The Philippine elections 2022: In search of a leader in a pandemic

PATRONILLO GARCIA, WYNCY EUSTAQUIO, JUN DE DIOS

The second Monday of May 2022 is coming in less than 250 days and in non-pandemic circumstances this would have been an optimal time for Filipino political aspirants to strategize their entry to the Malacañang palace. This early period starts the preparation from all the wannabes and politicians who would try to get the confidence of the voting public against the background of the dreaded COVID-19 disease.

Taking inspiration from President Rodrigo Duterte’s victory in 2016, more city mayors may aspire for the presidency. 2016 was the first time Filipinos elected a candidate from Mindanao, southern part of the Philippines beleaguered by poverty and local conflicts, as the 16th President of the Republic.

Over the last few months, surveys from Pulse Asia or Social Weather Station consistently show familiar names such Sara Duterte – the presidential daughter and Mayor of Davao City; Bongbong Marcos – son and namesake of former president a former Governor and Legislator; Isko Moreno – current Mayor of Manila, the country’s capital; Manny Pacquiao – currently a senator and boxing world champion are in the top five for the two top posts.

The 2016 General Elections recorded 81% voter turnout, the highest among the three automated elections held in the country. In the last 2019 mid-term election, there was a 76% voter too. It was the administration candidates who won almost all the posts. This could be attributed to the consistent trust rating of the current administration.

The 2022 Election could be an interesting for Filipinos with the pandemic yet to end and with doubts on the Government’s ability to handle this situation successfully. In these uncertain times, where currently less than 20% of the population has been administered the vaccine and estimates show that it takes about two months to vaccinate 10% of the population, one cannot predict the turnout. In any case, by the elections, one can expect just about 50% of the population to have had the first jab. It could well end in a selection based solely on the first past the post system.

At Stake

Having a Presidential System, the President as the head of the government is elected through majority votes. In the Philippines, candidates for Presidency and Vice Presidency campaign together but may be elected separately. Thanks to multi-party systems, results in having the top office holders from opposing parties. So, any citizen can seek public office.

The Philippine Congress has a bicameral structure composed of House of Representatives and the Senate. There are 219 regular members of the House of Representatives, elected for three-year terms plus members elected through a party-list system. The party-list seats in the House which currently has 21 seats) and they represent the social development sectors such as labor, indigenous cultural, among others. The Senate has 24 members who are elected for a six-year term with half of them being elected every three years. A senator can run for one re-election, then needs to wait for three years cool off period. Under the Constitution, an incumbent senator can run for President or Vice President post in the middle of his term and can go back to being a senator if he or she loses.

This election is for Local Government Units – the Provincial Governors and Board members, the Mayors, Vice Mayors and members of their respective councils across all regions, cities and municipalities, for a 3-year term in office.

The Challenges

By virtue of the 1998 Automated System Law, the country will be on its 5th Automated Election system with the Commission on Election (COMELEC) awarding of the contract to provide the software to the multi-national and a private company Smartmatic again in May 2021. A logistical concern can affect shipment of thousands of counting machines to target precincts. Some precincts were used as quarantine and evacuation facilities and there might be some hesitation from the public due to virus threat.

Smartmatic have provided the technology in terms of electronic counting system in both local and national elections to various countries including the United Kingdom and United States of America. One of the controversies related to Smartmatic was in the General Election in 2016 for the Vice Presidency post. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who lost to Maria Leonor Robredo, filed protest with an allegation of cheating and fraud. With a long and tedious court deliberations alongside manual audit and physical counting of ballots from selected provinces, the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) dismissed the case in February 2021, just a year before the next election is due.

The Kingmakers

It is not exclusive to Philippines that media plays a vital role in every election, with the social media being used extensively in the 2016 elections. Media provides information on every stage of the polls making the citizen aware of the steps to exercise their right of suffrage. They can be watchdogs to ensure the fair and honest election. On the other hand, to some they are also known to be the kingmakers. Name recall translates to votes and broadcast media and social media make it easy.

With one major media entity – ABS-CBN losing their broadcast rights, the reach of campaign messages and election manifestos to the remote areas could get difficult. Based on various reports, ABS-CBN was the media outfit which did not air Duterte’s campaign in 2016 but instead ran paid negative political advertisements for the opposing candidate in the previous elections.

Owing to these bullies, reports say that Duterte did not get a fair deal of exposure and campaign advertisements from the mainstream media, however enjoyed a huge fan followership on social media. A study on Duterte’s social media fame shows that a good number of Duterte’s online followership was dedicated offline too. Will this sentiment keep up?

With widening internet uptake citizens have some access to information which makes them wiser and independent decision makers. Information either for or against specific candidates is readily available at the tap of a finger.

Filtering Candidates

To some candidates, this is the chance to highlight their respective efforts during lockdown to convince the voters, while to others, it is an opportunity pick on perceived issues brought about by the pandemic in their campaign strategy.

The previous administrations’ achievements or pitfalls can dictate the fate of election candidates. Handling of crisis, natural or otherwise, contribute to the decision-making. In 2016, the aftermath of the super typhoon Yolanda (internationally named Haiyan) and the alleged misuse and diversion of public funds were major issues casted on the chosen successor of then administration party.

Regardless of party affiliation, candidates can stand a chance if they could endorse tangible plans and inclusive recovery programs in their election manifestos. Pressing matters such as economic stability, poverty and rising unemployment rates are some of the issues the new administration must concentrate on. The Filipinos shall weigh in the critical impact between continuity and power shift.

The filing of certificate of candidacy starts in October 2021. The current administration is yet to decide on the candidates. We might see only a few, who have enough resources for an effective campaign, run for office in 2022 given the situation. The pandemic could cast its long shadow on the elections by causing a low turnout. In such a case the winner may not necessarily mean that the choice was of the people but of only the people who could make the choice. One needs to keep the fingers crossed that this does not happen for democracy to flourish in the Philippines.



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