Philippines presidential race kicks off with no single frontrunner
On 9 May, 56 million Filipinos will elect their new president as well as local governors. Five candidates lead the pack for the office of president, including outgoing Vice President Binay, who has been accused of corruption, as well as two outsiders: iron fist Duterte, and rookie Grace Poe, whose right to run has been questioned.
Manila (AsiaNews) – The Philippines yesterday kicked off its election campaign to replace outgoing President Benigno Aquino, who was elected in 2010, as well 18,000 other office holders at the national, provincial and municipal levels, including 12 senators. Some 56 million Filipinos are eligible to cast their ballots on 9 May.
The presidential election itself is shaping up to be a very tight race, with none of the five major candidates able to boast of any significant advantage. The Election Commission has organised three presidential debates: 21 February in Mindanao, 20 March in Visayas, and 24 April in Luzon.
The first leading candidate is Liberal Party leader Manuel "Mar" Roxas, who is backed by the outgoing president. Son of a senator and grandson of a former president, Roxas, 58, is a former senator himself and a former member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines. Currently, he is the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government in the Aquino administration. Nicknamed Mr Palengke (market), he is considered the only candidate to have a good grasp of economic affairs. A conservative, Roxas, is “not very charismatic” for the office of the president, sources told AsiaNews.
Jejomar "Jojo" Binay, 73, is the outgoing vice-president and founder of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). Binay has styled himself as the people’s candidate, a friend of the poor. However, he is suspected of graft dating back to the time when he was mayor of Makati City and served as the president of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines. Although he is the vice president, he has often clashed with President Benigno Aquino. He is especially opposed to the Bansamoro Basic Law, which would grant special status to predominantly Muslim Bangsamoro on Mindanao Island. A Catholic source said, “If even one of the many allegations of corruption against him are true, he would be an unworthy candidate."
Running as an independent, rookie Senator Grace Poe is one of the favourites, although the Supreme Court has yet to establish whether she can run or not. An abandoned child, her adoptive parents are Fernando Poe, Jr., a prominent Filipino politician and, Susan Roces, a veteran actress. Poe, 47, grew up in the United States, where she became a naturalised American, giving up her Filipino citizenship. Upon returning to the Philippines, she gave up her US passport to become Filipino again. Shei is currently leading in early polls and enjoys the support of many businessmen and intellectuals, but she is also seen as "too inexperienced for Filipino politics."
Rodrigo Duterte is a member of the PDP-Laban Party and mayor of Davao City (southern Mindanao), which he has turned from a backward and dangerous place into “one of Asia’s safest cities.” Using an iron fist, he has eradicated crime from the city, imposing a curfew on young people and supporting the right to fire on suspects. Duterte, 70, is running as a law-and-order candidate, and many fear that he might turn the office into a new dictatorship. He also plans to transform the Philippines into a federal state to avoid the evils of centralised government.
Senator Miriam Santiago, 70, is a member of the People's Reform Party, with which she almost won the presidential election in 1992. On her third run, she was named one of “The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World” by The Australian magazine. Given her broad experience, she has a good base of support and is considered a reliable candidate, but early polls placed her in last place.