1. The Contest: The Philippine elections are scheduled for May 9, 2016. Filipinos will vote for a new president, vice president, 12 senators, one district representative, one party list representative, and provincial/city/municipal officials. The winning president has six years to lead the country but he/she cannot run again for reelection since the constitution forbids it.
2. The Personalities: The five major contenders in the presidential race are Mar Roxas, Jejomar Binay, Grace Poe, Miriam Santiago, and Rodrigo Duterte. Roxas, the administration bet, topped the senate race in 2004 although he lost as a vice presidential candidate in 2010. He was subsequently appointed by incumbent President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to various executive positions in the past six years. Binay was mayor of Makati City, the country’s financial center, before becoming vice president in 2010. Poe dominated the senatorial election in 2013. She is also the daughter of a famous actor who ran but lost in the 2004 presidential elections. Santiago is a senator who placed second in the 1992 presidential elections. Duterte is mayor of Davao City, located in the southern island of Mindanao. He became popular for making Davao a safe city through his tough methods in suppressing criminality. He is called the ‘Dirty Harry’ of the Philippines because of his anti-crime agenda.
3. The Playing Field: Roxas has the advantage in terms of commanding a nationwide political machinery and vast resources because he is the leader of the ruling party. He vows to continue and expand the reforms instituted by Aquino whose platform is called Daang Matuwid (Straight Path or Righteous Path). If Roxas is the administration candidate, who is the opposition leader? There is no clear answer to this question. While Binay may be the head of the opposition coalition, it was only six months ago when he resigned as a member of the Aquino cabinet. And even though Poe has been critical of the Aquino government, it didn’t prevent her from becoming the first choice of the ruling party for the position of vice president. Santiago is also a consistent critic of the government, though her political party has little influence in local politics. Duterte only formalized his candidacy last month.
4. The Platforms: Roxas hopes to win by emphasizing the need for continuity. But rivals question his competence and the supposed accomplishments of the Aquino administration by highlighting the worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila, the continuing suffering of Typhoon Haiyan survivors, and the implementation of unconstitutional ‘presidential pork’. Binay seeks the support of the poor even though his family is hounded by corruption and plunder charges. Poe was the early favorite because of her stellar performance in the Senate but her popularity suffered when her previous American citizenship was questioned in the courts. Santiago, who is known for her intellectual prowess, has a large following among the youth but many are worried that her health problems could affect her candidacy. Duterte’s phenomenal rise from mayor to presidential contender could be attributed to the people’s frustration with an unequal and inefficient political system. He is seen by some analysts and an increasing number of citizens as this year’s alternative candidate who will solve the country’s problems which traditional mainstream politicians have failed to do.
5. Foreign Policy: All candidates support most of the actions taken by the Aquino government in dealing with China’s maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. With respect to United States military pivot, Duterte and Santiago have publicly opposed the Visiting Forces Agreement which allows the entry of U.S. troops in the country. Despite the recent Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Santiago renewed her opposition to the construction of U.S. military facilities in the country. Duterte once claimed that he rejected the request of the United States to make Davao a center of drone operations in the region. Meanwhile, Binay is in favor of amending the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution which restricts the foreign ownership of land and corporations.
6. Aquino’s Legacy: The presidential election will also determine whether several major programs and policies of the Aquino government will be continued, amended, or revoked such as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (expanded autonomy for Muslim-dominated provinces in southern Philippines), conditional cash transfer for the poorest of the poor, the stalled peace negotiations with communists, and the commitments made by the Philippines in the 2015 Paris climate talks.
7. The Vote: This is the third time that the Philippines will use automated voting technology, which many experts credited for the faster and more credible election results in 2010 and 2013. However, some are worried about the reliability of the digital software and the prospect of vote manipulation based on previous results. In addition, some are questioning the dominance of one company in facilitating vote automation and counting since 2010.