With about two weeks to go before the presidential election in the Philippines, the race has turned into a rematch between Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and current Vice President Leni Robredo.

Robredo narrowly defeated Marcos in the 2016 vice presidential race. Marcos claimed election fraud and later launched a protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. A partial recount showed Robredo’s votes increased and after four years of legal drama, the case was dismissed.

Six years after that failed campaign, Marcos, whose father was ousted for massive corruption and human rights abuses in a people’s revolution in 1986, is the presidential front-runner in the May 9 elections.

But Robredo, a human rights lawyer and the leader of the opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte, is offering a serious challenge.

In a survey taken in March and released in early April, the younger Marcos is still seen leading with 56 points, although his number went down by four points from the previous survey. Robredo’s numbers, meanwhile, enjoyed a big jump – rising nine points to 24.

The survey asked for the respondents’ first choice of presidential and vice presidential candidates. The same survey also indicated that Marcos’ running mate, Sara Duterte, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, is the leading vice presidential candidate at 56 points.  

Robredo’s camp attributes her gain in the survey to the hard work of her supporters campaigning for her.

The gap between the two is still wide, but political analysts believe a lot can happen before the May elections and that Marcos should not be complacent.

Aries Arugay, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, said Robredo currently has momentum and can still pull off a repeat of her come-from-behind victory in the 2016 polls.

“The possibility is still there because our assumption is, if we base on the Pulse [Asia] survey, that’s already stale. That was taken more than a month ago,” Arugay told VOA.

Arugay said that the surveys now validate the groundswell of support for Robredo in massive campaign rallies, but this momentum must be maintained until the end of the campaign period.

“If more people can be convinced that Vice President Leni Robredo has a fighting chance, there will be a bandwagon [effect],” he said. “The voting culture of Filipinos is that they must perceive that their vote is important and can be counted.”

Robredo’s momentum is observed in her jam-packed rallies across the country. Her army of supporters has also been conducting an aggressive house-to-house campaign to convince more people to vote for her.

Marcos’s popularity is based on the nostalgia of alleged prosperity and the “golden age” of Filipino society during his father’s dictatorship in the 1980s. Political observers and disinformation researchers say his campaign is buoyed by a massive disinformation and propaganda network.

A study of news outlet VERA Files, a Facebook fact-checking partner in the Philippines, showed Marcos gained from “misleading” posts on social media while Robredo is the biggest disinformation victim.

In 2019, Meta took down a network of Facebook pages and groups linked to President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Imee Marcos for allegedly disseminating false information.

As it becomes clearer that the May polls could boil down to Marcos and Robredo, other presidential candidates have said they will not back out of the race.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, world boxing champion and Senator Manny Pacquiao, Senator Panfilo Lacson and former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales have rejected attempts to make them withdraw from the race despite their low numbers in surveys.

Moreno ranks far third in opinion polls with eight points, while other presidential candidates fall well behind him.

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