by Edwin Quinabo
The international press has always been captivated with the Philippine Presidential elections. Democratic. Extremely high voter turnout above 80%. And in an election like anywhere else in the world, it’s an opportunity for a political reset for a country. In the Philippines’ case – a country high in potential and on the cusp of achieving “arrived” status as an Asian powerhouse – it means getting the right leadership to finally get to where Filipinos want to be.
Then there is another side of the Philippine election that sours this hope. The side of intrigue, patronage, and low-bar politicking. When candidates will bruise each other in rough, hardball campaigning. When candidates will resort to entertainment over discussing issues that matter. Or handing out soft bribes in freebies while touring cross-country.
This 2022 presidential election season is garnering extraordinary attention as the final act of President Rodrigo Duterte comes to an end. He’s been a magnet rod political figure, admired, feared, infamous from the start. As late as winter 2021 Filipinos were still speculating Duterte’s next move. Will he run as vice president? Will he even abide by the one six-year presidential term limit as codified in the Philippine Constitution?
In Philippine politics, often there isn’t a clean closure. In fact, continuity is stark in the country’s unique pseudo monarchical democracy that has political family dynasties dominating politics. Out goes an elected official; in comes his son or daughter or grandchild. This continuity has been a legacy for the Philippines’ oligarchical class. It’s been generational, cultural. Classic pinoy power politics.
This phenomenon couldn’t be more prominent – some say even an effrontery to a truly fair democratic process – than in the nation’s presidency. Historians must go back 70 years to when Carlos P. Garcia (1957-1961) was the last president who wasn’t a part of a political family dynasty.
This year’s presidential election showcases the crown jewel of all political family dynasties in presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. (the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator) and vice presidential aspirant Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte (daughter of outgoing President Duterte) running as a tandem.
The opposition is led by frontrunner vice president Leni Robredo who must make the race a referendum on Duterte (the elder) and arouse critical scrutiny that links a Marcos-Duterte tandem as a vote for the same leadership.
This election 2022 has an added element of interest – of a long forgotten history (to millennials) being respirated back to life as a Marcos heir associated with crony capitalism (at least to his critics) takes on an opposition championing good governance. The contrast is archetypical.
On the campaign trail, both Marcos and Robredo have been saying that they are the candidate to unite the country. Bongbong has been sidestepping snares that aim to color his campaign to his family’s shadowy past. Meanwhile, Robredo is resurrecting People Power yellow, but substituting it for pink. The subliminal message is too easy to ignore.
Will the opposition turn Malacañang Palace pink and break a streak of 70 years of political family dynasty? Or will election 2022 result in yet another heir of privilege, heir of the ruling class seizing control of the highest political office of the land, again?
On Monday, May 9, 2022, some 67.5 million registered voters are expected to cast their vote to determine the Philippines next leaders, including electing a president and vice president.
Filipinos overseas – including those eligible living in Hawaii – make up close to 3% of the entire electorate.
Ten candidates for president and nine for vice president have been cleared by the Commission on Elections to appear on the official ballot.The 10 presidential candidates include: (in alphabetical order): former presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, labor leader Leody de Guzman, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, former defense chief Norberto Gonzales, senator Ping Lacson, businessman Faisal Mangondato, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, cardiologist Jose Montemayor Jr, senator Manny Pacquiao, vice president Leni Robredo.
The nine vice presidential candidates include: Buhay Representative Lito Atienza, former congressman Walden Bello, Rizalito David, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, Manny Lopez, physician Willie Ong, senator Francis Pangilinan, Carlos Serapio, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
Poll shows Marcos with commanding lead
Marcos Jr. has maintained a strong lead in the Philippines’ presidential election race according to a survey conducted on Feb 18-23 by independent pollster Pulse Asia.
Marcos garnered 60% of support from 2,400 respondents, unchanged from January, with vice president Leni Robredo sliding from 16% to 15%. Manila Mayor Isko Moreno came in third with 10%, followed by boxing legend Sen. Manny Pacquiao at 8%, and Sen. Panfilo Lacson at 2%.
Vice presidential candidate Sara Duterte, Marcos’ running mate (vice president is elected separately) led the Pulse Asia poll with 53%, an increase from 50% in January. Senate President Tito Sotto came in second with 24%, trailed by Sen. Francis Pangilinan at 11%, and Dr. Willie Ong at 6%. The survey has a 2% margin of error at 95% confidence level.
Robredo still could launch a comeback and win
While two months away from the date of the poll, Philippine political experts believe there could still be enough time for Robredo to close the huge gap and still win under certain conditions.
“This hope is not unrealistic and Bongbong’s early lead can be wiped out by a concerted effort on the part of his major opponents – Leni Robredo, Manny Pacquiao, Isko Moreno and Panfilo Lacson – by getting together and developing a realistic strategy to overcome Bongbong’s early lead. By ‘realistic,’ I mean some of these opponents will have to withdraw, swallow their pride, and agree to a grand strategy of unity with the other major candidates stopping Bongbong from further moving forward,” Dr. Belinda A. Aquino, Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, professor of Political Science and Asian Studies, and founding director of the Center for Philippine Studies at the University, told the Filipino Chronicle.
Aquino brings up the point what critics have long been saying about political family dynasties and how their immense wealth influence political races.“They [the opposition] should remember that Bongbong still has a lot of money and other resources to even steal the election with dirty tricks and other tactics that he and Sara will be employing to win with their combined dynastic resources of the Marcos and Duterte tandem.
“A unified and determined opposition to the obvious advantages of the Bongbong-Duterte camps may be a hard struggle, but it can be won with a more vigorous and unified campaign of the opposition.”
Aquino mentions the last election race between Robredo and Marcos for vice president six years ago in which Robredo, outspent and outmatched in resources, still defeated Marcos in a close contest. Aquino said doing more sustained repetition of what proved to be successful can once again render a repeat win.
Some political observers point out in a contest between Robredo and Marcos this time, there is a x-factor, a Duterte factor that favors Marcos heavily. While Rodrigo is barred from running again, his daughter is perceived to be an extension of himself (even though political insiders say she is a different kind of leader). It’s a family political dynasty effect in action once again.
How this could potentially play out? One example, businesses with existing government contracts will support automatically (and do not have to be told) Sara and her running mate to secure their business interests with the government. And that amounts to a lot of financial support, and backing from these businesses’ employees, associates, contacts and their family members going Marcos’ way.
Echoing a scenario that would require a unified opposition to turn the tide for Robredo, Patricio N. Abinales, professor at the School for Pacific and Asian Studies, the University of Hawaii-Manoa, where he teaches Philippine political history, told the Filipino Chronicle “If the present trends continue, then Bongbong Marcos will be the next president. Leni Robredo and her team are fighting tooth-and-nail to reduce Bongbong’s lead but she could only narrow it down if the other presidential candidates withdraw and then support her.”
Abinales said, “An interesting trend to watch however is the move by certain politicians led by Congressman Joey Salceda of Albay’s 2nd District and Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco to convince voters to vote Robredo for president and Sara Duterte for vice president. I am not sure if this Leni-Sara tandem will appeal to voters, but if Salceda et. al., can push this successfully, especially in social media, then realistically speaking, it could be enough to defeat Bongbong.”
Robredo’s campaign team said the February poll does not yet capture the “game-changing developments” of recent weeks.”With this clear momentum from the people’s campaign – reflected both in the massive rallies as well as in online metrics – we are confident that the next 56 days will culminate in an election day victory for Leni Robredo,” spokesperson Barry Gutierrez said in a statement.
Cautious to open up any doors for a Robredo comeback, Bongbong has been declining to participate in multiple debates and forums, including a debate sponsored by CNN Philippines.
Both Marcos Jr and Duterte saw huge jumps in Metro Manila (from Jan. to Feb.), the country’s capital and most vote-rich region, in the same Pulse Asia survey. They also dominated in all subnational divisions – NCR, Balance Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. They were also the top choice across all socio-economic classes.
Pulse Asia said that Marcos’ ratings could be attributed to his social media presence. Prof. Dindo Manhit, founder and managing director of Stratbase ADR Institute, an independent international research organization, remarked, “Surveys simply tell us what people think at that moment. But the most important decision happens on election day. This is where seasoned politicians may have an advantage.”
Niche polling, Robredo leads among investors and Catholics
In a survey among investors and business analysts printed in Bloomberg, respondents gave Robredo the highest score of 106. Senator Ping Lacson came in second with a score of 91, followed by Manila Mayor Isko Moreno with 81. Marcos and Senator Manny Pacquiao were at the bottom with a score of 46 and 44, respectively.
A January 24-February 4 survey organized by the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, which polled 3,089 respondents, including students, school heads and administrators, non-teaching personnel, alumni, and other staff, showed Robredo commanding the support of 52.57 percent of respondents, followed by Marcos with 25.54 percent.
At the age of 23, Bongbong left the Ivy League’s Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania without completing his master’s degree to become vice governor of Ilocos Norte. His father was president of the Philippines at the time.At 26, Bongbong already a governor of Ilocos Norte then, was appointed by his father to chair of the Board of Philippine Communications Satellite Corp (Philcomsat), a position he’s held but according to an article by United Press International, had rarely visited the company’s office [well before the advent of the Internet] and had no duties.
Bongbong would later represent Ilocos Norte in Congress and eventually reach the Senate. His comeback to politics and climb to the nation’s highest legislative chamber begun after his exile in Hawaii. Politicos find the Marcoses political comeback after exile as strategic, but it also is a testament to the stock Filipinos place in name recognition and family political dynasty.
Despite 42 years in politics, critics say he’s had a deeply mediocre career that is far from inspirational.
His campaign for the presidency is said to be Rodrigo Duterte-modeled, driven by an army of social media allies obscuring his family’s misdeeds and posting a constant barrage of positive information. This strategy, along with Sara as his running mate, is said to be behind his early lead.
Social media is where most millennials get their news and this generation is now at the age of being a major voting bloc. The history of the Marcoses cronyism is foreign to Filipino millennials. If Marcos can get millennials support through misrepresentation on social media, this is having a major effect on his viability and lead, political observers say.
Abinales says the Marcoses were the first political family to recognize the significance of social media and had used it to revise the history of Marcos dictatorship.
What a Marcos presidency would look like
“If [Marcos] is elected, it would only reinforce our view that the economy will continue to underperform over the coming years,” said Alex Holmes, Asia economist at Capital Economics Ltd.
Economic experts say Marcos as president would most likely seek to expand the nation’s fiscal policy as started by his two predecessors Noynoy Aquino and Duterte, set by a professionally run central bank.
Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the Philippines’ economic growth was the highest in Asia, and some believe, is a testament to the economic policies of the Duterte administration. But that economic growth has not trickled down to the low income and very poor Filipinos.
Abinales identified areas that Marcos would not change. “He [Marcos] cannot change the legacy of supporting a social welfare program that has had the largest allocation ever in the last 30 years (since 1986). This includes the free education in state universities and schools, the institutionalization of the conditional cash transfer program that began with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and continued by Aquino III.”
He said Bongbong would not touch the Department of Finance and the Philippine Overseas Employment Commission because these are the two offices that relate to the international financial world, and which take care of the overseas Filipino workers, the country’s main source of revenues.
“You do not want to anger a global business community that is already suspicious of you as a Marcos (a family of looters), and neither will you draw the ire of OFWs and their families back home. These offices will, most likely, be corruption free – meaning the Marcoses will not dip their fingers into these cookie jars for their greed,” Abinales said.
Where Marcos would make changes, according to Abinales, Marcos would defang the Presidential Commission for Good Government and effectively stop it from pursuing the billions his family stole; and pack the Supreme Court with his cronies and thus neutralize any judicial challenge against his administration.
“Marcos would keep Congressional allies happy by not cutting or reducing pork barrel and pack the Department of Justice with allies who will – like Duterte – not only defend him but also continuously harass critics; and retain control of the police,” Abinales said.
Aquino said a Leni presidency and Bongbong presidency would be like night and day. “Compared to Leni who is the most able and experienced, Bongbong is a pale shadow of his dictator-tyrant father. What has Bongbong done that can be seen as decent, distinguished and capable of running a nation that has had a lasting experience with democratic ways before the Marcoses came unto the political scene.”
The vice president for the last six years, Robredo has had an adversarial relationship with Duterte from the very beginning when she served as a cabinet member then quit for being excluded in meetings. A former human rights lawyer, Robredo had also been a vocal critic of Duterte’s war on drugs that she called “senseless killings.” Her attacks on Duterte would continue into the COVID-19 pandemic that she says the administration had no adequate response or plans to recover from.
As VP, she has been lauded for her work in disaster relief and poverty alleviation work.
Her presidential campaign pales to Marcos in financial support, but is kept alive by many volunteers who see her candidacy as a social movement, political observers say.
As president, she would push for more public sector transparency and bolster the nation’s healthcare system.
What a Robredo presidency would look like
Economists believe managing the pandemic and cooling inflation are the biggest priorities for the next administration.
“Marcos, in our view, will likely be regarded as less market-friendly than Robredo, particularly when it comes to experience at the national level and in articulating a strategy for the country to recover from the pandemic,” Nomura Holdings Inc. said.
Contrary to Marcos, Abinales sees Robredo as president, using the Departments of Justice and Bureau of Internal Revenue and the PCGG to pursue the recovery of the Marcos hidden wealth and weed out corruption in government.
“For Robredo to succeed she will have to make compromises with the political dynasties ruling the towns, cities and provinces outside Manila by not touching their share of the countryside development funds [pork barrel] and not supporting an anti-dynasty bill,” he said.
The famed boxing world champion, Pacquiao is a senator and served two terms as congressman. He has been a staunch supporter of Duterte, including his war on drugs. He supported efforts to restore the death penalty. Recently Pacquaio has criticized Duterte’s relationship with China and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His notable accomplishment is a campaign to provide free housing to 1.9 million poor families. If elected president, Pacquiao vows to jail corrupt public officials.
Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso
Like Pacquiao, Domagoso came from a very poor family then found success in entertainment, not in sports but as an actor. He was elected Mayor of Manila in 2019. His previous political offices held was at the City Council and a three-terms vice-mayor of Manila.
Top issues of concern to Filipinos
The PAHAYAG: National Election Tracker Survey conducted between Feb. 11-16 showed the top issues of concern for Filipino voters were the economy, jobs, poverty and corruption.
“Economic and livelihood issues appear to be at the forefront of voters’ minds going into the May 2022 election. The data suggest that voters are interested in learning more about the economic platforms of candidates vying for national positions,” Aureli Sinsuat, executive director of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc., said. The independent survey polled 1,500 registered voters-respondents.
What Filipino registered voters think about the election
Hawaii Filipino Chronicle editorial assistant and Philippines correspondent Jim Bea interviewed registered voters for the upcoming election. The four respondents in this section agreed to comment using an alias due to the sensitivity of Philippines elections.
Rain, Pasig, Philippines, law student, 24, said Leni is his choice for president. “On credentials, she is an economist, a lawyer, and a public servant. She has a passion for the marginalized. She brings not only people together but also services. Under our system of government, the office of the vice president is merely a spare wheel, and yet she provided transportation for the frontliners when public transportation was put to a halt.”
Rain said the country needs a leader who is well-versed in the field of economics, someone who could reverse the trend since 2016 of a falling economy where the poor has been hurt most. “Also, the country needs a leader who will focus on agricultural development and uplift the plight of our farmers.”
Besides economic growth, Rain said he wants a leader who will keep the rule of law and human rights intact.
Dela Cruz, Pateros, Philippines, external auditor, 22, said he will vote for Leni because she is the most qualified to lead and to unite Filipinos. Dela Cruz is impressed with Leni’s work as vice president. “As a community that supports transparency and integrity, Leni is the one to support,” Dela Cruz said. He believes the country needs a leader who can best execute plans to recover from the pandemic.
Homer, Cainta, Rizal, Philippines, Research Analyst, 23, a Leni supporter, says Leni was involved in nation-building as an attorney before entering public office. “Leni and Jesse Robredo have transformed Naga, similar to what Duterte did to Davao, without a stain of blood nor any compromise to human rights. That is as much a statement of what kind of a leader Leni Robredo is.”
Homer says the Philippines needs a leader who can make system change. Economic growth must also include socio-economic development, Homer said. In his view, the ideal leader is “a leader who has worked with the poor and the marginalized and will address the country’s growing inequalities in terms of income, gender, and ethnicity. My vote for Leni is not only for myself, nor my inner circles, but it is also for those who are victims of misinformation and are constantly spat on as Leni. A vote for Leni is a vote for them.”
Mary, Pasig, Philippines, housewife, 48, didn’t disclose who she will be voting for but said, “All candidates have their own agendas, but it will be the same, top sponsors of the winning candidate will be there for their own agenda. So, if the winning president will be true to his or her words and promises will be kept, that will be a great achievement for the country.”
Voting from Hawaii
Consul Andrea Christina Caymo of the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu said registered Filipino voters can participate in the upcoming Philippine election.
They will receive their ballot through mail starting on April 8. They need to make sure that their properly-filled ballot is received by the Consulate before 1:00 a.m. on May 9.
Kit Zulueta Furukawa, Wailuku Maui, businesswoman, 36 is a dual U.S. and Philippines citizen and registered to vote. She said the person with the cleanest track record, credibility, and competence to be president of the Philippines is Leni Robredo.
“With meager funds and no support from the administration, Robredo’s flagship anti-poverty program Angat Buhay under the Office of the Vice President helped more than 600K from the marginalized community. And again with zero funds, her programs supporting the frontliners during these past two critical years of the pandemic served as a beacon of hope to address the administration’s inaction.
“Having another Marcos in Malacañang is like pissing in the faces of the families of the 70,000 Filipinos incarcerated during Martial Law.”Kit said she doesn’t look at Marcos loyalists as enemies or kalaban.
“In fact, they are the ones we are fighting for. The sooner they realize this, the closer they are to our open doors to welcome them in the fight for government decency.”
Kit wants good governance. “This means bringing trust back in leadership. We need a president that will get the job done without killing 12,000 from a drug war or 58,000 from inaction during the pandemic. We need honest leadership who sets records straight, not someone who benefits from an army of fake news trolls. We need someone who can be accountable and responsible enough to care and lead by example. During natural disasters, in times of adversity and even in organized debates, we need someone who will show up.”
She said when credibility is back in our government, that is when progress will come. “This is in the form of investors, jobs and support for our workforce, healthcare, security and quality education.”
Kit encourages Filipinos who are desperate for good governance to support Robredo. “She can he can bring credibility back to the government,” Kit said.
The Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu encourages all eligible voters to participate in the 2022 election. The certified list of overseas voters from Hawaii and American Samoa for the 2022 National Elections can be viewed on this link: https://comelec.gov.ph/phptpls-attachments/OverseasVoting/2022NLE/CLOV/AMERICAS/HONOLULU.pdf
by Edwin Quinabo