The Filipino lineup for the 2016 presidential and other elections is decided. Or is it? The October 16 deadline for candidacy has passed, leaving three front-runners, one outside chance and more than 100 others who just want their name on the presidential ballot.
The front runners are, as earlier predicted: Grace Poe, 47, daughter of late actor Fernando Poe, who narrowly lost the 2004 election to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; Manuel “Mar” Roxas, 57, grandson of a former president and standard-bearer of the current Aquino administration; and Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, 72, onetime civil rights lawyer who became city boss of Makati, the richest part of Metro Manila, and beat Roxas to the vice-presidency in the 2010 election.
The outside chance is veteran candidate Senator Miriam Santiago, 70, who lost narrowly to Fidel Ramos in 1992 and also ran in 2004. She claims to have recently recovered from stage four cancer. Her chances are very slim but the more candidates there are the more unpredictable the result. In 1992 six candidates got over 10 percent.
As of now, according to opinion polls, Poe leads the field with Roxas now marginally ahead of Binay. But there are still nearly eight months to go before the May 9 polls and much could change between now and then not only in public opinion but in terms of who will be on the ballot by then.
A fourth potential front runner remains a possibility. The mayor of the southern city of Davao City, Rodrigo “Rodi” Duterte, 70, has long been the subject of a campaign to draft him as a candidate. Tycoons Lucio Tan and Manny Pangilinan reportedly sent a plane to Davao in the hope of bringing him to Manila to file his candidacy and his name appears on posters throughout Metro Manila. The fact that he did not show up for the filing and said he has no interest in the presidency may not be the end of the story.
Election rules provide for a party to replace one nominated candidate with another of the same party. Parties usually mean very little in Philippine politics but in this case could be significant. Among those who did file for the presidency was the secretary-general of the PDP-Laban, Martin Dino. Although Duterte says he will not be a substitute candidate, the possibility of his replacing Dino will remain open until Dec.10.
The hard-drinking, philandering Duterte has achieved national support, not to mention notoriety, for making his city relatively efficient and crime-free – but by apparently using ruthless extra-legal means through tolerance of vigilante groups responsible for hundreds executions of petty criminals. His candidacy would however attract widespread support in a crime-weary nation and at least draw votes away from other contenders in proportions which cannot be predicted.
Meanwhile the candidacies of both Binay and Poe face possible legal obstacles. Binay is the center of a large political clan, with one daughter a senator, another a congressman and son who was mayor of Makati (succeeding his mother) until recently disbarred from public office by the Ombudsman. Binay himself faces plunder allegations from his days as mayor. These have already lowered his standing in the polls though he remains popular among the poor on whom he has showered token benefits as he himself became very rich.
Binay’s wife also faces investigation. Given the slow progress of the justice system and its sensitivity to political winds, formal charges for Binay may be delayed till after the election. But otherwise his status as a candidate would be hard to sustain.
Poe faces legal challenges on two possible grounds. First is that as a foundling adopted by her father she is unable to prove that she is a natural born citizen of the Philippines even though all the circumstantial evidence points to her being so. Second, she lived in the US for 13 years and became a US citizen. She later renounced that but there is a question about whether this was sufficiently long ago to qualify as a candidate.