Three Issues Defining the Philippines 2022 Elections

Three Issues Defining the Philippines 2022 Elections
Photo Credit:AP / TPG Images

What you need to know

The pandemic, China, and domestic conflicts are shaping up to be the main issues defining next year’s presidential election in the Philippines.

The national elections are just under a year away in the Philippines, but already it looks as though this year has many of the country’s political forces butting heads on the issues that could shape the results on May 9, 2022.

Under the Philippine constitution, President Rodrigo Duterte won’t be eligible to run again after finishing his six-year term. However, his party recently passed a resolution pushing him to stake a claim for the vice presidency, with his daughter Sara shooting for the top post. Both Dutertes remain mum and modest in front of the cameras with no formal announcements yet. At the moment, they claim to be mulling over the decision. But with one of the biggest mainstream parties endorsing a Duterte-Duterte ticket, a supposedly citizen-led campaign to persuade her to be a standard-bearer, and the resources of a bureaucracy at their disposal, a Duterte dynasty is looking like a possibility for the executive branch.  

The opposition is shaping up a little slower than their counterparts. Liberal, religious, and militant groups have formed alliances based on their mutual disdain for the regime. Early this June, they launched coalitions, Duterte Wakasan (End Duterte) and the 1Sambayan (One People), and look to be main players in the developing political scene. However, there has yet to be a powerful figure to rally behind. Current Vice President Leni Robredo hasn’t revealed her electoral plans, yet her many tirades against Duterte have made her a popular choice among political forces. At most, Robredo has said that the opposition must get behind a single figure. 

These two blocs and their respective personalities will contest the polls with some key issues on the table. The campaign period kicks off early next year, but already the lines on which these candidates will clash are being drawn. 

The territorial dispute with China

Beijing has long claimed the sea known as the West Philippine Sea in the Philippines, or South China Sea in China, as its own. Meanwhile, the Philippines’ win at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 boosted the nation’s argument and clamor for its economic rights. This hasn’t set well with China as military, fishing, and exploratory expeditions continue to be seen on said waters. Some have even come into blows with Filipino fisherfolk. 

Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
In this photo provided by the Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, chats with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a courtesy call at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on Saturday Jan. 16, 2021.

Duterte has made his position clear on the matter. Last month, he said the Philippines is indebted to China and will do everything to avoid a serious confrontation. He also said his past statements about championing the country’s sovereignty in the face of the neighboring superpower were a “joke,” and it would have been dumb to believe it.

Meanwhile, Robredo labelled the President “pro-China,” short of saying his actions were tantamount to treason. In May, Duterte challenged former Chief Justice and constitutionalist Antonio Carpio to debate the matter. In less than 48 hours, the President backed out. Carpio has spoken out against the dispute, calling Chinese incursions a “threat of war.” With nationalist fervor on the rise, a huge rally on June 12, Philippine Independence Day, is set to take place in front of the Chinese consulate. 

Pandemic failures and empty stomachs

Vaccine rollout in the Philippines remains dismal and snail-paced. As of May 30, 3,974,350 have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including 1,206,371 who have been fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health. This means that around forty-four thousand Filipinos receive a shot each day. At this rate, it will take up to seven years till the entire population is vaccinated . Also, mass testing capacity remains stagnant at 50,000 per day. There are no contact tracing protocols and the country seems to go in and out of lockdown with these basic measures unaddressed. 

For low-income Filipinos, economic assistance is a more pressing issue. Hunger is a familiar killer compared with Covid-19. Aid has been scarce and slow as the country grapples with the worst recession since the end of World War II. The last distributed amount was US$20 per family, which took almost two months to hit accounts. Grassroots groups are calling for US$200 worth of aid, as per the government’s monthly standard of living outside poverty. The 10K Ayuda Na (10,000 pesos aid now) Network said, “Congressmen under Duterte should be more concerned with feeding hungry stomachs than propping up police and military. The lower house is eyeing a 54 billion peso increase towards law enforcement at a time when the economy is at its worst.”

Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
Health workers in protective suits walk after performing swab tests on residents at a village under lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Manila, Philippines on Monday, March 15, 2021. 

Representative Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women’s Party added to this sentiment after Congress reneged on a significant increase in aid. She said, “We will continue to drum up support for the crucial matter of expanding the scope of state assistance, unlike Duterte. The President continues his appalling objection to helping out poor Filipinos. We aren’t talking about huge amounts of money, even just some modest assistance, but he still won’t stand for it. He says the government has no money, but he tries to funnel everything towards militarism and infrastructure projects with his cronies.” 

Human rights and peace negotiations  

Duterte isn’t a fan of human rights. He calls the notion a sham and he deems supporters of human rights communists or terrorists who must be eliminated. Human rights advocates have dogged his administration since the beginning of his term in 2016 when he launched his murderous drug war, which has allegedly claimed the lives of around 30,000. 

Not much has changed since then. For those in power, the thrust for the past three years has been less about eradicating the drug trade and more about crushing the over half a century-long rebellion by the Communist Party of the Philippines. While the President had made breakthroughs in peace negotiations with the rebels, he ended it unceremoniously in 2017 and followed up with a bloody counter-insurgency campaign that threatened all of civil society. It’s less about confronting the insurgency’s might and more about stifling criticism in the guise of weeding out dissent. Anyone with even remotely dissenting opinions towards the administration is tagged as a communist-terrorist, and mere suspicion can have brutal consequences. With the Anti-Terror Law passed in July 2020, police have stepped up arrests and killings of critics and activists. 

Actual peace talks with the communists have stalled in less than two years since Duterte came to power. The CPP has long expressed its desire to return to the negotiating table with a government willing to listen to key reforms. In a statement, the rebels said that they were looking forward to a post-Duterte scenario wherein Robredo could welcome the possibility of agreeing on many terms. For her part, the vice president underscored the importance of achieving lasting peace, in contrast to Duterte. 

Duterte has used the decades-long civil war both to eschew any inkling of resolving the armed conflict and to attack his critics, further aggravating the human rights situation. Election-related violence is as certain as Christmas. Using the President’s crusade against the communists as fuel, 2022 will be no less vicious. If Robredo and those behind her really want peace, they will have to fight off the President’s thugs. 

READ NEXT: How a Young Journalist Was Detained in the Philippines Throughout the Pandemic 

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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