Why the 2022 elections in the Philippines are so important | Election News

The Philippines heads to the polls on May 9 to choose a new president, in what analysts say is the most important election in the Southeast Asian nation’s recent history.

Incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte leaves office with a reputation for brutality – his signature ‘drug war’ has claimed thousands of lives and is under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – for economic incompetence and repression of the media and its critics.

Duterte has also been criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 60,439 people in the archipelago.

There are 10 people fighting to replace him, but only two have a chance of winning.

The first is Ferdinand Marcos Jr, popularly known as “Bongbong” and namesake of his father, who ruled the Philippines as a dictator until he was forced out of office and into exile during of a popular uprising in 1986.

The second is Leni Robredo, the current vice president and leader of the opposition, who has promised a more accountable and transparent government and to reinvigorate the country’s democracy.

“This election is truly a campaign of good versus evil,” Aries Arugay, a political scientist at the University of the Philippines Diliman, told Al Jazeera. “It’s pretty clear. Duterte represents dynasty, autocracy and impunity. Robredo represents the opposite of that: integrity, responsibility and democracy. »

What happens on election day?

Some 67.5 million Filipinos aged 18 and over are eligible to vote, along with about 1.7 million from the vast Filipino diaspora who have registered overseas.

Polling stations will open at 6:00 a.m. (22:00 GMT) and close at 7:00 p.m. (11:00 GMT). Hours have been extended due to the coronavirus pandemic and the need to avoid lines and crowds.

Once the polls close, counting begins 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.

In addition to the presidential race, Filipinos choose a new vice president – the position is elected separately from the president – from members of congress, governors and thousands of local politicians, including mayors and councillors.

Politics can be a dangerous business in the Philippines and there is a risk of violence during the campaign and the election itself.

In one of the most horrific incidents, dozens of people were killed and buried by the roadside in 2009 by a rival political clan in what became known as the Maguindanao massacre.

Workers at the National Printing Plant check ballots for the May 9 election [Jam Sta Rosa/AFP]

Who is running for president?

Opinion polls suggest Marcos Jr remains in the lead although Robredo appears to be closing the gap.

The dictator’s 64-year-old son attended private Worth School in England and studied at Oxford University.

He entered politics in the family stronghold of Ilocos Norte in 1980 and served as governor of the province when his father was ousted and democracy was restored.

In 1992 he was elected to Congress – again for Ilocos Norte. Three years later, he was found guilty of tax evasion, a conviction that has dogged him ever since but which does not seem to have hampered his political career.

Marcos Jr was elected senator in 2010 and unsuccessfully ran for vice president six years later when nominated for the post by a reborn Robredo.

During the election campaign, Marcos Jr spoke of “unity” but provided few details about his politics and avoided interviews and debates in the media.

His running mate is Sara Duterte-Carpio, Duterte’s daughter, who succeeded her father as mayor of Davao City and is leading the estate for the post of vice president.

Filipino presidential candidate Ferdinand "bong bong" Marcos Jr in a reo shirt with a garland around his neck holds his arms in the air to wave to the crowd at a rally
Philippine presidential candidate Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr acknowledges the crowd during a campaign rally. He sought to portray his father’s dictatorship as something of a golden age for the Philippines despite murders and economic mismanagement. [Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]
Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo in signature pink t-shirt and mask speaks at a rally
Leni Robredo, who is currently vice-president, presents herself on a platform of good governance and an end to corruption [Lisa Marie David/Reuters]

Robredo is the current vice president and human rights lawyer who entered politics in 2013 after her husband – a government minister – was killed in a plane crash.

She threw her hat into the ring relatively late and relied on a network of pink-clad volunteers to win over voters across the archipelago.

Thousands of people turned out for his rallies, some of them then standing for hours in their scorching sun waiting to hear the presidential hopeful speak. Robredo, whose running mate is Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, is running on a platform of good governance, democracy and an end to corruption.

Other candidates include champion boxer Manny Pacquiao, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso and former police chief Panfilo Lacson.

Why would a Marcos victory be controversial?

Ferdinand Marcos became president of the Philippines in 1965, winning over the Filipinos with his charisma and rhetoric, and taking control of a country that at the time seemed to be one of the emerging powers of Southeast Asia.

Backed by the United States, Marcos won a second term in 1969, but three years later declared martial law, saying the move was necessary to “save” the nation from the communists.

For the next 14 years, he ruled the country like a dictator.

More than 3,200 people were killed – their bodies often thrown to the side of the road as a warning to others – and even more tortured or arbitrarily imprisoned, according to American scholar and historian Alfred McCoy.

Marcos’ biggest rival, Benigno Aquino, was murdered as he stepped off a plane at Manila airport.

The murder shocked Filipinos at a time when they were increasingly angry at the corruption and extravagance of the Marcos regime. Although many lived in poverty, the Marcos family bought properties in New York and California, paintings by artists including the impressionist master Monet, expensive jewelry and designer clothes.

Transparency International estimated in 2004 that the couple embezzled up to $10 billion during their years in power, and Imelda, Marcos’ wife, has become synonymous with excess.

Filipinos cheer and raise their fists as they learn that Ferdinand Marcos fled the country in 1986
Filipinos cheer and clap the air as they hear on the radio that Ferdinand Marcos had fled the country [File: Sadayuki Mikami/AP Photo]

But since the former dictator’s death in Hawaii in 1989, the Marcos family has sought to rehabilitate itself, trying to portray the dictatorship as something of a golden age.

In 2016, Duterte allowed Ferdinand Marcos to be buried in Manila’s Heroes Cemetery, with a 21-gun salute.

Now, the Duterte family is allied with that of Marcos, and their candidacy also enjoys the support of other politically influential dynasties in a country where blood ties are more important than any political party.

“The meteoric resurgence of the Marcos is in itself a scathing judgment on the profound failures of the country’s democratic institutions,” academic Richard Javad Heydarian wrote in a column for Al Jazeera in December. “Decades of judicial impunity, historical whitewashing, corruption-infested politics and exclusive economic growth have pushed growing numbers of Filipinos into the embrace of the Marcos.”

Many fear that the election of Marcos Jr, particularly if Duterte becomes vice president as widely expected, could herald a new era of repression.

“Both are the offspring of two strongman leaders,” Arugay said. “Can we expect restraint and an inclusive government? You don’t need to be a political scientist to answer this question.

Earlier this week, some 1,200 Catholic Church clergy endorsed Robredo and Pangilinan, describing them as “good shepherds”. At least 86% of Filipinos are Catholic.

“We cannot just shrug our shoulders and let the fate of our country be dictated by false and misleading claims that seek to change our history,” they said.

Will the result be accepted?

When Marcos Jr lost the vice-presidential race by 263,000 votes in 2016, he challenged the result in court.

With the stakes much higher this time around, some analysts fear he could do it again if Robredo manages to pull off a win.

The role of social networks

Filipinos are avid users of social media, and the platforms played a key — and divisive — role in the election, heightening the more toxic elements of the political campaign.

Marcos Jr and his team have been accused of using – and abusing – online platforms.

In January, Twitter suspended more than 300 accounts promoting its campaign, which it said violated rules on spam and manipulation.

Joshua Kurtantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations says Marcos Jr also benefited from “Duterte’s legacy, which helped spread misinformation and made it easier for another strongman to win.”

Senate race

While all eyes are on the presidential race, it’s also worth keeping an eye on the Senate.

Leila de Lima, who has spent the past five years jailed at National Police Headquarters in Manila after she questioned Duterte’s war on drugs, is campaigning for the job again.

The opposition senator hopes she can soon be released after the withdrawal of two key witnesses.

De Lima was the target of vicious and misogynistic attacks by Duterte and his supporters before being accused in 2017 of taking money from drug barons when she was secretary of the justice in the government of the late Benigno Aquino III.

De Lima denied the charges, and Human Rights Watch said the case was politically motivated.

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