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How will Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. taking power in the Philippines change U.S. relations?

Marcos Jr. set to win Philippines election
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expected to win Philippines presidential election 05:30

Manila — After winning an overwhelming mandate of more than 30 million votes in Monday's election, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. is the de-facto president-elect of the Philippines. His victory marks his family's stunning return to power 36 years after they were forced into exile in the United States by a people-power revolution.

The U.S. was an ally to his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for most of his two-decade rule, half of which the nation spent under brutal Martial Law. But Bongbong, the younger Marcos who's known almost ubiquitously by his childhood nickname, will take office facing a U.S. court's contempt order for violating a previous court order instructing him to pay human rights victims around $2 billion of the wealth his family plundered from their country.

Bongbong refused to answer questions about the contempt judgment handed down by a Hawaii court in 2011 throughout his campaign, and has continued to do so since clinching the presidency.

Philippine presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, greets his supporters at his headquarters in Mandaluyong City
Philippine presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, greets his supporters at his headquarters in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, Philippines, May 11, 2022. LISA MARIE DAVID/REUTERS

On Thursday, President Joe Biden congratulated Marcos Jr. in a phone call, the White House said.

"President Biden underscored that he looks forward to working with the President-elect to continue strengthening the U.S.-Philippine Alliance, while expanding bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues," according to a White House readout of the call.

Aries Arugay, a political scientist who is currently a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusolf Ishak Institute in Singapore, told CBS News that the court order against Bongbong will likely remain a relatively small stain on an otherwise clean slate.

"This is something that I think can be dealt with at the level of the State Department," Arugay said. "I think the U.S. wanted to start with a symbolic gesture of seriously making the alliance work, and enhancing it post-Duterte."

Outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte, who's daughter will be Bongbong's Vice President, pivoted the Philippines' foreign policy early in his term from being close to the U.S., toward China. At times Duterte attacked the U.S. with his trademark brash rhetoric in hopes of attracting more investments and scoring more aid from Beijing, but most of the pledges have not materialized.

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Duterte even threatened to abrogate a longstanding Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S., but ultimately decided to leave the defense pact unscathed. The Philippines is the United States' oldest treaty ally in Asia.

While he has not discussed specifics of his foreign policy, Bongbong has been quoted as saying he will foster closer ties with China. Some outlets have even quoted him as saying he could set aside a 2016 international ruling invaliding China's expansive claims in the South China Sea, because "China did not recognize it."

Many believe he will seek to forge a bilateral agreement with China to settle those territorial differences.

"If you let the U.S. come in, you make China your enemy," he told local radio station DZRH. "I think we can come to an agreement (with China). As a matter of fact, people from the Chinese embassy are my friends. We have been talking about that."

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message on Thursday through the embassy in Manila.

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"China and the Philippines are neighbors facing each other across the sea and partners through thick and thin," Xi said in the message. "In recent years, with the joint efforts of both sides, the bilateral relations have been consolidated and enhanced, bringing benefits to the people of both countries and contributing to regional peace and stability."

But the tension over the territorial disputes at sea has not gone away. Filpino fishermen continue having to deal with an aggressive Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia, and Chinese incursions into Philippine waters have triggered dozens of diplomatic protests.

Analysts expect Marcos Jr. to try to maintain a delicate balancing act.

"For pragmatic reasons, I expect the Marcos Jr. administration to keep the two sides offering not just signals of goodwill, but also practical benefits," Jaime FlorCruz, a veteran Asia analyst and CNN's former Beijing bureau chief, told CBS News. "For example, the Marcos Jr. administration may try to renegotiate the Mutual Defense Treaty [with the U.S.] and try to maximize benefits from such a treaty."

One thing the Biden administration may be watching closely – especially after the tumultuous years under Duterte - is how the new Philippine leadership will uphold democracy and human rights.

Marcos Jr. and his communications and security teams have ignored and harassed mainstream journalists, and he's suggested altering sections in the country's school textbooks on the Martial Law period during his father's rule.

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