Philippines at crossroads as it enters its most crucial polls since Edsa

Pollsters predict a landslide victory for Ferdinand Marcos Jr., but the elections may yet be decided by the undecided, a political analyst said.

DJ Yap, Krixia Subingsubing

DJ Yap, Krixia Subingsubing

Philippine Daily Inquirer


IMAGE: Daniella Marie Agacer

May 9, 2022

MANILA — The country is at a crossroads as some 65 million Filipinos cast their ballots today to decide on the successor to President Rodrigo Duterte after six years in power.

Thousands of other posts, from lawmakers and governors to city and municipal mayors and councilors, are also at stake.

Between “Never Again” and “Babangon Muli,” what path the voters tread in the most crucial elections since the restoration of democracy in 1986 will shape the future of the nation, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told the Inquirer on Sunday.

Most pollsters predict a landslide victory for Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the late dictator who ruled the country for 20 years, but the elections may yet be decided by the undecided, a political analyst said.

Speaking on ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo on Sunday, Dindo Manhit, managing director of the think tank Stratbase ADR Institute, said about 20 percent of the electorate might still change their minds on Election Day, representing the so-called “soft voters.”

This may be enough to offset Marcos’ current lead, as only 35 percent of his voting base is considered strong or committed, as against Vice President Leni Robredo’s 20 percent, Manhit said.

The analyst said the results would show whether Marcos’ “command vote” based on local endorsements and machinery is more effective than Robredo’s “retail vote” based on her volunteer-driven campaign—or the other way around.

In separate interviews with the Inquirer, political analysts agree that this is the most crucial election of this generation, comparable only to the 1986 snap elections when the country booted the late dictator out of power.

Like in 1986, the country is also “facing a serious national economic crisis brought about by the pandemic,” said Tony La Viña, a constitutional law expert. “We will have a different Philippines whoever wins on Monday.”

Like several other analysts, La Viña said that the May 9 elections will be a two-way race between Marcos Jr. and Robredo, who are “opposites in background, in vision, and in platform, and what the result would mean for governance and human rights.”

Stakes are high
It is also why the stakes for this year’s elections are “not only high, but also many and deep and long-lasting,” said Aries Arugay of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. “The elections will decide the fate of what’s left of Philippine democracy that has eroded under (President Duterte).”

La Viña, Arugay, and Jean Encinas Franco, also from UP, all agree that a Marcos win will determine whether Philippine democracy remains strong in the face of massive disinformation about the real legacy of their family’s 21-year rule, which saw thousands dead, arrested and disappeared.

Up to the end, Robredo did not see improved ratings in preelection surveys, but a Robredo upset in the May 9 polls remains possible because of the vigorous house-to-house campaigns done by her volunteers as well as the celebrity and Church clergy endorsements in favor of Robredo, Franco said.

In particular, Arugay said that a Robredo win is highly possible if her supporters, particularly young people, show up at the poll booths. He said only 30 percent of them voted in past elections.

“This May 2022 election is in fact an eerie repetition of that historic election in January 1986. It has revived people power—hopefully a much better version of it,” Caloocan Bishop and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president Pablo Virgilio David told the Inquirer on Sunday.

“Since the whole world watched us closely in 1986 and drew inspiration from us for our shining example of standing courageously but peacefully for freedom and democracy, now they are also watching us closely in this election,” he added.

“Yes, I think it is the most crucial election since 1986. It is made even more crucial by the crisis caused by the pandemic and the present global geopolitical conflict as well as the Chinese encroachments in the WPS (West Philippine Sea),’’ he continued.

If opinion surveys are accurate, Robredo, 57, will need a late surge or low turnout to win the presidency, with Marcos, a former congressman and senator, leading her by more than 30 percentage points, having topped every poll this year.

The two embody a political chasm that has existed more than four decades, with Robredo’s roots in the movement that led a 1986 “people power” uprising that toppled the elder Marcos, and Marcos Jr. on the cusp of an almost unthinkable return for the once disgraced first family.

Marcos cast his campaign as a chance to bridge that divide.

“We will reach the day that when we join forces, when we again face the world and shout to our friends and wave our flag, we will be proud to say we are Filipinos,” Marcos told a roaring red-shirted crowd that waved national flags.

Opponents of Marcos say the presidency is the endgame in a years-long effort to change historical narratives of authoritarianism and plunder that have dogged his family, which despite its fall from grace remains one of the wealthiest and most influential in Philippine politics.

Marcos Jr. has been criticized for his lack of a policy platform and for dodging debates and media appearances, a strategy that has minimized scrutiny and allowed him to generate support on social media among voters born long after his father’s rule.

Today will be a rematch of the 2016 vice-presidential election which Marcos looked set to win, before losing by just 200,000 votes to Robredo. He alleged cheating and fought hard to overturn the result, which the Supreme Court upheld.

“This fight is not about one person or candidate. I am just a vehicle of the love that engulfs Filipinos,” Robredo told hundreds of thousands of supporters at a rally on the last day of the official campaign period on Saturday that turned swaths of the Makati financial district pink, her campaign color.

If the election reflects the opinion polls, Marcos, 64, could be the first Philippine president to be elected with a majority vote since the end of his father’s rule.

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