MANILA, Philippines – In choosing the next president, Filipinos consider many things: concern for the poor, trustworthiness, an untainted reputation, a clear program of action, and experience in governance, to name a few.
On this note, and based on a survey ahead of the office election period, presidential race frontrunner Bongbong Marcos Jr. was seen as the candidate who possesses the characteristics voters are looking for in the next country’s leader.
In a closed-door briefing on Wednesday, February 16, research consultancy firm Stratbase ADR Institute said based on a Social Weather Stations survey, Marcos is the candidate voters see the most as having the characteristic that a candidate for a national post should posses. The survey was held from October 20-23, 2021, the same month national candidates filed their Certificates of Candidacy.
According to the October 2021 survey, Marcos leads all presidential bets in 12 characteristics respondents were made to choose from. He got the highest percentage in the characteristics that mattered to voters most then: concern for the poor (29%), honest and trustworthy (32%), and not corrupt (28%).
Marcos was also seen by voters as the candidate with a clear plan for solving the country’s problems (38%), has good leadership qualities (38%), and defense the territories of the Philippines against China (39%). He also scored upwards of 30% in the perception that he has the proven ability to respond to future pandemics (32%), honors and respects the law (32%), is not beholden to anything who can influence his decisions (34%).
Marcos, the only son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., is the presidential candidate of Uniteam, an alliance that brings together the biggest and most prominent clans in Philippine politics. His running-mate, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, is the daughter of the incumbent president.
The older Marcos put the Philippines under Martial law for several years, although rights abuses and the pilfering of public funds continued well beyond Martial law. Ferdinand Marcos Sr and his family – including Bongbong Marcos Jr – were forced into exile during the EDSA Revolution in 1986. The Marcos clan has since returned to the mainstream. In 2016, Marcos Jr lost to Vice President Leni Robredo by a hairline.
A newer January 2022 Pulse Asia survey, which gauged what voters consider the most in picking a presidential candidate, found that “not corrupt,” “has a clear platform of action,” and “extensive experience in governance” were the three top considerations.
Ironically, Marcos Jr and his family are, in fact, hounded by corruption issues. Marcos Jr and his siblings are beneficiaries of two Swiss foundations that held stolen funds. He was special assistant to his father in 1979 and later, vice governor then governor of their bailiwick, Ilocos Norte.
Despite leading preference polls, Marcos Jr has yet to lay out a comprehensive platform. In rallies and sorties, the late dictator’s son sticks to his message of unity.
A huge factor in 2022, of course, is the reach of social media and the prevalence of misinformation and disinformation. Rappler investigations have found that across several platforms, disinformation networks were used to further the Marcos narrative. A recent investigation found that newly-made Twitter accounts were used to promote the dictator’s son and attack critics in the lead-up to elections.
According to Stratbase, Marcos Jr.’s supporters are “focused on pushing four narratives” on social media: that he’s the most qualified to “make the nation great again,” that his father’s regime were the best years of the country, that Marcos Jr. and Duterte made for an “unstoppable tandem,” and that mainstream media is not to be trusted.
Of the four points noted by Stratbase, three have come from Marcos Jr and his allies themselves. In sorties, they proclaim that through unity under Marcos Jr., the country would be great again and that the Uniteam tandem stands as the winners. In turning down a one-on-one interview with Jessica Soho, Marcos Jr.’s camp pointed to the veteran journalist’s supposed “bias” against him.
Uniteam, consolidation of forces
The Marcos and Duterte alliance, said Stratbase Group founder and managing director Victor Andres Manhit, led to a consolidation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s base, even if the president had not endorsed a candidate after long-time aide Bong Go dropped out of the race for the presidency. Therefore, it’d be pointless for other candidates to seek the endorsement of the incumbent president.
Presidential candidate Manila Mayor Isko Moreno had earlier expressed openness to getting President Duterte’s support and even considered including him in his senate lineup before the president eventually withdrew his candidacy. PDP-Laban, the party Duterte chairs, has “adopted” Sara Duterte as its vice presidential candidate but has not endorsed a presidential aspirant.
But there’s another political figure whom candidates could look to for an endorsement: Senator Grace Poe, who ran for president in the 2016 elections. Poe has, thus far, not endorsed a presidential candidate. Trailing Poe as notable endorsers from within politics, based on surveys, is President Duterte himself and his daughter, Sara.
Manhit said candidates apart from Marcos Jr. should focus on building on their own strengths instead of hoping for a Duterte endorsement.
For the first elections held under the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the economy that’s top of mind. Based on a Pulse Asia survey held from January 19 to 24, inflation, workers’ pay, poverty, graft & corruption, and job creation were the biggest issues for voters
Overtaking the frontrunners?
The Uniteam is a formidable force in the elections not only because of its 2022 ticket. The biggest clans in politics and the parties they’re part of are in the alliance. There’s former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Senator Bong Revilla of Lakas-CMD, and former president Erap Estrada’s son Jinggoy Estrada of Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, to name a few. Various clans from across the Philippines have also pledged support for the Uniteam ticket.
What drives the popularity of the Marcos-Duterte tandem is the fact that both belong to political clans from North Luzon and Mindanao, respectively. Manhit pointed out that based on research, only 1 in 4 Filipinos would not vote for a candidate from a political dynasty. The rest? They were either supportive of candidates from political clans or undecided over whether they’d vote dynasties into power.
Asked if non-Marcos candidates, by consolidating forces, could make it easier to beat the survey frontrunner, Manhit said it’s “too late.” Instead, candidates should find a way to create momentum as the campaign picks up. – Rappler.com