MANILA – Filipinos began voting for a new president on Monday, with the son of a ousted dictator and a champion of reform and human rights emerging as the frontrunner at a weak moment in a deeply divided Asian democracy.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the strongman who was overthrown in an army-backed “People Power” uprising in 1986, has led pre-election polls by a seemingly insurmountable margin. But his closest challenger, Vice President Leni Robredo, has used the shock and outrage at the prospect of another Marcos retaking the seat of power and deployed an army of volunteers to the campaign to shore up her candidacy.
Eight other candidates, including former boxing star Manny Pacquiao, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and former national police chief Sen. Panfilo Lacson, have trailed far in voting preference polls.
The winner will take office on June 30 for a single six-year term as leader of a Southeast Asian nation hit hard by two years of COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns.
Even more challenging problems are a flagging economy, deeper poverty and unemployment, decades of Muslim and communist insurgency. There are also likely to be questions about how to handle calls calling for the prosecution of outgoing populist leader Rodrigo Duterte, whose crackdown on drugs has killed thousands of mostly minor suspects and sparked an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Duterte’s daughter, southern Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, has topped polls as Marcos Jr.’s vice presidential nominee in an alliance of descendants of two authoritarian leaders who have long been in the crosshairs of human rights groups. The alliance has pooled the voting rights of their separate north and south political strongholds, increasing 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 activist. “There could be a repeat of the martial law and drug killings that took place among her parents.”
Sanchez said the violence and abuse that characterized the martial law era under Marcos and Duterte’s drug wars more than three decades later killed members of two generations of her family. Her grandmother was sexually abused and her grandfather tortured by riot forces under Marcos in the early 1980s in their impoverished farming village in the southern province of Leyte.
Under Duterte’s crackdown, Sanchez’s brother, sister and sister-in-law were unfairly linked to illegal drugs and killed separately, she told The Associated Press in an interview. She described the killing of her siblings as “a nightmare that caused unspeakable pain.”
She asked Filipinos not to vote for politicians who either openly defended widespread killings or conveniently looked the other way.
Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte have stayed away from such sensitive issues throughout the three-month campaign, instead steadfastly clinging to a rallying cry of national unity despite their fathers’ presidencies opening up some of the most turbulent divisions in the country’s history.
“I learned in our campaign not to retaliate,” Sara Duterte said Saturday night on the final day of the campaign, where she and Marcos Jr. addressed a huge crowd on a night of rap music, dance shows and fireworks near Manila Bay thanked.
In a separate rally, Robredo thanked her supporters, who blocked her star-studded stakes and staged a house-to-house fight in support of her brand of clean and practical politics. She urged them to fight for patriotic ideals beyond the elections.
“We have learned that those who have woken up will never close their eyes again,” Robredo told a crowd that filled Main Street 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.”
Aside from the presidency, more than 18,000 government posts are contested, including half of the 24-member Senate, more than 300 seats in the House of Representatives, and provincial and local offices in the archipelago of more than 109 million Filipinos.
About 67 million registered to cast their ballot during the 13-hour voting period, an hour longer than the 2019 midterm election, to make up for expected slower queues due to social distancing and other coronavirus protection measures.
Thousands of police and military personnel have been deployed to secure electoral districts, particularly in rural areas with a history of violent political rivalries and where communist and Muslim rebels are present.
In 2009, gunmen deployed by the family of then-governor of southern Maguindanao province massacred 58 people, including 32 journalists, in an attack on an election convoy that shocked the world.
Associated Press journalists Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila in Manila, Philippines and Kiko Rosario in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/08/dictators-son-a-front-runner-as-filipinos-elect-next-leader/ The dictator’s son is a front runner as Filipinos vote for the next leader