Philippines heads to poll in pivotal election

May 09, 2022
Filipinos queue on the street to vote, outside a polling station
Filipinos queue on the street to vote, outside a polling station

MANILA — Voting has begun in the Philippines, with millions queuing across the islands to choose their next president.

The man tipped to win the presidency is Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, the son of the nation's former dictator.

Polls suggest he may see a landslide victory, meaning the Marcos clan that was toppled 36 years ago could reclaim power.

His closest rival is Leni Rebredo who beat Marcos in the 2016 vice-presidential elections.

A high turnout is expected of the nation's eligible 67 million voters- with many on Monday lining up before dawn to cast their votes as polling stations at schools and community centres opened at 06:00 (22:00 GMT Sunday).

But there have already been reports of voting issues at the polls already, with some voters telling BBC reporters at the Epifanio Delos Santos elementary school in the capital Manila that they were having trouble putting their ballots into the vote counting machines.

A report by local news site the Inquirer said almost 2,000 vote counting machines - which voters feed their ballots directly into - had malfunctioned.

However, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said this had been "resolved", the report added.

In the volatile Mindanao region, a grenade attack outside a polling station late on Sunday left nine people injured, said police, according to an AFP report.

Whoever wins will take over from Rodrigo Duterte, the strongman leader who's come to the end of his six-year term in office.

Duterte's government has been criticised for its brutality in cracking down on drugs and crime, though the administration has always rejected allegations of wrongdoing.

Bongbong Marcos, 64, is the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos whose regime lasted 21 years.

On Monday, he and his family- including his mother Imelda - cast their votes at a school polling booth in Batac in the country's north - his family's heartland.

His father's rule saw him plunge the country into martial law and take control of the country's courts, businesses and media. The army and police arrested and tortured thousands of dissidents and political opponents were murdered.

He, his wife Imelda Marcos - who is infamous for her vast designer wardrobe - along with their cronies, plundered an estimated $10bn from public funds. He was forced out of power in 1986 by the People's Power Revolution and died soon afterwards.

After his family returned from exile in the 1990s, Bongbong carved out political footholds, becoming a province governor, congressman and senator - with the help of his family's wealth and still-powerful connections.

In 2016 he ran for vice-president, but lost to Leni Robredo - his main challenger in this contest.

Ms Robredo is a human rights lawyer and liberal legislator who has consistently led campaigns against Duterte's drugs violence and gender inequality.

She has vowed to tackle corruption, with her campaign slogan being: "Honest government, a better life for all".

While behind in the polls, her rallies have drawn significant turnouts recently - particularly among younger, passionate "Pink Shirt" supporters who have launched a grassroots, door-knocking effort to win her votes.

The other candidates trail Marcos and Robredo. They include boxing champion and national hero Manny Pacquiao who has promised to tackle corruption and poverty, and Manila's city mayor Isko Moreno who has promised infrastructure spend and a harsher line on China.

Critics say the election has been plagued by rampant misinformation on social media.

Bongbong has been accused of using social media to sow disinformation and whitewash the history of the Marcos family - something they deny.

The common theme is that Marcos's tyrannical rule was actually a "golden period" for the country - despite the fact that the economy was on the brink, heavily in debt to foreign banks.

Bongbong has also steered clear of debates or forums where he might have to face independent questioning.

For Ms Robredo, tracker groups have reported an escalation in online campaigns harassing and vilifying her with misogynistic messages.

The Asian Network for Free Elections - a monitor - has found past Philippines votes to be generally free and fair.

Polls will remain open until 19:00 (1100 GMT) locally, although voting officials have said they may extend the hours due to Covid restrictions and if voters are still waiting in line. Many are wearing masks to the polls.

Filipinos are not only voting on the president but also the vice-president, senators, lower house legislators and thousands of lower-ranking officials across the whole archipelago's 7,600 islands.

A turn-out of about 80%, as seen in previous elections, is expected.

Counting will start the moment polls close and it may become clear in a few hours which candidates are pulling ahead. However, the process could also take days before a winner is announced, as was the case in 2016. — BBC

May 09, 2022
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