© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Philippine Presidential Candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, delivers a speech during a pre-election rally in Lipa, Batangas Province, Philippines, April 20, 2022. REUTERS / Eloisa Lopez
By Enrico Dela Cruz
MANILA (Reuters) – Polls opened in the Philippines on Monday in the country’s largest presidential election in decades, with the prospect of a once unthinkable return to power by the Marcos family, 36 years after they were overthrown in a “people’s power” uprising.
Former senator and congressman Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of a dictator whose two-decade rule ended in a public uprising and humiliating his family’s exile, clashes in the election.
Opinion polls suggest that Marcos, popularly known as “Bongbong”, leads his rival by over 30 percentage points, who was at the top of every poll this year. This means that Robredo will need a late rise or a low turnout if he wants to win the presidency.
Voters began to line up long before the polls opened at 6 a.m. (Sunday at 10 p.m. GMT), and polling stations will run longer than usual due to COVID-19 precautionary measures.
Polls close at 7 p.m., and an unofficial vote count could show a winner within hours.
Marcos, 64, has not presented a real political platform, but his presidency is expected to ensure continuity from outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte, whose relentless, powerful approach has proven popular and helped him consolidate power quickly.
Robredo, 57, a former human rights lawyer and unwavering liberal, has vowed to improve education and prosperity, fight poverty and improve market competition if elected.
The Election Commission (Comelec) said on Monday it had not received reports of major problems on the ground so far, but there were minor delays in some constituencies in the southern provinces of Cotabato and Marawi.
“Our assumption is that everything is going well because so far there are no unwanted and negative reports,” Comeleca spokesman John Rex Laudiangco told a news briefing.
Marcos voted in his home province of Ilocos Norte, and on his departure he spoke only briefly to reporters.
‘VICTORY OF UNITY’
Marcos was encouraged by the support of many younger Filipinos born after the 1986 revolution, after launching a huge offensive on social media in an optimistic campaign that carried a hint of historical revisionism.
His supporters and influencers on social media dismissed stories of looting, chronicity and brutality under his late father’s state of war as lies sold by opponents, presenting, as his critics say, a different version of history. Camp Marcos denied running disinformation campaigns.
Despite falling out of favor, the Marcos family returned from exile in the 1990s and has been a powerful force in Philippine politics ever since, retaining its influence with immense wealth and far-reaching ties.
The vote also represents an opportunity for Marcos to avenge his defeat by Robred in the 2016 vice presidential election, a narrow defeat of just 200,000 votes he tried unsuccessfully to undo.
Marcos shied away from debate and campaigned on a message of optimism and unity, telling hundreds of thousands of supporters on Saturday that he dreamed of “winning the unity of the entire Philippines”.
Robredo promised supporters better education, health care and public services if elected.
A change in the election game could be vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte-Carpio, the popular daughter of the incumbent president, who could pass on part of her father’s huge support to Marcos. The president did not support any candidate.
About 65 million Filipinos have the right to vote on Duterte’s successor after his six years in power.
There are also about 18,000 seats available, from seats in the Senate and Congress to mayors, governors and councilors.