More than three decades after a largely peaceful “People Power” revolt overthrew Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his son and namesake has emerged as the top contender in Monday’s presidential election based on most voter-preference surveys.
The Philippines goes to the polls on May 9 to choose a new president, in what analysts say will be the most significant election in the Southeast Asian nation’s recent history.
Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte leaves office with a reputation for brutality – his signature “drug war” has left thousands dead and is being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – economic incompetence, and cracking down on the media and his critics.
Duterte has also been criticised for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 60,439 people in the archipelago.
There are 10 people battling to replace him, but only two stand a chance of winning.
FERDINAND MARCOS JR.
A former provincial governor, congressman and senator, the 64-year-old son of the late dictator is waging the most impressive attempt yet of the Marcos family to recapture the presidency. His mother, Imelda Marcos, twice unsuccessfully attempted to retake the seat of power after returning with her children to the Philippines from exile in the United States, where her husband died in 1989.
Marcos Jr. has defended his father’s legacy and steadfastly refuses to apologize for and acknowledge the atrocities and plunder during the dictatorship. Married to a lawyer, with whom he has three sons, he has stayed away from controversies, including a past tax conviction and the Marcos family’s refusal to pay a huge estate tax.
Throughout his campaign, he tenaciously stuck to a battle cry of national unity. He denies accusations that he financed a yearslong social media campaign that harnessed online trolls to smear opponents and whitewash the Marcos family’s checkered history, daring critics to “show me one.”
As an economics student at the state-run University of the Philippines in the 1980s, Leni Robredo joined the massive protests that led to the ouster of the elder Marcos. The 57-year-old also took up law and successfully ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2013 in her first foray into politics after her husband, a respected politician, died in a plane crash in 2012.
She defeated Marcos Jr. in the 2016 vice presidential race with a narrow margin in their first electoral faceoff. Her advocacies center on defending human rights and empowering the poor partly by teaching them their legal rights.
The daughter of a trial court judge, Robredo does not belong to any of the prominent families that have dominated Philippine politics for generations, and is running as an independent propped by a network of campaign volunteers.
As the opposition vice president, who was separately elected from Duterte, she condemned the killings of mostly poor drug suspects as part of his crackdown, angering the brash-talking leader and straining their ties for years. The mother of three has been cited for her integrity and a lifestyle that shuns the trappings of power — she used to regularly travel alone by bus to her home province as a congresswoman.
Neither candidate will advocate a significant economic restructuring and both have promised to prioritise pandemic recovery and could target investment reforms, like cutting red tape.
Robredo has pledged to increase investment in climate change adaptation, level the playing field for businesses and promote public-private partnerships.
Marcos has revealed very little about policy and has steered clear of presidential debates and tricky media interviews, focusing his campaign on a simple but ambiguous message of unity. Continuity from Duterte is expected, including on major infrastructure projects.
Some economic risk consultants have noted a higher chance of corruption and nepotism under a Marcos presidency, however, and the scope for score-settling and retaliation against businesses linked to the family’s opponents.
Some 67.5 million Filipinos aged 18 and over are eligible to cast their vote, along with about 1.7 million from the vast Filipino diaspora who have registered overseas.
Polling stations will open at 6am (local time) and close at 7pm. The hours have been extended because of the coronavirus pandemic and the need to avoid queues and crowds.
Once the polls close, counting gets under way immediately, and the candidate with the most votes wins. There is no second round so the name of the new president could be known within a few hours. The inauguration takes place in June.