“Some call it a circus”: Dictator’s son, boxing icon and former actor vie to lead Philippines | Philippines
Son of a dictator, actor turned mayor and boxing champion: An eclectic mix of personalities said this month they would compete to become the next president of the Philippines.
More than 60 million Filipinos will go to the polls to decide who will replace populist leader Rodrigo Duterte, who is nearing the end of his six-year term.
“Some people call it a circus, I actually call it a fiesta,” says Tony La Viña, dean of the Ateneo School of Government. “It’s going to be very interesting, with a lot of twists and turns. “
The May 2022 election comes at a crucial time for the Philippines, which has faced one of the worst Covid outbreaks in Southeast Asia and distributed enough doses of the vaccine to fully protect just under a quarter of the population. The pandemic and long punitive lockdown restrictions have hit the economy.
For Duterte too, the stakes are particularly high. Last month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it was investigating its so-called “war on drugs”, in which 30,000 people were reportedly killed. A sympathetic successor could take his position of not cooperating with the court.
According to a Pulse Asia poll, her daughter Sara Duterte is currently the favorite for the top job. Still, she denied she would join the race and missed the deadline to apply – unless she chose to become a last-minute replacement, like her father did in 2016.
We expect a close race. Almost neck and neck for second place, according to early polls, are former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, namesake and son of the late dictator Isko Moreno, former actor and current mayor of Manila, and senator and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao. Behind them are Vice President Leni Robredo, a vocal critic of Duterte, and Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former police chief.
“It’s anyone’s game,” says Carmel V Abao, assistant professor in the political science department at Ateneo University in Manila. The vote, she added, will likely be a referendum on the kind of governance the public wants after nearly six years of Duterte in power.
Manny Pacquiao: the boxer
Pacquiao is a boxing champion and national icon, with a ragged history of wealth that resonates with many. He grew up in Mindanao, one of the poorest parts of the country – and also the stronghold of Duterte. He left at the age of 14 as a stowaway on a ship bound for Manila and worked in construction, sending money home, before being spotted as a talented fighter.
Pacquiao began his political career in 2010, becoming a member of the House of Representatives and, despite a low attendance rate, a senator in 2016.
An evangelical Christian, he said he opposed divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage. He has been widely criticized for saying that people who have same-sex relationships “are worse than animals.”
In the past, Pacquiao has ardently defended Duterte, even claiming that the president is anointed by God. He supported Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, although he admitted to using drugs himself as a teenager. He also helped remove Senator Leila De Lima from her post as chair of the Justice and Human Rights Commission. She is a critic of Duterte who was investigating murders linked to anti-drug operations who was jailed on drug charges she says are politically motivated.
Relations between Pacquiao and Duterte, however, have since deteriorated. Pacquiao lashed out at Duterte over a recent corruption scandal and accused him of not being tough on China. He also said he would not block the ICC investigation into the war on drugs.
It is not clear whether Pacquiao’s status as a boxing champion will result in enough votes to win the first position. However, it should weaken Duterte’s loyal base in Mindanao.
Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos: the son of the dictator
Ferdinand Marcos Jr, known as Bongbong Marcos, is the namesake and only son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled until 1986 and looted up to $ 10 billion from state coffers. Under martial law, imposed by Marcos in 1972, around 34,000 people were tortured, 3,240 people were killed and 70,000 were imprisoned, according to Amnesty International.
Bongbong Marcos, however, played down the abuse under his father.
He studied philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford, but would not have completed the course (instead he received a special degree in social studies, according to Rappler). Then, aged 23, he was elected unopposed as vice-governor of Ilocos Norte. The family was forced into exile after a peaceful popular revolution in 1986.
Since returning home, the family has sought to reestablish their presence in public life, and Bongbong Marcos has since been elected governor of Ilocos Norte, congressman and senator. In 2016, he ran for vice-president, but lost to Leni Robredo.
The Marcos family remains incredibly powerful and he has tremendous resources. He has built a large social media presence that allows him to target young voters who have no memory of his father’s reign.
Marcos is an ally of Duterte, who controversially allowed his father the burial of a hero. Marcos said that, under his leadership, the country would act as a non-signatory to the ICC. Members of the tribunal can visit as tourists, he said.
Leni Robredo: the vice-president and former human rights lawyer
Vice President Leni Robredo is a staunch critic of Duterte – including his brutal war on drugs, which she described as leading to “senseless killings”.
The daughter of a judge and an English teacher, Robredo previously worked for non-governmental organizations providing legal assistance to marginalized groups.
It was the death of her husband, Home Secretary Jesse Robredo, who was killed in a plane crash in 2012, that prompted a career change. Her death sparked a wave of grief and called her to enter politics, and she won a seat in Congress in 2013.
Three years later, she defeated Bongbong Marcos, son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to become vice-president. She was elected separately from Duterte and the two had an icy relationship.
She has openly criticized Duterte’s policies – including the war on drugs, his pro-China stance and, especially recently, his response to the pandemic. She also warned of the risks of populist leaders and condemned the charges against Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa.
She angered Duterte and his supporters and was removed from her post as head of a drug task force just weeks after her appointment.
Robredo has presented herself as the real opposition candidate and hopes to capitalize on what analysts have described as growing frustration with the pandemic and the economy.
Isko Moreno: Mayor of Manila and former actor
Isko Moreno also grew up in poverty. As a child living in Tondo, one of Manila’s poorest neighborhoods, he said he helped his mother by collecting old newspapers and bottles to sell to a garbage merchant, and that he was looking for leftovers of food in restaurants. He was a talent spotted at the age of 18 and pursued a career in television and film, adopting the screen name Isko Moreno (real name is Francisco Domagoso). Duterte recently sought to poke fun at him about his past showbiz career, comparing him to “a call boy” for posing for daring photos.
Moreno began his political career as a councilor in Manila in his early twenties, becoming vice mayor and, in 2019, mayor of the capital. He is known to have launched a clean-up campaign in Manila – a policy of eliminating illegal street vendors. He criticized Duterte’s response to Covid, including the hard and prolonged shutdowns of the country. He also said he would not stop the ICC from investigating Duterte’s war on drugs.
Moreno has presented himself as a “cure” candidate in an attempt to gain support from all sides of polarized Philippine politics. Critics, however, accused him of sitting on a fence.
Sara Duterte: Duterte’s daughter
Sara Duterte has said she will not run for president, despite Pulse Asia polls suggesting she is the favorite. Some have speculated that she could participate in the race as a replacement and that Ronald dela Rosa, the main person responsible for Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, who has applied, could serve as a replacement.
Supporters of young Duterte claimed she was a better version of her father. She’s more organized and less impulsive, they say. She shares the same pugnacious style; she once hit a sheriff four times on the head for disobeying her orders. However, his rhetoric is not as inflammatory as that of his father, who has repeatedly endorsed extrajudicial killings.
She applied to be re-elected mayor of the city of Davao. The ICC investigation will investigate the murders that took place in Davao between November 2011 and June 30, 2016, a period that covers his previous term as mayor.