Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, center, gestures as he greets his supporters during a motorcade promoting his presidential bid in the 2022 national elections in Manila, Philippines, Feb. 8, 2022.

Campaign season in the Philippines ramps up 

The 2022 campaign season in the Philippines officially kicked off on Tuesday with presidential campaign rallies across the country. It’s the start of a 90-day sprint to Election Day on May 9. Ten candidates are running to replace current president Rodrigo Duterte, who is term-limited. 

The World

Some 1,000 people turned up in Hero’s Park in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, for Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso’s proclamation rally on Tuesday — the official first day of the 2022 election campaign season.

The former actor-turned politician has attracted attention because of his work and advocacy for the disadvantaged during his brief stint as mayor of Manila. Moreno, who has a rags-to-riches story of his own, has long advocated for more, decent housing and government investing in job creation as solutions to help the urban poor.

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Now, Moreno is among the 10 candidates running to replace current President Rodrigo Duterte and one of several who could be considered proxies of the sitting president.

Duterte, who is constitutionally limited to a single, six-year term, has led a tumultuous and unpredictable administration since taking office in 2016. In addition to his deadly yearslong war on drugs, Duterte has also been accused of cozying up to China, mishandling the country’s COVID-19 response and not following through on infrastructure and job-creation promises — all punctuated by crass rape jokes and explicit-filled outbursts that have made him world-famous. 

Filipinos want change

Myres Bandojo, who was waiting for the Moreno rally to begin wearing a shirt that bore the mayor’s image, is someone who can’t wait for change. The middle-aged woman said she likes what he’s done for her hometown, that he works fast and cares about the elderly.

Even though the campaign season just began, Bandojo said her vote “is set” and she is enthusiastic that Moreno has what it takes to bring real change to the Philippines.

Twenty-three-year-old Paul Reyes, who was also attending the rally in Hero’s Park, said that he is interested in what Moreno has to say: “I want to know his platforms in governance, and I just want to make sure that his platforms are suitable to my agenda.”

Reyes said that he wants to see a leader who will stand up to China’s aggression toward the Philippines in the South China Sea.

In 2016, the Philippines won an arbitration case at The Hague after Manila challenged many of Beijing’s claims to islands in the South China Sea. But many Filipinos, including Reyes, criticize Duterte for not taking advantage of that ruling and allowing China to continue to build airstrips and bully fishermen in the disputed waters.

Hours later, Moreno, 47,  told the crowd of enthusiastic rallygoers that he gets things done. His tone was calm, yet inspiring.

“I listen to specialists,” he said. “I listen to good people with good intention … we always come up with a solution.”

Campaign kickoff nationwide

Similar proclamation rallies were held across the country, including in many candidates’ hometowns.

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Opposition leader and current Vice President Leni Robredo, the only woman running for president, kicked off her campaign in her hometown of Naga — a town in Southern Luzon, nearly eight hours east of Metro Manila.

Robredo, clad in her signature pink, promised to establish a government to address the needs of the people, to take care of the nation’s finances and to focus on the marginalized.

Analysts say that Robredo can distinguish herself from the current administration, but her victory will depend on whether Filipinos have the appetite to elect another “establishment candidate.” 

Just north of Manila, thousands packed Philippine Arena to attend Bongbong Marcos’ proclamation rally. The Duterte ally and son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos promised to unite the country under two powerful political families: his own and the Duterte’s. His running mate, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio, is the daughter of the current president.

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“That’s why the Marcos-Duterte tandem is a nice example because if one from the north can unite with one from Mindanao, I believe that we can unite the whole Philippines,” he said in Tagalog to the cheering crowd.

Critics of Marcos, who has been the subject of several recent controversies involving the media, are quick to point out that his campaign may not be legitimate because he’s been convicted of tax evasion. In the Philippines, public officials who have been convicted of tax crimes are supposed to be barred from participating in elections. 

What’s at stake

“What we have seen is a consolidation of the forces,” Dindo Manhit, political analyst and president of Stratbase ADR Institute, a Manila-based think tank, told The World.

The latest polling from Pulse Asia suggests that over 50% of voters would pull the lever for Marcos, whose support is concentrated in the sprawling Manila metro area. 

“What we have seen is a consolidation of the forces.”

Dindo Manhit, political analyst and president of Stratbase ADR Institute

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The December poll showed Robredo in second with 20% of the vote. While Moreno is polling third at 8%, and boxer-turned-politician Manny Pacquiao also sits at 8%.

Still, Manhit said not to dismiss the other candidates — all of whom could siphon influence away from Marcos in other parts of the country.

“We could see a very tight and competitive race going into March or April,” Manhit said. “Or, you could see a landslide by Marcos if those things don’t happen.”

The top issue for voters is the economy, he said: “They want jobs and livelihood opportunities. They want wages, better wages so they can deal with the reality of cost-of-living. So, that is the greatest challenge — who can best address that.”

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