Raucous election season on
The Philippines’ raucous democracy cranks into top gear this week as campaigning begins for national elections, with familiar themes of corruption, dictatorship and celebrity star power dominating the races.
The three-month campaign kicks off tomorrow with most interest on a crowded contest to succeed President Aquino, who has won global applause for six years of strong economic growth and a bruising campaign against official corruption.
There are myriad other subplots, including a bid by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ son to take the vice presidency and eight-time world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao’s run for a Senate seat.
The jailhouse campaigns of two politicians charged with murder who are running in local mayoral elections, as well as graft-tainted former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s run for a third term in the House of Representatives while behind bars, fuel a sizzling political atmosphere of chaos and chicanery.
Brothers Joel Reyes, former governor of Palawan province, and Mario Reyes, former mayor of Coron town in Palawan, are accused of masterminding the 2011 murder of Palawan environmentalist and radio broadcaster Gerry Ortega. Joel Reyes is running for mayor and Mario Reyes for vice mayor of Coron.
Arroyo, detained in a military hospital in Quezon City for nearly six years on electoral fraud and plunder charges, holds the seat of the second district of her home province, Pampanga, in the House. She is fighting to be allowed house arrest, claiming detention has worsened her many ailments.
A top absentee in the House, Pacquiao is running for a Senate seat on the opposition ticket. The campaign starts with Pacquiao in the United States training for his swansong fight with World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Timothy Bradley in April.
There are five major contenders in the battle to move into Malacañang and most analysts predict the deciding factors will—as usual—be name recognition and charisma rather than ideology or policy.
“In the Philippines, elections are like a circus with the candidates trying to attract attention with their performances,” Earl Parreño, an analyst at the Manila-based Institute for Political and Economic Reform, told Agence France-Press (AFP).
“Programs and policies are secondary… it’s a personality contest,” Parreño said.
President Aquino won in a landslide six years ago largely due to the popularity of his parents, who led the democracy movement that saw Marcos flee into US exile in 1986.
Mr. Aquino, 56, is still relatively popular but the Constitution limits him to a single term.
His preferred successor is US-educated investment banker Mar Roxas, a trusted ally with many years governing experience who is vowing to continue the pair’s agenda of steady reforms and fighting graft.
But Roxas, 58, is trailing in polls and analysts say he has a huge task to ignite an electorate that generally perceives him as having little charisma.
“He is dry, he can’t connect to ordinary people,” Parreño said.
In contrast is Vice President Jejomar Binay, 73, a natural campaigner who grew up in poverty but rose to become one of the nation’s most powerful politicians.
Binay heads the main opposition party—the United Nationalist Alliance—but he has had to endure a barrage of corruption allegations.
A Senate blue ribbon subcommittee recently recommended Binay be charged with graft for kickbacks allegedly taken during his long stint as mayor of Makati City, the nation’s financial capital.
Binay denies the allegations, insisting they are part of a smear campaign by his opponents and that his family’s new riches have been earned legitimately.
The Office of the Ombudsman is expected to file graft charges against his son, dismissed Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, and 19 others this week over alleged overpricing in municipal infrastructure projects.
Charges will be filed against the Vice President after the end of his term, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said last week.
Binay has sought via slick TV and Internet video clips to portray himself as the man of the poor.
The top contender for the presidency is Sen. Grace Poe, 47, the adopted daughter of the late movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., whose success so far can largely be attributed to her father’s enduring popularity.
But the Supreme Court could knock her out of the race before the May 9 elections, with justices currently listening to arguments she is ineligible based on citizenship and residency laws.
The Constitution requires Presidents have Filipino parents. But Poe, who was abandoned in a Catholic church shortly after birth in 1968, does not know who her biological parents are.
Complicating matters, she lived in the United States for many years and took US citizenship before renouncing it.
Binay and Poe have over recent months swapped top spot in voter preference polls. The latest poll, released on Saturday, showed Poe edging back ahead by a small margin.
The wildcard contender is Rodrigo Duterte, 70, a controversial figure once called “The Punisher” by Time magazine for his ruthless but successful tactics fighting crime as mayor of Davao City.
Human rights groups have accused Duterte of running vigilante “death squads” that killed suspected criminals.
Duterte has denied leading death squads but gave a speech late last year in which he bragged about killing drug traffickers.
His vows to clean up crime and end corruption in the nation of 100 million people have won him many fans, both rich and poor.
Raising the rear in the balloting is Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a combative senator who is running for President a second time, banking on the support of young voters whom she is trying to reach by social media. She lost the 1992 race for the Palace to Fidel V. Ramos.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator, has a strong chance to become the Philippines’ next Vice President, currently in second place in polling.
His father and mother, Imelda, are accused of plundering billions of dollars from state coffers and overseeing widespread human rights abuses.
Senator Marcos says he has nothing to apologize for and is counting on voters—many of whom were born after the 1986 Edsa Revolution—to cement a remarkable political comeback for the family.
Running ahead of him in the polls is Sen. Francis Escudero, Poe’s running mate, who is believed to be positioning himself for a run for Malacañang in 2022. AFP
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