Filipinos lined up to choose a new president on Monday, with the son of a ousted dictator and a human rights defender the main contenders at a tenuous moment in a deeply divided Asian democracy.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the strongman’s son and namesake ousted in a military-backed “people power” uprising in 1986, held a seemingly insurmountable lead in the pre-election polls. But his closest challenger, Vice President Leni Robredo, tapped into the shock and outrage at the prospect of a Marcos taking over the seat of power and mobilized a network of campaign volunteers to shore up his candidacy.
Eight others are in the presidential race, including former boxing star Manny Pacquiao, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and former national police chief Senator Panfilo Lacson.
Long lines of voters showed up early across most of the country, with the start of voting delayed by hours in a few areas due to faulty voting machines, power outages, bad weather and other problems.
Violence in some regions
Thousands of police and military have been deployed to secure electoral districts, particularly in rural areas with a history of violent political rivalry and where Communist and Muslim rebels are active. In Maguindanao province, a security hotspot in the south, three village guards were killed by gunmen outside a polling center in the city of Buluan, briefly disrupting voting. Nine would-be voters and their companions were separately injured on Sunday night when unidentified men fired five rifle grenades into Datu Unsay town hall, police said.
The winner of the election will take office on June 30 for a single six-year term at the helm of a Southeast Asian nation hard hit by two years of COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns.
Even tougher issues include a pandemic-ridden economy, deeper poverty and unemployment, and decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies. The next president is also expected to hear demands to prosecute incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte for thousands of murders during his anti-drug crackdown – deaths already under investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Duterte’s daughter, South Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, topped the polls as Marcos Jr.’s vice-presidential running mate in an alliance of descendants of two authoritarian leaders who concern rights groups of man. The rapprochement combined the voting power of their separate northern and southern political strongholds, boosting their chances but heightening the concerns of human rights activists.
“History can repeat itself if they win,” said Myles Sanchez, a 42-year-old human rights defender. “There may be a repeat of the martial law and drug-related killings that happened under their parents.”
Sanchez said the violence and abuse that marked the era of martial law under Marcos and Duterte’s war on drugs more than three decades later victimized loved ones from two generations of his family. His grandmother was sexually abused and his grandfather tortured by counter-insurgency troops under Marcos in the early 1980s in their poor farming village in the southern province of Leyte.
Battle cry of national unity
Under Duterte’s crackdown, Sanchez’s brother, a sister and a sister-in-law were wrongly linked to illegal drugs and killed separately, she told The Associated Press in an interview. She described the murder of her siblings as “a nightmare that caused untold pain”.
She pleaded with Filipinos not to vote for politicians who either openly advocate widespread killings or conveniently look the other way.
Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte avoided such volatile topics in the campaign and steadfastly stuck to a battle cry of national unity, even as their fathers’ presidencies opened up some of the Philippines’ most turbulent divisions.
“I learned during our campaign not to fight back,” Sara Duterte told her followers on Saturday evening on the last day of the campaign, where she and Marcos Jr. thanked a huge crowd at a night of music. rap, dance performances and fireworks near Manila Bay.
At his own rally, Robredo thanked his supporters who blocked his star-studded outings and fought a house-to-house battle to endorse his brand of clean, practical politics. She asked them to fight for patriotic ideals beyond elections.
“We have learned that those who have woken up will never close their eyes again,” Robredo told a crowd that filled the main avenue in the capital’s Makati financial district. “It is our right to have a future with dignity and it is our responsibility to fight for it.”
Besides the presidency, more than 18,000 government positions are contested, including half of the 24-member Senate, more than 300 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as provincial and local offices across the archipelago of more than 109 million people. Filipinos.
More than 67 million people have registered, including about 1.6 million overseas Filipinos, to vote. When the voting centers close after the 1 p.m. day, thousands of counters will immediately transmit the results to be counted. In the 2016 contest, Duterte emerged as the clear winner within hours and his main opponents quickly conceded. The vice-presidential race that year was narrowly won by Robredo over Marcos Jr., and the result was slower to come to light.