No clear leader yet in the Philippine presidential race – Analysis – Eurasia Review

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By José Ramon G Albert *

Election fever began in the Philippines in October as several prominent public figures applied for the presidency.

A variety of candidates emerged including: boxing legend and senator Manny Pacquiao, outgoing mayor of Manila Isko Moreno, former police chief and Philippine senator Panfilo Lacson, opposition leader and current deputy President Leni Robredo, former police chief and incumbent Senator Ronald dela Rosa, and former Senator Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr (son of the country’s ex-dictator).

A September opinion poll placed Sara Duterte-Carpio, outgoing mayor of Davao City and daughter of current President Rodrigo Duterte, as the top pick among potential presidential candidates, garnering around 20 percent of voter support . It was followed by Marcos Jr with 15 percent, Moreno with 13 percent, Pacquiao with 12 percent, Robredo with 8 percent and Lacson with 6 percent.

The president of the Philippine Senate Tito Sotto, running mate of Lacson, was the most preferred choice for the vice president. In October, Duterte-Carpio submitted a candidacy for re-election as mayor of Davao, but many observers expected her to run for president before the November 15 deadline for replacements (as had his father did six years ago). Yet, when she withdrew from the Davao mayoral race, she decided to run for vice-president, teaming up with Marcos Jr on the Federal Party of the Philippines ticket.

Fragmented opposition to Duterte, either split between Robredo, Moreno and Lacson or undecided, gave Marcos Jr a big lead over the peloton in the latest poll in November with a 47% share of the likely votes. If the polls reflect the pulse of the public, Marcos Jr has consolidated his share of supporters with those preferring Duterte-Carpio. Almost half of those polled prefer Marcos Jr to Robredo.

Ronald dela Rosa finally withdrew his presidential candidacy in favor of Senator Bong Go, Duterte’s former loyal collaborator. Go applied for the position of vice president, stepped down and then ran for president. Go recently, however, withdrew from the presidential race.

Robredo’s supporters were pleased with the performance enhancement which included a new branding of her campaign, using the color pink over the traditional yellow, which identified her with the Philippine Liberal Party she leads. Yet supporters of President Duterte coined a derogatory term dilawan (“Yellow partisans”) for the opposition, including Robredo, as a symbol of elitism that represents Filipino inequalities.

Robredo’s campaign uses local volunteers and new social movement tactics. Yet limited campaign funding can prevent it. Other candidates have caught the attention of business leaders, who are likely to distribute their funds to those with earning potential.

While Duterte is seen as a lame duck, he is the most popular president in the country and may still be successful in influencing the results of the 2022 presidential election. Yet his popularity has started to wane, earning a satisfaction rating of 67% in September (up from 75% in June and a record 82% in November 2020) amid an investigation by the International Criminal Court into its war on drugs.

Duterte’s recent insinuation that one of the presidential candidates is a cocaine user (it is generally believed to be Marcos Jr) could hurt his daughter’s chances of securing the vice-presidency. The drug use charges against Marcos Jr even led him to undergo a drug test to dispel the allegations.

The presidency could escape the Marcos Jr and Duterte-Carpio ticket, despite a growing movement of mainstream politicians – especially from the Filipino political dynasties – blessing the pair. The son of the former dictator not only has to stay clear of the drug use allegation, but is also being sued by several electoral exclusion cases for a court conviction for tax evasion and for having falsified in his certificate of candidacy that he was not condemned. Worse still for Marcos Jr, neither Robredo, Moreno, Pacquiao nor Lacson will likely withdraw from the race.

Voters’ feelings are hardly constant, but poll results, which can be inputs to campaign strategies, often converge about a month before the vote. However, the result of the 2022 elections is far from fixed. Other tragedies will arise in the months to come, making any forecasting difficult, if not impossible.

* About the Author: Jose Ramon G Albert is Senior Research Fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies.

Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum

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