The Philippine election is often colloquially labelled as a circus. The government’s disastrous Covid-19 response, coupled with a polarized political landscape, has thrown the country into a state of unpredictability.

At the moment, we can assume that the sitting President Rodrigo Duterte, the madman, strongman, and notorious headline maker, is stepping down. The Philippine Constitution does not allow him to run for re-election, but that does not guarantee he will take a step back from the limelight. Nor does it guarantee that he will not make yet another move to amend the term limits set in the constitution.

President Duterte entered national politics with a stunt in 2016. He announced last-minute that he would make a dash for the presidency, and won. He was also one of the first candidates in the Philippines to rely heavily on social media. A 2017 study found that he spent $200,000 to spread propaganda prior to the election, which might have led to his victory.

With barely signs to spark an improvement soon and people staying at home due to lockdown measures, this coming election is likely to rely heavily on the internet. Through experience, the administration ticket is already ahead.

The News Lens International takes a brief look at those who could be at the helm of the Philippines in less than a year.

“Daddy’s boy:” Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

The only son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who declared Martial Law in 1972 and ruled with an iron fist for 14 years, is running for president on a platform that seeks to revitalize his father’s legacy. He denied that his father violated the human rights of thousands and that his family plundered billions of pesos from the country. For him, his father was a hero ushering the Philippines into modernity.


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Philippine Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is hounded by the media following a forum Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines.

The Marcos family has a longstanding good relationship with Duterte. The president granted the former dictator a hero’s burial in 2016, sparking outrage among martial law victims. More importantly, Marcos Jr. recently admitted to persuading Duterte to be his running mate, but his search for a VP candidate continues.

Meanwhile, he has been sighted making a courtesy call to the Chinese embassy, the only candidate to do so as of writing. The visit evokes a trend in Philippine politics, when aspiring presidents make public displays of friendship with their foreign patrons. Symbolically, it shows the public that Marcos is, to some extent, backed by Beijing. Any similar appearance with Washington representatives could also be on the horizon.

“The Replacement:” Ronald “Bato (Rock)” Dela Rosa

Nobody saw this coming. Dela Rosa does not have a remarkable track record as a senator. As the National Chief of Police from 2016 to 2018, he was notorious for helping Duterte launch the bloody War on Drugs that claimed the lives of tens of thousands.

The media has fueled speculation that Dela Rosa is a placeholder for Sara Duterte, the president’s daughter, who could substitute him at the most opportune moment.

Like her father, Sara can still make a sudden decision to run, running against the law. Despite her announcements to the contrary, she is still under a national media spotlight. She has a national headquarters with giant signage plastered across one of the busiest highways in Metro Manila, commanding much more popularity than Dela Rosa. If she was to take a page from her father’s book, she’d likely make it seem like the public, or whoever generated the clamor for her to succeed her father.


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Alleged Filipino drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, left, is presented to the media by Philippine National Police Chief General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, right, upon arrival from Abu Dhabi early Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 at Camp Crame in suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines.

Dela Rosa has been playing along with whatever political maneuverings of his allies. Should his camp fail to dominate the upcoming elections, and opposition candidates achieve a landslide, representatives from the International Criminal Court will likely be allowed to enter the country for an investigation of the bloody war on drugs, in which it had found evidence of “crimes against humanity.” In that case, both President Duterte and Dela Rosa will be the target.

“An Opposition?” Vice-President Leni Robredo

The front runner for the opposition is sitting Vice-President Leni Robredo. The widow of a former well-loved official, she carries much of the weight of preventing the return of the Marcos’s or a Duterte puppet. She is backed by the Liberal Party, which used to be unpopular during the administration of Noynoy Aquino, but her jabs against Duterte of late have won her supporters.

Robredo is seen as the most powerful opposition figure against President Duterte, but it remains to be seen if she can gain the support of working-class Filipinos, who comprise the majority of voters. Unlike her opponents, she does not have an election platform to be remembered by.


Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo salutes during wreath-laying ceremonies to mark the 121st anniversary of Philippine independence at Manila’s Rizal Park Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

Recently, Robredo has come under fire for announcing a senatorial slate that endorsed a few former Duterte supporters. She left out human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares, one of the most vocal admin critics and associated with left-wing and grassroots movements. Excluding a figure like Colmenares raises questions if Robredo is genuinely building her opposition team as a united front or she is masking traditional politicking with dissent.

“Boxing Champ, but People’s Champ?” Manny Pacquiao

Everybody knows Pacquiao as a boxing legend. He is also running for president with something at least resembling a concrete platform. The senator has vowed to push for a housing agenda and weed out corruption. Almost all candidates have been calling for the latter, but Pacquiao has made waves by revealing in the Senate how poverty-stricken Filipinos were deprived of funds earmarked for the pandemic.

Pacquiao, of the ruling PDP-Laban Party, was once friendly with the Duterte administration. But he has only recently made a 180-degree turn against the President and his camp. An internal power grab divided PDP-Laban into two factions: those who wanted Pacquiao as the leader or one more faithful to Duterte. The division gave way to the Senator’s more recent jabs at the administration.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

Philippine senator and newly retired boxing icon Manny Pacquiao files his certificate of candidacy to join the presidential race, at Sofitel Harbor Garden Tent, in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, October 1, 2021.

It’s unclear how genuine or sincere his campaign will be. Is Pacman really sticking to his criticisms or is he merely trying to discredit the sitting ruler to make himself look better?

“Duterte-lite” Francisco “Isko” Moreno

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno has made no secret of his disdain for being called “Duterte-lite,” a social media-acquired moniker. But his fence-sitting on key issues that have defined his political career for the past six years, including human rights and the country’s relationship with China. It suggests that he wants a bigger piece of the proverbial political pie without changing much.

Moreno’s handling of the city of Manila has somewhat been modeled after what the Dutertes have done in Davao, where Sara Duterte has been serving as the mayor. He prioritized improving the city’s view at the cost of pushing away many of the low-income residents who come as vendors or workers of the informal economy. On city walls, he plastered slogans proclaiming discipline as one of the most treasured values for a Filipino. He joined cops to raid narcotics dens — just as one of the Duterte’s might do.


Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno gestures after filing his certificate of candidacy for next year's presidential elections before the Commission on Elections at the Sofitel Harbor Garden Tent in Metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Monday, October 4, 2021.

Most recently, following Robredo, Moreno has decided to run for President because of Marcos’ participation in the race. Meanwhile, he has tried to shake the “Duterte-lite” image by outright denying any link to the regime. He could turn out to be more ambitious than that. If elected, he could be more than Duterte, a terrifying prospect for the Philippines.

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

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