For months, the Philippines has been vibrating with the energy of a great electoral campaign.
It was a bustling scene of one massive gathering after another during the race, drawing crowds to events that happen more like concerts or street parties in the archipelago nation.
On Monday, more than 67 million registered voters will vote to decide the country’s next chapter, voting for a new president, vice president and 12 senators, along with 300 lower house lawmakers and some 18,000 civil servants, including mayors. , local district governors and councillors.
Many see this election as a high-stakes inflection point for the Philippines that will determine how it is governed and how it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte has been a popular but polarizing figure, suppressing a free press and violating human rights with his “war on drugs” policy.
Human Rights Watch believes that politics is tough resulted in the deaths of more than 12,000 people, around 3,000 of them at the hands of the police.
But Duterte’s supporters believe he succeeded in imposing discipline on the population and reducing crime and corruption.
And in a country with one of the highest poverty rates in the world, ending poverty through jobs, health care and education has largely been at the center of every candidate’s platform.
Who is the presidential favourite?
While the slate of candidates includes 10 people, as the campaign draws to a close, it has mostly become a two-way race between incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo and Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr., a former senator and son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. .
The latest opinion polls put Marcos Jr., 64, comfortably in the lead. His running mate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, is the daughter of the current president.
Marcos’ popularity is the result of a major rehabilitation of his surname, coming 36 years after Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was ousted by the country’s “people power” revolution after years of brutal dictatorship – a mired era in corruption and violence.
“Our political system has really been monopolized and dominated by powerful political families,” said Sheila Coronel, a Filipino investigative journalist and professor at Columbia University in New York.
“Our political system is very undemocratic. I would say there are maybe more than 2,000 families who monopolize local and national political office in a country of more than 100 million people.”
In his attempt to regain public office, Marcos Jr. had to “reconstruct the mythos of the Marcos era as the golden age of the Philippines, where there was peace, there was progress, or there was prosperity,” Coronel said.
“They’ve invested a lot in this, especially in social media,” she said. “They targeted younger voters in particular – those under 40, who have no memory of martial law or the Marcos regime.”
During the campaign, Marcos ditched debates and mainstream media appearances in favor of posts for social media platforms including TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.
“Social media for the 2022 election has played a huge role in rehabilitating the Marcos brand,” said Jonathan Ong, disinformation researcher and associate professor at the University of Massachusetts.
Opinion polls suggesting that 56% of voters would elect Marcos, Ong said much of that support is actually for his family’s brand, “which has been altered, refined, whitewashed, sanitized by social media.”
“It’s something that didn’t happen during the election campaign, but it’s been a project for six, even seven years,” he said.
And his challenger?
Leni Robredo, a former human rights lawyer, has built her campaign around trying to counter Marcos’ social media machine – and the name recognition that comes with his political dynasty.
She and her team pride themselves on running a grassroots campaign fueled by volunteers, some of whom go door-to-door to speak directly to voters.
While Robredo, 57, is the outgoing vice president, she has distanced herself from the Duterte administration.
In the Philippines, the president and vice president do not have to run as one ticket and both ran on different tickets in the 2016 race. When she was elected, she had a separate inauguration from Duterte.
This race was also the first time she faced Marcos Jr., and she beat him for the vice-president position.
Robredo’s supporters see his candidacy as a turning point, where the Philippines can move away from the Duterte era – when the country often made global headlines for the president’s poor human rights record.
In blasphemous speeches, Duterte often bragged about ordering the murder of accused drug traffickers without due process.
Robredo, on the other hand, promised to defend human rights for the citizens of the country.
It’s a message that resonates with activist Julie Jamora, who organized overseas Filipino voters in the United States. She is also the National General Secretary of the Malaya Movement USA, which supported Robredo.
Almost two million Filipino voters live abroad.
“We really have a stake in what happens in the election and what will determine the course of the next six years,” Jamora said.
She said the previous six years under Duterte had been marked by “massive human rights abuses, militarized COVID responses, and … shrinking democratic spaces.”
Who are the other candidates?
Some of the other contenders in the election have made preparing for the vote an exciting step for Filipinos, including famed boxer and world champion Manny Pacquiao.
Although his numbers show him trailing in the polls, Pacquiao is a household name in the Philippines and around the world. He won a Senate seat in the country in 2016.
Pacquiao’s personal story is well known: he rose from abject poverty to become one of the wealthiest people in the country.
In interviews and at campaign rallies, Pacquiao has said he is running to serve the same communities where he started, with the goal of lifting them out of poverty with jobs, health care and education.
Other high-profile candidates include Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso and Panfilo (Ping) Lacson, a current senator and former police general.
What’s at stake?
The Philippines’ next president will face a long list of issues that could define the country’s future for years to come: rebuilding the economy after the pandemic wiped out millions of jobs, crafting a foreign policy amid territorial threats from China and securing the future against impending crises, such as climate change.
For Coronel, who will be in the Philippines to witness the results, this election is about a young democracy that hasn’t quite found its footing, noting that the vote comes only three decades after the country’s presidential palace was taken over. assault to bring down a dictator.
“I was right outside the palace gates when Marcos fled the country, so I want to see this whole arc of this whole story,” she said.
“Those [last] 36 years have been years of dysfunction and corruption – people are getting poorer, there is growing inequality,” Coronel said.
“I think this election is about making the case for democracy and whether it’s still a meaningful project for Filipinos to support.”