On May 9, 2016, a total of 18,069 national and local positions were decided at elections in the Philippines. Five candidates ended on the final ballot list for the presidential race, although the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had tipped seven to make it to the certified list of “nuisance candidates” out of the total of 130 candidates who filed to run for the certificates of candidacy.[i] They are:
- Vice-President Jejomar Binay (running mate Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan);
- Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago (running mate Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos);
- Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (running mate Senator Alan Peter Cayetano);
- Senator Grace Poe (running mate Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero); and
- former Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II (running mate Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo).
- Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, running for the vice-presidency
The unofficial tally reports Duterte as the winner of the presidential race, more than six million votes ahead of the second place candidate, Roxas. In the vice-presidential race, Representative Leni Robredo leads Senator Ferdinand Marcos by 200,000 votes. Voters have a vote each for the presidential and vice-presidential races, and surveys leading up to elections show that respondents are not constrained by the presidency and vice-presidency teams running for elections. In fact, split ticket voting – i.e., votes for president and vice-president candidates from different teams – appear to be the norm.
In the run-up to the elections, the presidential race was dogged by the issue of citizenship and residency, specifically for then-front-runner Senator Grace Poe. Poe had scored an early victory in November 2015, when the Senate Electoral Tribunal ruled against the disqualification case against her. However, shortly thereafter, in a 34-page document, the Comelec disqualified Poe from the presidential race for failing to meet the residency requirement. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court; in March, 2016, the Court overruled Comelec in a 9-6 ruling to pave the way for Poe’s presidential candidacy.
Meanwhile, the progression of the case against Poe also saw an erosion of support for her candidacy, and an increase in support for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte had repeatedly denied interest in the presidency, despite equally persistent rumours of the possibility of his presidential run; the candidate finally announced his candidacy in November, due to his “disappointment” at the Senate Tribunal ruling for Poe. Despite or because of a series of controversial stances – Duterte may well be the Philippines answer to Donald Trump in the US – Duterte quickly overtook Poe as front-runner in election surveys. In the last weeks of the political campaign, Duterte’s maintained more than 10 percentage points ahead of his rivals, despite eliciting international criticism for an off-color rape joke made, and notwithstanding allegations of the mayor’s hidden assets that included 49 properties.
The lead-up to the elections also suggests that a Duterte’s presidency is likely to remain as controversial as his candidacy. The candidate has promised to run the country as he did with Davao City, and that has given cause for alarm. In particular, “Duterte Harry” has threatened to punish criminals without due process, including shooting them or feeding them to the fishes. Given Duterte’s alleged involvement with the Davao death squads – where masked vigilantes gunned down criminal- and drug-dealing suspects – such pronouncements are not easily dismissed. The mayor has also promised to abolish Congress if elected, to end corruption. In response, President Aquino II tried to unite the other presidential candidates against Duterte’s run to avert regress of democratic- and political rights in the country. However, as the unofficial results indicate, these have not upended Duterte’s presidency. Without doubt, the next six years will see some contentious initiatives out of the new president.
[i] Those who make a mockery of the election system; those who seek to confuse voters through similarity of names between candidates; and those who have no bona fide or good faith in running for office.