Philippine presidential candidates geared up for final rallies on Saturday to galvanize support and win over undecided voters, two days away from an election plagued by disinformation campaigns and the rekindling of a bitter rivalry dating back to several decades.
Up to 65 million Filipinos are eligible to vote on Monday to decide President Rodrigo Duterte’s successor after six years in office, along with thousands of other positions, from lawmakers and governors to mayors and city councilors.
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A two-horse presidential race has emerged between Vice President Leni Robredo and favorite Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of a strongman whose two-decade reign ended in his overthrow in an uprising by the “power of the people” in 1986.
Tens of thousands of supporters gathered in the capital Manila in rallies for Robredo and Marcos, braving the scorching afternoon heat hours before the candidates arrived.
Robredo’s rally location was symbolic, held along Ayala Avenue, where a large march took place in 1983 after the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino, an icon in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship.
The rally had a festival atmosphere, where supporters in bright pink, the color of Robredo’s campaign, handed out ice creams, drinks, T-shirts and flags.
“Robredo has helped a lot of people and they appreciate him,” said Mary Ann Ileto Fernandez, who was celebrating her 27th birthday at the rally.
“Although many people won’t show their support openly, we know they will vote for her.”
If opinion polls are accurate, Robredo, 57, will need a late push or low turnout if she is to win the presidency, with Marcos, a former congressman and senator, leading her from more than 30 points after topping all polls this year.
If this deficit continues, Marcos, 64, could be the first Philippine president to be elected by a majority since the end of his father’s reign.
Marcos Jr was to address what was expected to be a huge crowd at a casino along Manila Bay, which his side said was an event to show appreciation for an outpouring of public support.
Marcos’ lead was attributed to his team’s shrewd use of social media to reach out to young voters, to discredit Robredo and present what political pundits say is a counter-narrative to historical accounts of the reign. from his father. Marcos recently called his father a “genius”.
Monday will be a rematch of the 2016 vice-presidential election which Marcos also looked set to win, before losing by just 200,000 votes to Robredo. He fought hard to overturn the result, which the Supreme Court upheld.
Saturday’s rallies are collectively expected to attract hundreds of thousands of supporters, with the candidates using celebrities and social media influencers to energize supporters.
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