PHILIPPINE presidential candidates started their three-month campaign on Tuesday with grand rallies and parades aimed at wooing millions of voters more concerned about personalities than policies.
Six candidates vying to succeed President Rodrigo R. Duterte have until May 7 to present their platforms and convince Filipinos to vote for them two days later. Nine are running for vice-president.
The late dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. is leading opinion polls on a race dominated by powerful clans and influenced by religious blocs.
Mr. Marcos launched his campaign at the world’s largest indoor arena in Bulacan province owned by the religious group Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC). The group is known to vote as a bloc and had historically backed the Marcoses.
Political analysts have said more than a million INC voters might be enough to swing the votes.
“It is just a venue,” Marcos lawyer Victor D. Rodriguez told reporters when asked if the religious group had endorsed his client and running mate and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio.
The candidate’s rally was hosted by actress Celestine “Toni” Gonzaga, whom civic groups had criticized for allegedly downplaying the atrocities committed during the martial law regime of his father, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.
At the program, Mr. Marcos reiterated his call for unity, which has been heavily criticized by victims of his father’s martial rule.
Also running for president are incumbent Vice-President Maria Lenor “Leni” G. Robredo, former matinee idol and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” M. Domagoso, boxing champion and Senator Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson who is a former police chief and labor leader Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman
Ms. Robredo, a former lawyer for the poor, started her pink-colored campaign in Lupi town in Camarines Sur province. A distant second in opinion polls, she has vowed to “defeat the old and rotten brand of politics.”
She was thrust into the political limelight after the death of her husband and local government champion Jesse M. Robredo. She ran for a House of Representatives seat in 2013 and won.
Mr. Duterte, who is barred by law from running for reelection, on Monday night said almost all of the candidates had sought his endorsement, but he was not supporting any of them at the moment. “At this time, I am saying that I’m not supporting anybody,” he told a televised Cabinet meeting.
He had chosen loyal aide Senator Christopher Lawrence T. Go to replace him, but he pulled out of the race.
Mr. Duterte, who is stepping down in less than five months, said he had been longing for retirement. “I have started packing. I have had some of my belongings shipped.”
Meanwhile Mr. Domagoso started the first day of the national campaign with a mass in Tondo, Manila where he grew up.
He was seen dancing to the tune of “Dying Inside to Hold You” as speakers blasted his signature tune, while his motorcade passed through a street in the district of Tondo, where he collected garbage as a boy.
Mr. Domagoso said he had a good chance of winning just like Mr. Duterte, who was mayor of Davao City before he became president in 2016.
He said people’s lives have not improved under the late dictator and his successor, democracy icon Corazon C. Aquino. “If you’re tired of these two, I’m just here.”
Mr. Pacquiao started his uphill climb to the presidency with a caravan in his hometown of General Santos City. Starting at the village of Bawing to the Oval Plaza Stand where he was to have his proclamation rally.
At his rally, the boxing champ said government corruption is the root cause of poverty. “The fight of Manny Pacquiao is not a fight for myself no my family. Rather, it is a fight for every Filipino.”
Mr. Lacson started his campaign in his hometown of Imus in Cavite province. He vowed a “disciplined” campaign, leading by example and avoiding mudslinging.
“The people may not be our masters, but definitely we are your servants,” he said at his proclamation rally. “If I become the president, I will not embarrass you. I will not fail you.”
Meanwhile, Mr. de Guzman held his proclamation rally at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Monument) in Quezon City later in the day.
At his proclamation rally, he said it is time for workers and the poort to lead the country. “The problems of the rich are different from the ordinary Filipino which is why those in power do not take our country’s problems seriously,” he said in Filipino.
He also reiterated his plan to impose a wealth tax on the richest Filipinos. “This should be the government of the people, not the government of billionaires.”
Senatorial candidates also kicked off their campaign, including six lawmakers who are seeking reelection.
Senator Leila M. de Lima, one of Mr. Duterte’s staunchest critics, said her “unjust detention” would not prevent her campaigning. She would use surrogates, video messages and dispatches to woo voters.
Senator Richard J. Gordon, on his final term, vowed to fight corruption and incompetence in government. “Our crusade against corrupt and abusive members of the government will not end here because we will continue to hold those who steal and sin against the people accountable.”
Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel held a caravan in Camarines Sur, focusing on jobs, health and economic revival.
The three are part of Ms. Robredo’s senatorial slate.
Senator Joel J. Villanueva, who is running as an independent for a second term, pledged to continue his agenda of job creation.
Also running for reelection are Juan Miguel F. Zubiri and Sherwin T. Gatchalian.
Antique Rep. Lorna Regina “Loren” B. Legarda, who had been a senator for three terms, vowed to prioritize the poor “as we tread on the path towards sustainable and green pandemic recovery.”
Former Duterte spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr., who is part of Mr. Marcos’s senatorial lineup, vowed to improve healthcare and reform the justice system. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Jaspearl Emerald G. Tan and John Victor D. Ordoñez