MANILA: Filipinos were voting for a new president on Monday, with the son of an ousted dictator and a champion of reform and human rights the main contenders at a tenuous moment in a deeply divided Asian democracy.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the strongman ousted in a military-backed “people power” uprising in 1986, led pre-election polls with a seemingly insurmountable lead. But his closest challenger, Vice President Leni Robredo, tapped into the shock and outrage at the prospect of another Marcos taking over the seat of power and mobilized an army of campaign volunteers to back his candidacy. .
Eight other candidates, including former boxing star Manny Pacquiao, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and former national police chief Sen. Panfilo Lacson, are far behind in voter preference polls.
Long lines of voters showed up early across most of the country without any major incidents. But in southern Maguindanao province, a security hotspot, unidentified men fired at least three grenades on Sunday evening near the Datu Unsay town hall compound, injuring nine villagers who had been there. traveled in advance from remote villages to be able to vote on Monday. Two more grenades exploded soon after in the nearby town of Shariff Aguak but caused no injuries, police said.
The laureate will take office on June 30 for a unique six-year term at the helm of a Southeast Asian nation hard hit by two years of COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns.
Even more difficult issues include a declining economy, deeper poverty and unemployment, Muslim and communist insurgencies that have been going on for decades. There will also likely be questions about how to handle calls seeking the prosecution of incumbent populist leader Rodrigo Duterte, whose anti-drug crackdown has left thousands dead, mostly petty suspects, and sparked an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Duterte’s daughter, South Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, topped the surveys as vice president Marcos Jr. in an alliance of descendants of two authoritarian leaders who deal human rights groups. The rapprochement combined the voting power of their separate northern and southern political strongholds, boosting their chances but heightening the concerns of human rights activists.
“History can repeat itself if they win,” said Myles Sanchez, a 42-year-old human rights defender. “There may be a repeat of the martial law and drug-related killings that happened under their parents.”
Sanchez said the violence and abuse that marked the era of martial law under Marcos and Duterte’s war on drugs more than three decades later victimized loved ones from two generations of his family. His grandmother was sexually abused and his grandfather tortured by counter-insurgency troops under Marcos in the early 1980s in their poor farming village in the southern province of Leyte.
Under Duterte’s crackdown, Sanchez’s brother, a sister and a sister-in-law were wrongly linked to illegal drugs and killed separately, she told The Associated Press in an interview. She described the murder of her siblings as “a nightmare that caused untold pain”.
She pleaded with Filipinos not to vote for politicians who either openly advocate widespread killings or conveniently look the other way.
Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte stayed away from such volatile issues during the three-month campaign and stuck firmly to a battle cry of national unity, even as their fathers’ presidencies opened some of the most turbulent divisions in the country’s history. .
“I learned during our campaign not to fight back,” Sara Duterte told her followers on Saturday evening on the last day of campaigning, where she and Marcos Jr. thanked a huge crowd during a night of music. rap, dance performances and fireworks near Manila Bay.
At a separate rally, Robredo thanked his supporters who blocked his star-studded outings and fought a house-to-house battle to endorse his brand of clean, practical politics. She asked them to fight for patriotic ideals beyond elections.
“We have learned that those who have woken up will never close their eyes again,” Robredo told a crowd that filled the main avenue in the capital’s Makati financial district. “It is our right to have a future with dignity and it is our responsibility to fight for it.”
Besides the presidency, more than 18,000 government positions are contested, including half of the 24-member Senate, more than 300 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as provincial and local offices across the archipelago of more than 109 million people. Filipinos.
About 67 million people registered to vote during the 13 hours of voting, an hour longer than the midterm elections in 2019 to compensate for expected slower queues due to social distancing and other coronavirus protection measures.
Thousands of police and military have been deployed to secure electoral districts, particularly in rural areas with a history of violent political rivalry and where Communist and Muslim rebels are active.
In 2009, gunmen deployed by the family of the governor of the southern province of Maguindanao massacred 58 people, including 32 journalists, in an attack on an election convoy that shocked the world.