What is at stake in the elections in the Philippines?

Photo file of ballot papers. (The STAR / Michael Varcas)

A two-way race for the Philippine presidency emerged ahead of Monday’s election between incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo and Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of a notorious dictator whose 20-year rule ended in a 1986 revolt.

LIGHT: Marcos and Robredo lead the field before the Philippine presidential vote

Below is a look at some of the issues at play.

How would each candidate regulate?

Marcos is unlikely to rule like his authoritarian father, although strongman-style leadership might be expected. This approach proved popular with incumbent Rodrigo Duterte, who cultivated the image of a ruthless, no-nonsense leader who got things done.

If elected, Marcos would likely use his family’s influence to consolidate power through transfers, appointments and connections in the bureaucracy, the judiciary and other key bodies, replacing potential obstacles with members of his vast political network. He could have expected a more favorable congress and senate than Robredo.

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A Robredo victory would see a more liberal approach and focus on education, health care, poverty and gender equality, while strengthening institutions and oversight and stimulating competition in the market. She is committed to improving social well-being, such as unemployment benefits and family support.

However, a Robredo presidency would likely suffer from turmoil. She has already been a prime target for hate and disinformation campaigns as a vice president who dared to challenge Duterte.

And the economy?

Neither candidate will support significant economic restructuring, and both have promised to prioritize recovery from the pandemic and could aim for investment reforms, such as cutting red tape.

Robredo pledged to increase investment in climate change adaptation, level the conditions for businesses and promote public-private partnerships.

Marcos has revealed very little about politics and has stayed away from presidential debates and difficult media interviews, focusing his campaign on a simple but ambiguous message of unity. Continuity is expected from Duterte, including on large infrastructure projects.

Some economic risk advisors have noted a greater possibility of corruption and nepotism under the Marcos presidency, however, and the possibility of settling of scores and retaliation against businesses linked to family opponents.

LIGHT: Quotes, juxtaposed: What are the economic plans of presidential bets?

What would foreign policy be like?

The Philippines’ long-standing ties to the former US colonial power are unlikely to be threatened by either candidate, having stood still during Duterte’s years of very public hostility towards Washington.

The defense alliance is critical to the Philippines’ internal security and military capability, and preserving it is vital to a president’s relations with the military.

Marcos is seen as China’s closest candidate and could benefit from its business interests. He is in favor of a bilateral approach to China, which suits Beijing better but will frustrate supporters of a multilateral approach, which Robredo is likely to pursue.

Marcos was pragmatic in recognizing that the Philippines cannot compete militarily, so a tough stance should not be expected. Robredo allegedly opposed Chinese provocations and reminded Beijing that an international arbitration tribunal ruling in 2016 invalidated most of his claims about the South China Sea.

LIGHT: Quotes, Juxtaposed: How Will Presidential Bets Address the South China Sea Dispute?

What was Duterte’s role?

Duterte had a cranky relationship with Robredo, but was typically fickle towards Marcos, having praised him and questioned his fitness to drive.

Duterte did not support Marcos – nor any other candidate – but above all he did not try to move against him or damage his reputation.

A big win for Marcos was securing the president’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, as his vice-president-in-office, helping him absorb some of the cult following of the incumbent, particularly on social media, and breach new voter territory. .

The dynamic between their two families spurred speculation on a quid pro quo that helped secure the presidency for Duterte, who in turn paved the way for Marcos.

Most notable was Duterte who publicly thanked politicians and Marcos Jr’s sister Imee for funding his campaign, which he later dismissed as a joke. He also occasionally praised the late dictator and controversially allowed his body to be moved to a “heroes” cemetery in Manila after years of failed attempts by the family.

How important is the succession for Duterte?

Political vendettas are common in the Philippines, and former presidents are often hit with legal action or even jailed. Duterte has made enemies.

While they haven’t dented his popularity, Duterte’s presidency has been fraught with scandals involving allies or appointees, some of which may re-emerge later.

Activists and advocacy groups hold Duterte responsible for thousands of alleged executions of drug dealers and users during his war on drugs and could either initiate legal action when he leaves office, or press the International Criminal Court to resume the investigation.

Robredo has been a staunch critic of the president’s lethal methods of fighting drugs and crime and is more likely to allow investigations into Duterte. But with his daughter as his vice president and Marcos in office, he would have been well isolated.

– Editing by Nick Macfie

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