Philippine presidency hopefuls open campaigns

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Manila, Feb. 9 (BNA): Campaigning in the Philippines’ presidential election started Tuesday with a cast of candidates, with all vowing to bail out a country driven deeper into poverty by the pandemic and plagued by gaping inequalities and decades-long insurgencies.

The official three-month election campaign for national posts, including the president and separately elected vice president and half of the 24-seat Senate, opened under tough anti-virus restrictions including a ban on handshakes, kissing, hugging and tightly packed crowds aimed at dampening the carnival-like rallies that have been the hallmark of Philippine elections.

 Social media has become a key battleground in the May 9 elections given the restrictions with many fearing disinformation could worsen in an intense race, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Candidates for more than 18,000 local positions, including provincial governors, town mayors and House of Representatives seats open their campaigns on March 25 under tight police watch due to a history of violent rivalries. More than 65 million Filipinos have registered to vote in the country and another 1.8 million overseas.

The presidential aspirants waved from convoys festooned with huge portraits of themselves to thousands of cheering followers. The daylong campaigning ended with night rallies including speeches, music and dance.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., has topped pre-election surveys by a wide margin, alarming proponents of human rights and democracy, including Vice President Leni Robredo.

Robredo narrowly defeated Marcos Jr. in the 2016 vice presidential race but is trailing far behind him in recent polls for the presidential race, despite human rights atrocities and corruption during his father’s rule that he has described as “lies.”

In a speech before thousands of supporters at a sports arena north of Manila, Marcos Jr. did not touch on the allegations against him and his family and instead called for unity during the pandemic and economic hard times. “Let’s unite the entire Philippines,” he said. “All of us will rise together again.”

Robredo asked Filipinos to help her pursue major political reforms. “This is a chance for us to change the direction of politics in our country,” she said at a rally in her home region. “Even if there is a change in names, nothing will happen if our rotten political system remains the same.”

The other main presidential contenders include Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, a former actor who has impressed many with his rags-to-power life story and cleanup of the capital, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief known for his exploits against crime and corruption, and Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the former boxing star who has vowed to jail corrupt politicians and provide free houses to the poor.