And they are off! The Candidates for Philippines President
Presidential politics are always exciting but Presidential politics in the Philippines may be the most entertaining in the Asia.
Last week, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go dropped out of the 2022 presidential race. The long-time aide to current President Roberto Duterte said that he was not prepared for running for the position, that his family did not want him to run and that he did not want to add to President Duterte problems. With Go’s departure from the presidential race, the current governing party does not have an official candidate in the upcoming election.
It is important to note that November 15 was the deadline for substituting a new candidate to appear on the presidential ballot and that Senator Go dropped out after this date. While this should mean that the Presidential candidates list is final, in the Philippines there is always the possibility of a surprise.
So, who is left? There are five major candidates who are still competing for the Presidency. They are:
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., known locally as “Bong Bong” or “BBM” is the current front runner in the race for President. BBM is the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 before his removal from office by the People’s Power Revolution. Ferdinand has served as Congressman, Governor and Senator and ran for the position of Vice President in 2016 which he narrowly lost. By adopting the policies of President Duterte, BBM is positioning himself as the successor to the popular President while continuing to say that he was not sorry for the atrocities committed during his father's rule.
One legal challenge that Ferdinand does face is in his road to the Presidency is a conviction of tax fraud in 1997. A law passed by his father in 1970 (and still in effect today), includes a clause banning any government official convicted of tax fraud from holding public office. (Yes, in theory this should have prevented him from running for Congress, Governor and Senator).
Vice President Leni Robredo at 18% is the second highest polling candidate for the Presidency. Ms Robredo is a lawyer and congresswoman who won the Vice Presidency in 2016 over BBM by a margin of 263,473 votes. This margin of victory expanded by 15,000 after legal appeals. Vice President Robredo has emerged as one of loudest voices opposing President Duterte administration especially on his crackdown on activists and critics.
The Vice President got along so well with President Duterte that she was
Despite being the leader of the Liberal Party or Partido Liberal, Robredo is running as an independent in the upcoming election.
The Movie Star and Mayor
Currently sitting third in the polls at 13% is Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso. Domagoso is a former matinee and movie star who is also known under his screen name Isko Moreno. Moreno is an experienced politician from Manila, where he has served as city councillor three times, as vice Mayor twice and as Mayor in 2019.
Moreno was the second individual to declare his intention to run for the Presidency at his campaign launch in September 2021. He has tapped President Rodrigo Duterte's former campaign manager Lito Banayo to run his campaign while Willie Ong, a media personality and cardiologist, will be his vice presidential running mate.
Moreno is a populist who is positioning himself as a “as Duterte 2.0, but with a handsome face and minus the cursing, misogyny and death threats.”
The World Champion Boxer
Senator Manny Pacquiao was one of the first individuals to launch a presidential candidacy in 2021. Regarded as one of the greatest professional boxers of all time, “Pac Man,” has served as a senator of the Philippines since 2016 and was a congressman from 2010 to 2016.
While Pacquiao and Duterte were members of the same political party (PDP-Laban), Pacquiao became increasingly critical of the President. After announcing his candidacy for President at PDP-Laban’s National Assembly, PacMan is running as a candidate under the PROMDI party banner. This and other actions by the Senator have led President Duterte launching verbal attacks on the twelve-time world champion.
Despite being hugely popular amongst Filipinos (and with the highest name recognition) at 9%, Pacquiao trails other individuals who are seeking the Presidency.
The Police Officer
The fifth candidate for the Presidency is Senator Panfilio “Ping” Lacson. Lacson is a three-time Senator, has previously served in two National Cabinets, was a police officer for 30 years where he rose to the position of the Chief of the Philippines National Police (PNP).
Lacson is chair of the Partido Reporma and is running under the party banner for the election. His running mate for the Vice President position is Tito Sotto. Sotto, a former police officer, former President of the Senate, and chairman of the Nationalist People's Coalition. Sotto is the leading contender for the Vice President position.
“Ping” is running on a platform to provide a stronger response to the pandemic, eradicate corruption in government, enforce budgetary reforms and restore public trust in the government.
While he is the candidate most focused on running on policy versus personality and a self-described “boring” candidate, Lacson is the only Presidential candidate who has an Interpol Red Notice issued for his arrest. The notice was issued in 2010 for reported crimes committed under his command as Chief of the PNP. The Red Notice was later cancelled in 2011 when the main witness changed their story and claimed that he was put up to the affair by others. Lacson always denied the claims and no proof was ever provided.
The Wild Card
The wild card in the upcoming election is the Duterte Family. President Duterte had originally talked about running for the Vice President position but dropped out, had endorsed Senator Go and has embraced the role of throwing insults and threats at the other Presidential candidates. But the upcoming election will include a member of the Duterte clan though not for the Presidential post.
Sara Duterte-Carpio is a lawyer and former two term mayor of Davao City where she was both the youngest person ever elected Mayor and the city’s first female mayor. Sara took over the position of Mayor from her father Roberto in 2010 who retook over as Mayor in 2013.
It originally appeared that President Duterte had hoped that the same thing could happen with the position of the President. Sara was widely expected to seek the Presidency but chose to seek the Vice-President position instead. Even more unexpected, is that Duterte-Carpio was endorsed by Partido Federal ng Pilipinas as their vice-presidential candidate. This endorsement means that she is the running mate of Senator Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos.
If this combination of two political dynasties (Duterte and Marcos) can last until election day, there is a strong chance that Ferdinand and Sara will be elected President and Vice President, respectively.
But that is a really, really big “if.”
With five declared candidates for President, a wild card in the vice-presidential race and a voluble sitting President, from now until Election Day on May 8 will be an exciting time in Filipino politics.
While pundits may complain about the focus on the personality of the Presidential candidates rather than their policies, this is always the case in democratic politics although the importance of personality is greater in the Philippines.
Due to the number of candidates, political parties, and the electoral system, it is too early to predict who will be the final winner. Over the next six months, there are going to be twists and turns in this election and the Philippines Presidential election will be as exciting as ever.