Philippines to vote on choice between late dictator’s son and ‘pink revolutionary’

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Voters in the Philippines will head to the polls on Monday to elect the next president, facing a choice between incumbent vice-president Leni Robredo and the son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was overthrown following an uprising in 1986.

The upcoming election is a direct two-way contest between the former dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr and human rights lawyer and leader of the “pink revolution” Leni Robredo, who narrowly beat him in the 2016 vice-presidential contest.

Filipinos will also vote to choose a vice-president, 12 senators, hundreds of congressmen and thousands of governors, mayors and local councillors.

The three-month-long campaign ended on Saturday with Mr Marcos and Ms Robredo making a last-ditch effort to win over voters. Although their divisive campaign ended without the incumbent president Rodrigo Duterte openly backing either contender, his party has been pushing its support for his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, the running mate of Mr Marcos.

According to surveys, Mr Marcos and Ms Duterte-Carpio, both of whose fathers ruled the island country with an iron fist, are ahead in the race, despite Ms Robredo’s crowd-pulling pop concert rallies.

In their heavily social media-based campaign, the duo whitewashed the brutalities associated with their fathers’ administrations, and fell short of specifying their vision for the future, but managed to resonate with a section of Filipinos with their populist slogan of “unity”.

The choreographed campaign made deft use of social media, primarily TikTok and YouTube, to push the idea of “Uniteam”. At the same time, critics have accused Mr Marcos of unleashing an army of trolls to smear his opponents and revise his family’s history online.

“His message really is very well crafted with this avoidance strategy. Let’s stop talking about the past, let’s stop fighting about what those martial law years really looked like, and let’s look forward, let’s move forward,” Adele Webb, author and lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, told the Associated Press.

Instead of apologising for his father’s regime, which was characterised by corruption, years of martial law and a harsh crackdown on dissent, Mr Marcos, 64, has embraced the association of his family name by portraying the late dictator’s decades in office as a time of prosperity and national pride.

Presidential hopeful, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr (AP)
Presidential hopeful, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr (AP)

Mr Marcos was elected to the House of Representatives in 1991 and the Senate in 2010, despite ongoing legal issues. By pairing with Ms Duterte-Carpio, he was successful in combining his family’s home turf in the northern province and hers in the south to their advantage.

This is not the beginning of the association between the two families – after coming to power in 2016, President Duterte reportedly helped the Marcos family gloss over the past by allowing the burial of the dictator in the country’s heroes’ cemetery, despite facing a backlash from civil society.

Mr Duterte has himself been accused of violating human rights with a brutal anti-drugs campaign which is being investigated by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Taking on the powerful duo is the 57-year-old lone female Ms Robredo, who was part of the massive protests that led to end of the late dictator. The former human rights lawyer and economist joined politics in 2013 after her husband, also a politician, died in a plane crash in 2012.

Vice-president Leni Robredo leads the ‘pink revolution’ (AP)
Vice-president Leni Robredo leads the ‘pink revolution’ (AP)

She defeated Mr Marcos Jr in the 2016 vice-presidential race with a narrow margin in their first electoral face-off. Her manifesto centres on education, defending rights and empowering the downtrodden, and she has been a staunch critic of the incumbent president’s lethal methods of fighting drugs and crime.

Thousands of people including film stars have joined Ms Robredo’s campaign rallies, which she called a “pink revolution” based on the colour worn by her volunteers.

Apart from the two clear front-runners, eight other contestants have thrown their hats in the ring for president, including the 43-year-old former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.

Thousands of police and military personnel have been deployed ahead of the elections given the country’s history of political violence.

The local police on Sunday said that the country’s overall situation ahead of the polls remained “relatively peaceful”, despite some shooting incidents. The police have also recorded more than 3,000 arrests related to the election ban on the carrying of firearms, which according to authorities is substantially lower than in the past because of an “intensive campaign to confiscate loose firearms”.

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