The campaigns are on for the next Filipino leader who will inherit Duterte’s pandemic mess

MANILA, Philippines — Candidates for the May 2022 elections opened their campaigns on Tuesday, February 8, drawing crowds of mask-wearing supporters amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the country’s capital, Manila, where presidential candidate Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso is mayor, seats have been separated to observe physical distancing during his campaign rally. But the excited crowd coalesced towards the stage when it was the contestant’s turn to speak.

In other parts of the country, large crowds also characterized the first outings of other candidates seeking to replace President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang. Images showed masks were not always worn correctly and physical distancing was not possible in some cases.

Coronavirus infections dropped significantly to 3,574 cases on Tuesday from a peak of nearly 40,000 cases in mid-January, continuing a steady decline the country has seen for several days. Health experts, however, remain cautious.

Up to 80% of pandemic-weary Filipinos greeted the new year with the hope that the worst of COVID-19 was behind them, only to be hit with another surge due to the Omicron variant.

Responding to the pandemic — as well as reviving the economy that has been devastated by the shutdowns — will be the next president’s first challenge. How candidates are handling their campaigns could serve as a glimpse of how serious they are taking and how prepared they are to deal with the health crisis.

“The elections are very important because the next president will inherit a government and a situation in which the pandemic remains widespread and the economy is in a slump,” said Ronald Mendoza, dean of the Ateneo de Manila University School. of Government, in an interview. with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). (READ: ‘Lockdown is a signal of failure’. Pandemic response is next president’s top challenge)

Mendoza was unhappy with the government’s response to the pandemic under Duterte. He pointed to the president’s rhetoric that he said had hurt the health campaign and worsened vaccine hesitancy and inequalities in regions of the country, as well as the performance of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Pangitang-pangita na po na hindi nga mahusay ‘yung pagkakato respond NatinMendoza said. (It’s very clear that our response wasn’t great.)

He said the next president could not afford to rely on the hope that the situation would continue to improve. “We cannot base public policy on hope. We can’t base public policy on false expectations that science doesn’t really back up. Scientists say there is no real evidence to suggest this is all over. This Omicron is the worst we will face. But there is evidence that vaccinations helped us resist the Omicron push. And that will help us withstand possible surges in the future,” Mendoza said.

Senator Ping Lacson, presidential candidate, launches his campaign at the Imus podium in Cavite on February 8, 2022. Angie de Silva / Rappler
SUPPORTERS throng the streets of Manila to greet presidential candidate Mayor Isko Moreno’s motorcade as he kicks off his campaign in the May elections on February 8, 2022. Rappler

If pre-election polling trends continue, Duterte’s pandemic mess will be inherited by the son and namesake of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. A survey by polling firm Pulse Asia in December 2021 showed Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. leading against his rivals with 53% support. (DATA: Who is leading in the polls? National trends and geographic breakdowns)

His dominance sparked fear and frustration among his father’s critics, including victims of human rights abuses during martial law. Human rights group Amnesty International reported that up to 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured and 3,240 were killed during the Marcos dictatorship.

Thirty-six years after the 1986 People Power that ousted Marcos, the rise of the dictator’s son has been attributed by his critics to social media campaigns pushing revisionist versions of the father’s violent rule. This PCIJ report from 2012 showed some early versions.

In January, Twitter removed a network of more than 300 accounts supporting Marcos Jr. for violating its policy against manipulation and spam.

Marcos denied running troll farms and his camp disowned Twitter accounts.

However, he has shown reluctance to face difficult questions about his father’s legacy.

Marcos declined several interviews before the start of the campaign period. “He uses his father’s inheritance to get elected. How can this be a personal problem on the part of his family [if] does he use it? Nakikita mo’yung irony (Do you see the irony in that)? said political science professor Jean Encinas Franco.

Ok lang gamitin niya [Marcos legacy], pero kapag tatanungin siya about that, hindi p’wede (It’s fine to use his father’s inheritance, but you’re not allowed to ask questions about it)? It is very unfair,” she added.

Media groups including PCIJ and Rappler released a statement urging candidates to join the debates and forums. It is feared that “candidates’ reluctance to appear in front of the press when they are still seeking election indicates the attitude towards the media that they might adopt when they are already in power”, they stated.

Vice President Leni Robredo is Marcos’ closest rival, according to the same Pulse Asia poll. She gained traction after filing her candidacy in October and galvanized anti-Marcos forces. She would need to improve her support by 20% in subsequent polls to give Marcos a contest.

Domagoso and Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao and Panfilo Lacson trail with single-digit support in the poll, but it’s still early in the campaign. Filipino voters have shown they can be fickle.

Barring further outbreaks of COVID-19, candidates should tour regions of the country to maximize the 90-day campaign window before the May 9 election.

They will also strengthen their online presence, as social media becomes a primary source of information among voters. But television is still king as internet penetration is still a problem in many parts of the country.

Study finds signs of

Lacson topped ad spending in traditional media in 2021, spending nearly 1 billion pesos before huge discounts mandated by law. But Marcos caught up towards the end of the year – he spent 310.26 million pesos on advertising in December alone and topped the advertising spend of all candidates that month.

Leody de Guzman, a labor leader who joined the presidential race, lamented how the campaign has become a race between wealthy candidates. “That is what is unfair in our electoral system. It is a competition between wealthy candidates. Indirectly, it’s as if the elections are for sale,” he told PCIJ. – Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism/Rappler.com

This article is republished with permission from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

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