

VENZON: I'll answer that based on my, my previous interviews with people, ordinary people, and most of them have expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo. Like for instance, a lot of people said that, or they claim that their lives didn't really improve, even after the restoration of democracy after the People Power That triggered a nostalgia, right? For instance, this is a common response from the older people: they said during that time the commodities were, were cheap, they can afford things. That kind of dissatisfaction also paved way for the rise of Rodrigo Duterte, right? He was offering quick fixes. Kill the drug addicts, the drug pushers. And, and the rise of Rodrigo Duterte, also somehow became a prelude or a curtain-raiser to, to a possible comeback of Marcos, right, of the Marcos family.

HUNTER-HART: Cliff Venzon, thanks for coming on Asia Stream.

VENZON: Thank you, Monica.

HUNTER-HART: Now let's hone in on this vast social media disinformation effort that has buoyed the Marcos family's return to mainstream politics. Joining us is Regine Cabato, a correspondent in Manila for The Washington Post who's lately been tracking disinformation, or as she calls it, spending time in the "pro-Marcos TikTok Upside-Down." Regine, welcome to Asia Stream.

REGINE CABATO, GUEST: Thank you for having me.

HUNTER-HART: In your recent work, you've described a flood of social media content that either puts the Marcoses on a pedestal, or makes them seem fun and harmless, or both. Things like Marcos-themed TikTok dance challenges.

(TikTok dance challenge plays)

HUNTER-HART: You've described how this content puts up a sort of crooked mirror to history. So paint us a picture. What sorts of pro-Marcos posts have you been finding?

CABATO: On TikTok, you're going to find a Fan Cam -- which is basically like a fan edit, a personality-based fan edit, kind of what you would prepare for celebrities -- for every member of the Marcos family. You'll find one for Imelda, for Ferdinand Sr., for Bongbong Marcos, for each of his two sisters, as well as for the children, the millennial and Gen Z heirs of the Marcos estate. It's very dystopian, actually. Because their luxuries are kind of painted with, you know, rose-colored brush, where they are given the whole K-pop idol treatment, where old archival photos of their luxury and glamor are edited to pop music like "Material Girl" ...

(Madonna's "Material Girl" plays)

CABATO: ... And they kind of also have a little bit of a reality TV treatment to their family branding. They have on YouTube, through Marcos, through Marcos Jr.'s official vlogs, they have all these BuzzFeed-like challenges as a family, where they talk about their dating life or they have like a lie detector challenge, where they -- it basically really paints a picture of them as you know, a cool family, a hip family. You know, you have the, we have Marcos Jr, his wife, talking about you know, their love life, et cetera, their romance, or the romance also of Imelda and Ferdinand, et cetera.

MARCOS JR.: There is nowhere else I would rather be than by your side, and there's nowhere else I would rather be than married to you.

CABATO: Um, so this kind of, like, get spliced into smaller videos and then spread across TikTok. Right? It's very Kardashian-like, actually, in that sense. The one, one academic we spoke to called it the "celebrification" of the Marcoses. They basically kind of brand themselves a little bit as reality TV stars, like in their vlogs you'll see them, you know, you'll see them talking about their home life, etc. And it's a little bit aspirational for Filipinos, you can really see like, you know, their big house in the background, et cetera, their pristine living room, and so on. It's aspirational, but at the same time, it's also a little bit unattainable in that sense. Precisely the appeal of reality TV.

HUNTER-HART: Right. Who is this content for? Is it just the younger generation? It seems hard to imagine that people who actually lived through the Marcos Sr. era would be falling for images of Imelda's shoes to "Material Girl" playing in the background.

CABATO: Um, the difficult thing is that there has always been a loyalist following for the Marcoses, and that includes people of older generations, right? People who kind of use the argumentation that, "Oh, we weren't personally hurt. During martial law, we weren't personally affected. Well, we got to experience you know, having a bridge built in our area, or, you know, some other infrastructure. And therefore, it wasn't all bad. The Marcoses were not all that bad." For the longest time, that kind of, that kind of idea, or that kind of logic, it was kind of like a minority thing, because of course, human rights victims, human rights survivors really got, their stories were amplified after, after martial law. They were widely talked about. But what's happening now is that these kinds of supposedly previously "fringe" ideas from loyalist elders are now amplified through TikTok, through Facebook, et cetera.

HUNTER-HART: You've written that these online disinformation efforts have been going on for years, but have gotten much slicker lately. Tell us about that.

CABATO: There are innovative ways that propagandists, that political machineries, use to go about social media rules and guidelines, and, you know, the community restrictions. There has been a phenomenon in the past couple of years that's been recorded where Facebook pages and Facebook groups with large followings are bought out by political, by possible political machineries. And then the groups are repurposed for the elections. On top of this kind of atmosphere, we have propagandists, or social media influencers, who can be anonymous, or who can have a face, and who are basically paid on top of what they could be earning from social media sites to constantly plug these politicians or to possibly launch smear campaigns or discredit the press, or other critics. There is a prevalence of the use of microinfluencers. So these are people who may not necessarily have like, you know, a following of hundreds of thousands. But it could be just in the thousands or tens of thousands. But they're, they're microtargeted, they appeal to different social classes, to different groups, whether that's LGBTQ or different sorts of professions like overseas Filipino workers, migrant workers. And there are people who come from basically different walks of life who are promoting this candidate. And in this particular atmosphere, it's very, it's almost impossible to tell which of the supporters are organic, and which ones are possibly on the payroll.

HUNTER-HART: What you're talking about sounds extremely organized, extremely coordinated. How much are the Marcoses themselves behind all of this? Is it them, or just their fans? Is there a way to know?

CABATO: It's very difficult to actually trace it in terms of a money trail or a paper trail. It's not like these influencers, for example, declare that they're sponsored in the same way that you would declare that you're promoting a skin care product on Instagram, for example. So that's the tricky thing about these sorts of political plugs, right? Um, they're obviously quite possibly a violation of social media platform rules, but there's really no mediation or regulation of that here in the Philippines. And it's actually a model that can be copied in other countries as well. If they, you know, want to game the algorithm like that. Now, the Marcoses have on, on the record, denied ever employing a troll farm, but there has been record of them reaching out to Cambridge Analytica, according to a whistleblower, and asking Cambridge Analytica for family rebranding. There have also been other accounts from people in the public relations industry in the Philippines, from people who are digital workers, where they will say -- usually anonymously -- for fear of going on the record, right -- that they have encountered offers from the Marcoses, or they have catered to Marcos Jr. as a client. But on top of that, the data basically also proves that the Marcoses are the biggest beneficiaries of this kind of system. Various data from different sorts of, from different researchers looking at YouTube, looking at Facebook, looking at fact checks, for example, they all point to how the most organized network is that the Marcos family. So they could deny it, but it's kind of like an, pretty much an open secret in and out of the industry.

HUNTER-HART: Tell us about what makes the Philippines particularly vulnerable to this kind of disinformation.

CABATO: The Philippines is a very young population. Our median age is around the early 20s. We have all of these people who are basically tech literate, who are so mired in social media, who grew up in the digital realm. We have pretty much an around 99% access to social media. We have that kind of atmosphere where people are basically digitally savvy, tech literate. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they're media literate, right? The Marcos revisionism project has been around ever since, like, for a very long time, since the start of the internet. You'll see some YouTube videos of conspiracy theories that go back, like, 10 years. So. And they're still there, they're still up. They're reaping the benefits of having invested early. So this particular election is definitely going to be a race and a test of the whole of truth in the Philippines.

HUNTER-HART: Regine Cabato, thanks for coming on Asia Stream.

CABATO: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

HUNTER-HART: Even beyond the Philippines, the question of what role social media giants should play in fact-checking the content on their platforms only seems to become more significant every day. Last month, billionaire Elon Musk purchased Twitter. Analysts think he may loosen content restrictions, since he's criticized Twitter as having, quote, "censored free speech." Across the world, there are growing calls to strengthen media literacy, and rising anti-democratic figures who gain power on the back of economic discontent. On Monday, these global trends will be on full display as Filipinos go to the polls to elect their new president.

KHAN: That was Monica Hunter-Hart. Now, while the focus of Asia's political news this week has been the Philippine election, let's not forget that the Russia-Ukraine war continues to wreak havoc across several Asian economies. Putting on our business hat, we now pivot to Tokyo, where Alice French, our deputy Big Story editor, investigates how the conflict is affecting Japan's energy industry, which is heavily reliant on Russian fuel.

ALICE FRENCH, CONTRIBUTOR: Konnichiwa! And welcome to the Tokyo Dispatch, where I'll be sending regular updates from the narrow streets and neon lights of Tokyo, home to Nikkei HQ and hub for our East Asia coverage.

While the Philippine election may have been the hottest topic in the Tokyo newsroom this week, the Big Story desk, which handles Nikkei Asia's longest and most in-depth weekly feature, is still exploring the impact of the Ukraine war on Asia's economies.

This week, we investigated Japan's energy security in light of Western sanctions on Russian fuel. Tokyo-based reporter Ruri Imahashi wrote about how Japan's Prime Minister Kishida is stuck between a rock and hard place on his decision not to pull out of Russia's Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 energy plants, despite increasing pressure from the West. I chatted with Ruri to find out more about Japan's dilemma.

RURIKA IMAHASHI: We think it's important to have this piece now as there is an increase in interest in energy security since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There's countries that were quick to respond and suspended Russian energy imports, such as the U.K. and the U.S. However, when you look at Japan's energy mix, you will be surprised to see how vulnerable it is. Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan will not abandon Russian energy projects, and we think it's important to explain why Japan is staying invested.

FRENCH: So, can you tell us a bit more about the background of Japan's energy security? What is Japan's energy mix like? And how much exactly does it depend on Russia for energy?

IMAHASHI: Japan still heavily relies on fossil fuels. According to a government report, Japan's energy mix is made up of more than 75% fossil fuels. As challenges remain over a stable supply of power from renewables, fossil fuels are still dominant in Japan's energy mix. And as for Russia -- Russia is a top-five LNG exporter to Japan, accounting for 4% of Japan's oil imports, 9% of natural gas and 11% of coal.

FRENCH: So what are the pros and cons for Japan if it were to pull out of Sakhalin and other Russian energy projects?

IMAHASHI: OK, so, first of all, currently Europe is still importing Russian oil and gas, but they are gradually targeting the energy sector. Experts say if Europe tightens sanctions on Russia and targets oil and gas, Japan will be under scrutiny and global pressure to follow suit. If Japan pulls out of Russian energy projects, the country can keep up with the West and can relieve global pressure. However, Japan would face challenges. Losing the Russian gas project, for example, means Japan would have to procure LNG on the expensive spot market. Furthermore, a third party such as China could take over the project. So there are mixed feelings about the projects.

FRENCH: So, having spent some time reporting on this story, how likely do you think Japan is to pull out of Russian energy projects?

IMAHASHI: As I mentioned earlier, Japan depends on fossil fuels and depends on imports for close to 100% of its energy resources. And this situation is difficult to change overnight. Japan also has its unique nuclear issues due to the earthquake around 10 years ago. My impression is that Japan is not ready to survive without Russian fuel right now, overnight, but the situation is changing, and how Europe and the rest of the world are stepping up sanctions on Russia will certainly affect Tokyo's decision on this matter.

FRENCH: So it sounds like it might just be a matter of time.


FRENCH: Thank you so much, Ruri, for talking to us about your story.

It looks like, although Japan may not be leaving Sakhalin for now, this won't be the last we'll hear of this issue. The mood on the ground is already turning against the government's decision -- a Nikkei poll last month revealed that 78% of respondents think Japan should pull out of Russian energy projects, even if that means having to deal with higher energy prices. Stay tuned to to see how the situation develops.

This has been Alice French, with the Tokyo Dispatch, for Asia Stream. Mata ne!

KHAN: That was Alice French. And that's it for Asia Stream this week.

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KHAN: As always, I encourage you to head to Nikkei Asia at for more in-depth coverage of the Philippines and all of Asia. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share, subscribe and leave us a review -- and hopefully, a five-star rating! And a reminder that Nikkei Asia is currently offering an exclusive discount for our podcast listeners: just type in the code ASIASTREAM, all caps, no spaces, at checkout when you visit This episode was produced by Monica Hunter-Hart and Jack Stone Truitt. I'm your host, Waj Khan.

Tune in again in two weeks. Until then, we hope we're in your wildest streams.

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