Philippine Election: Candidates, Main Issues & a 'Cesspool of Disinformation'
What is Philippines voting for, who are the main candidates, and why is this being called a "social media election"?
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It's election day in The Philippines on Monday, 9 May, and a total of 10 candidates are running for president.
The 16th and the incumbent president, Rodrigo Duterte of the PDP–Laban, had announced his retirement from politics in October last year.
The contest is largely between Vice President Leni Robredo against Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of Ferdinand Marcos Sr, whose dictatorial rule ended in a 1986 uprising.
A turnout of about 80 percent is expected.
Whoever wins the election will inherit an economy that has been crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hyperinflation, poverty, and unemployment have been damaging the country for years, along with rebellions and political divisions.
So, what is Philippines voting for, who are the main candidates in the fray, and why is this being called a "social media election"? Read on.
Issues the Election is Being Fought On: Human Rights, Economy, Corruption
Of the many issues that are at stake in this election, human rights is one of the most important ones.
"The forthcoming elections are set to be some of the most important in recent history, and we hope they will help pave the way for a radically different approach to human rights," the aforementioned Amnesty statement added.
Civil society in the Philippines has a stark rich-poor divide. The average income is $3,300 (£2,445) a year, and more than 25 million Filipinos live in poverty, according to data provided by the Philippine Statistics Authority.
The key issue, therefore, is indeed to rejuvenate the country's economy, along with eliminating corruption in public office.
China's increasing strategic presence in the seas around the Philippines, where it has been building military bases is a major foreign policy concern for the Filipino establishment as well.
The frontrunner for president is Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
His father had ruled the country brutally for more than 20 years till 1986, declaring martial law in 1972 and taking absolute control of the country's courts, businesses, and media.
Marcos Jr, who has served as vice governor, governor and congressman in the family stronghold of Ilocos Norte, is seeking to reverse his father's legacy.
For the 2022 elections, he is running on a platform of "unity" and has promised to increase employment and reduce inflation. He also wants to increase investment in agriculture and infrastructure.
His running mate for vice president is Sara Duterte Carpio, the daughter of the outgoing president, as he has entered into a political alliance with the three other powerful political families in the country, the Arroyos, the Estradas, and the Dutertes.
"Bongbong" is expected to, should he emerge victorious, woo China for infrastructure projects.
The candidate who comes closest to defeating Bongbong is the current vice-president of the Philippines, Leni Robredo, who is a former lawyer and human rights advocate, belonging to the Liberal Party.
She has promised to eliminate corruption, with and her campaign slogan is, "Honest government, a better life for all".
Her recent campaign rallies have been huge, especially among the young "Pink Shirt" supporters who have supporter her door-knocking campaigns to get her votes.
Robredo has promised a tough approach toward Beijing.
'A Cesspool of Disinformation'
The 2022 election, like the 2016 election, is being labelled as a "social media election."
Observers of the 2022 election say that there is relentless misinformation on social media that could influence its outcome. After all, on an average, a Filipino internet user spends almost four hours on social media per day.
"I have described it as a cesspool of disinformation and it just gets worse every election cycle," said Richard Heydarian, a politics professor at Polytechnic University of the Philippines, as reported by the BBC.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, more than 90 percent of Filipinos with access to the internet use Facebook and YouTube.
As of 2021, more than 80 percent of the population is on Facebook, while around 85 percent watches YouTube.
Much of the disinformation that is being spread on Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube targets Robredo, who is branded as a communist and a poor administrator.
On the other hand, the horrific era of Bongbong's father is being rewritten as one with strong economic growth and infrastructure projects.
"The Philippines is paying the price for not having regulatory oversight and not making sure that the general population has a necessary cognitive resilience against these kinds of brazen and blatant lies," Heydarian argued, as reported by the New York Times.
A Brief Glimpse at Outgoing Prez Rodrigo Duterte's Legacy
The election is being fought to replace Duterte, who, in 1986, Duterte was elected deputy mayor, and then became the mayor of Davao City, and remained so for the next three decades.
He transformed Davao City from a violent and chaotic hotspot for drugs and crimes into a flourishing economy.
Duterte became president in 2016, and is now infamous for his "war on drugs" characterised by widespread human rights violations.
"Over the past six years, thousands of people, overwhelmingly poor, have been killed by the police and other armed individuals as part of the government’s so-called 'war on drugs'," a statement by Amnesty asserted while emphasising the importance of the 2022 elections.
In fact, Duterte had once said, “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews ... there's 3 million drug addicts. There are. I'd be happy to slaughter them."
(With inputs from Reuters, BBC, NYT, CSIS.)
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