Jostling for the presidency amid the pandemic and flaws in the election system
Posted 16 June 2021


Key political figures, party machineries and a powerful group of political families are now prepositioning to be in the frontline of contention as the country heads for the next national elections in May 2022. Election fever is up even as the country braces for the grave economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which has dragged on for one-and-a-half years and where government’s containment management has raised alarm and disappointment.

Sara-Bong Go

In the electoral arena, the main battle is on the continuity of the Duterte government to allow the Davao-based political family that sits at its helm along with their trusted lieutenants and political allies to remain in power at least for another six years. On June 5, Jose Ma. “Joey” Salceda, representative from Albay province and of the ruling PDP-Laban political party, is pushing for a Sara Duterte – Christopher “Bong” Go tandem to run as president and vice president in 2022. Sara, 43, and lawyer is of course the feisty presidential daughter and incumbent city mayor of Davao and Sen. Bong Go is the current president’s most trusted and close-in political lieutenant. Sara, who formed the political alliance Hugpong ng Pagbabago (Faction for Change) in 2018, will be a sure winner because of the high public approval of her father, predicted Salceda, a protégé and chief of staff of former President Gloria M. Arroyo, a Duterte ally. A Sara-Bong Go team will also prevent any internecine conflict within the ruling party as it gears toward the 2022 elections, Salceda surmised.

Sen. Manny Pacquiao

However, there is no ruling out the presidential ambition of boxing champ-turned- politician Sen. Manny Pacquiao who has been waiting for President Duterte’s blessings as the PDP-Laban’s standard bearer in 2022. (Duterte, in a number of occasions in the past, had endorsed Pacquiao for the presidency – a public declaration which the former also did on a couple of other close allies.) His chances of being anointed as the president’s successor may have been damaged when he urged his partymates to ignore the call of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi for a PDP-Laban national assembly on May 31. Cusi, party vice chairman and the richest Cabinet secretary, was however acting upon orders of the party chairman, Mr. Duterte. Pacquiao is the acting party president.

The senator, who hails from Gen. Santos City, Mindanao, has a net worth of $375 million and shares with Sen. Cynthia Villar the ranking as the richest member of the Philippine Senate. Persistent speculations remain rife that Pacquiao, an eight-time boxing world champion and acclaimed as a “pambansang kamao” (literally, national fist) can easily fund his own presidential campaign. Without any stable political party to back his candidacy, however, his winnability may be slim. Pacquiao will have his next boxing bout on Aug. 22 against Errol Spence who vowed to send the Filipino legend off to retirement for good.

Bongbong Marcos

A Sara-Bong Go team may also water down the bid of former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., the only son of the late dictator President Ferdinand E. Marcos (1966-1986). Marcos, Jr., 63, is another prospective presidential aspirant although he remains mum regarding his final decision. He ran for vice president under the Nacionalista Party in 2016 but lost to Leni Robredo of the Liberal Party. A case which he filed in 2016 with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) alleging election fraud was dismissed unanimously by the body, last February 2021, thus affirming Leni Robredo’s vice presidential win.

The PET decision was a big blow to Marcos, Jr. who must now make a critical decision whether to run for the presidency even if it means competing against a formidable Sara candidacy. The next presidential election after 2022 is in 2028 by which time the former senator would be 70. The only remaining option left for him is to run again for the Senate where the certainty of winning is high allowing one of the longest-running ruling political families – Marcoses – two seats in the upper chamber, with incumbent sister-senator, Imee. Imee, who is also a Nacionalista, is also affiliated with Sara Duterte’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago. Marcos, Jr. and his sister recently had a widely-publicized meeting with Mayor Sara in Davao City giving rise to another speculation of a Sara Duterte-Bongbong Marcos ticket in 2022. Statistically, such ticket can be formidable when the so-called Solid North-Ilocano vote – which is also significant in some Mindanao province – is combined with the solid pro-Duterte Mindanao vote.

Sara - Gibo

But a Sara-Bongbong tandem is not exactly irreplaceable. Since 2016, most politicians aching for some juicy projects or courting political endorsement, troop to Davao City where, in the absence of its former mayor who is now president, city mayor Sara runs the show. Sara’s political meeting with the Marcoses was followed by another with former presidential contender (2010) Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro, cousin of former President Benigno CA Aquino III. Teodoro, 56, ran for president in 2010 after being endorsed by the politically-scarred Gloria M. Arroyo under whose term he served as defense secretary, but lost to cousin Benigno III. A former congressman from Tarlac, Teodoro was once offered the defense post by President Duterte but turned it down. The Davao meeting took place on June 3 where Teodoro was accompanied by former Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya in a private plane. Andaya posted the meeting in the social media with the caption, “done deal” fueling another round of speculations of a Sara-Gibo ticket in 2022. Gibo’s father, Gilberto Sr., served as Social Security System administrator during the strongman rule of Ferdinand E. Marcos.


Yet another strategy to ensure the continuity of Duterte rule is an unprecedented move to have the incumbent president run as vice president in 2022. In their May 31 national assembly, PDP-Laban members signed a resolution asking the sitting president to run for the vice presidency. The “magic ticket” - a Duterte-Duterte team – is being cooked up to guarantee not only a Duterte continuity but to make the father as virtual president until 2028 when he would be 83 years old. Some constitutionalist lawyers question whether a president can still run as vice president after serving his term explaining that such was not the intent of the constitutional commission that drafted the 1987 Philippine charter. Unfazed by the questions, the presidential office stated the president is seeking a “divine intervention” to help him decide.

President Duterte’s pick

In the latest development (June 7), the newspaper Manila Times reported that the presidential office has released the names of the administration's bets for the May 2022 presidential election, namely: Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso, Sen. Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao, Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go and former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. The president is expected to pick his choice from the list of five anytime soon.

Dick Gordon

While the Duterte camp has several possible tandems to choose from for the 2022 presidential and vice presidential elections, other political figures have made known they are also training their sights on the presidency as well. On May 24 incumbent senator Richard “Dick” Gordon confirmed his plan to run for president saying that he is “one of the most qualified” for the top national position.” A senator from 2004-2010 and from 2016 to the present, Gordon, now 75, also once served as Tourism Secretary and still chairs the Philippine National Red Cross which has played an active role in the drive against the Covid pandemic. His political career is distinguished by his long chairmanship of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee whose mandate includes investigating corruption in government in aid of legislation.

Having run unsuccessfully for president in 2010 under the Bagumbayan-Volunteers for a New Philippines party, Gordon’s plan to run again will be his second and final shot for the much-coveted elective post. Definitely Gordon is out of contention for the administration ticket, hence, he needs to coalesce with other political forces as an independent third force aside of course from raising money for his campaign. Back in his 2010 bid for the presidency, Gordon was supported by a significant section of the youth, along with lawyers and intellectuals.

Alan Peter Cayetano

The former running mate of Duterte in 2016, Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano said on June 4 he is “seriously considering” running for president in the 2022 elections –or other positions. A former senator, Cayetano was appointed in 2017 by Duterte as foreign affairs secretary to replace Perfecto Yasay, Jr., then ran for a House seat representing Taguig-Pateros in 2019 and assumed the House speakership. His term as speaker was cut short after he was forced to resign in a meeting with President Duterte and under a previous “gentlemen’s agreement” for a term sharing with Rep. Lord Allan Velasco. Cayetano, 50, who is by far the most ambitious aspirant for presidency remains with the Nacionalista Party (NP). Alan Peter Cayetano is not in good terms with Mayor Sara and may have also displeased President Duterte thus making it most unlikely that he will get any support from the Duterte camp

Duterte’s nemesis

All the would-be aspirants for president and vice-president come from dominant political families. The exception is former Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes IV, a known arch-enemy of Duterte. A senator from 2007-2019, Trillanes, 49, also a member of NP, declared on May 17 his interest in running as the presidential candidate of the coalition 1Sambayan if Vice President Leni Robredo, who is reported to be considering running as Camarines Sur governor, will not. Trillanes IV, a retired Philippine Navy captain, led the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny and the 2007 Manila Peninsula siege – both in Makati - in protest against the Arroyo government. He served his term as a senator while in detention from 2007 until 2010 when he was given amnesty by the newly-elected president Aquino III.

A vocal critic of the Duterte government, Trillanes also ran as a vice presidential candidate in 2016 but lost. As a presidential candidate, Trillanes may need the support of fellow military rebels who have since metamorphosed into a political organization, the partylist Magdalo Party. This is assuming that he is endorsed by 1Sambayan – a loose coalition of political forces and personalities bound by a shared position on putting an end to the authoritarian regime of Duterte in 2022 and a critical stance on China’s sovereign claims in the South China Sea.

Vice President Leni Robredo

Until now the incumbent vice president, Leni Robredo, is undecided whether she will run for the presidency and if it is “feasible”. She has been consistent though in maintaining that the opposition should have one presidential candidate. Robredo is one of the leading presidential bets of the opposition Liberal Party. Robredo, 56, a lawyer, former congresswoman and a leader of LP, won the vice presidency in 2016 by a slim margin with 14.4 million votes against Marcos, Jr.’s 14.2 million. Two others – Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s running mate, and Francis Escudero, running mate of Grace Poe – got 5.9 million and 4.9 million, respectively.

The recent Pulse Asia (PA) survey on March 3 and released on April 22, 2021 showed Robredro receiving 7 percent of the nationwide votes from respondents putting her in statistical tie for third place with Sen. Bong Go. She trailed Sara Duterte who received 27 percent of the survey votes. Former Sen. Bongbong Marcos, Sen. Grace Poe, Mayor Isko Moreno, and Sen. Manny Pacquiao were all in statistical tie for second place.

Going by the latest survey results, supporters and handlers of Robredo have much work to do in marketing her candidacy. Her poor performance in the survey appears to reflect her indecisiveness on the presidential race issue. Since Day 1 of her vice presidency, Robredo has been the target of snide remarks from the president and his army of trollers for being a “dilawan” (yellow) – alluding to the LP and its setbacks in recent elections – and “inept”, among others. She has also been attacked from the same sources for being perceived as being in good terms with the US and its current Biden administration.

The office of the vice-president has also been deliberately excluded by the government from playing any active and direct role in responding to the pandemic. In fairness to the vice president, Robredo has gone out of her way to organize and mobilize resources from various donors to respond to the Covid-19 crisis such as providing ambulatory services for testing and facilitating access to medical care and hospital services.

Leni Robredo, who hails from Camarines Sur province, is the widow of former Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo who died in a Piper Seneca plane crash in 2012 during the term of President Aquino III. Jesse is the nephew of Camarines Sur province political kingpin Luis Villafuerte, Sr. The Villafuertes – for decades and until now the dominant political dynasty in the province – are expected to oppose a Leni Robredo presidential bid. Villafuerte’s sons – one governor and the other a congressman – are traditional turncoats who, along with all their LGU followers, bolted the NP and joined the new ruling PDP-Laban in 2017. With most of the LGUs expected to support a Duterte Part 2 scenario in 2022, Leni Robredo faces a formidable hurdle for the Bicol vote. (Bicol Region is composed of four contiguous provinces: Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, and Sorsogon; and two island provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate. Camarines Sur is the biggest province.)

Robredo’s name is also in the list of presidential nominees of 1Sambayan which will release its final list of nominees for the three top national positions on June 12.

Where do they stand?

Lost in the early political fever especially among ardent presidential hopefuls who have confirmed their interest is what they plan to do if they become the next highest official of the country. For instance, no one except possibly Senator Gordon has spoken what they plan do in grappling with the pandemic or in revitalizing the public health system whose institutional weaknesses and lapses caught health authorities in the dark in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. No one has come up with a clear position on rebuilding the economy which suffered a devastating impact – or whose condition has been made worse – by the pandemic. One can explain this quite naively of course that it’s too early for any of the confirmed presidential aspirants to come up with an electoral agenda lest they are accused of politicking. This portends of things to come in the May 2022 elections – pressing national issues will be sidetracked by what is essentially a battle of personalities and political families leaving the majority of voters with no intelligent choice.

1Sambayan, a coalition of disparate political forces and sectors with different persuasions and ideologies, has vowed to use the coming elections as a venue for putting an end to an authoritarian regime and support united opposition candidates. One of the conveners of 1Sambayan, former Supreme Justice Antonio Carpio, articulated the group’s criteria for choosing the next president during its launch last March: “good governance and “the attributes [that] a leader must possess” – “that he must lift us out of poverty, must make us feel proud, reject extrajudicial killings and all forms of dictatorship, one who does not rob us of our sovereignty and our right to our national territory.” 1Sambayan is expected to spell out these principles once their candidates for the top three positions including the 12 candidates for the Senate are known a week from now.

In a similar move, an anti-Duterte opposition group, “Duterte Wakasan Movement” (End Duterte Movement), was launched in an online event on June 3. This is a broad movement of representatives from various progressive peoples’ organizations, NGOs, civil society groups, church-based and professional groups that seeks to stop all the abuses and policy failures associated with the Duterte administration and help build an alternative political force that will effectively contest the 2022 elections.


Predictably, the May 2022 elections will be a tightly-contested one; it will be make or break for the anti-Duterte opposition and any loss will mean another six years of the current administration. All eyes will zoom in on the coming elections for at least two reasons.

The first is that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on May 24 awarded P1.04 billion new contracts to the foreign company Smartmatic USA Corp. and its local partner, SMMT-TMI as provider for the country’s fifth automated elections. As the outsourced election provider in the previous four elections, Smartmatic has been denounced by election watchers over election fraud allegations, technical glitches, and other issues leading President Duterte in 2017 to call for its replacement. But the hybrid election system (HES) that would have allowed a Filipino-designed election system to run the polls by combining manual voting and precinct public counting with electronic transmission of the verified results has not been assigned as a priority bill by the president. Sen. Imee Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee conducting hearings on the proposed alternative system, virtually buried the bill by announcing on May 31 that the new system may likely be implemented in the 2025 mid-term elections.

Considering the questionable record of Smartmatic in managing previous automated elections (2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019), the 2022 elections will indeed be critical and could be one of the most-watched political exercises. Up to now, there has been no conclusive review by independent local experts of the source code used by Smartmatic; no independently generated digital signatures to be used by the members of the board of election inspectors; no credible explanation for the use of a mysterious data server that receives and processes election precinct results and inaccessible to political party representatives and official citizens’ election monitoring groups. Moreover, the Comelec also has to undertake a transparent, updating of a Voters Database that has long been compromised, serving as a convenient base for electronic vote manipulation.

The second reason is that by May 2022 the Comelec will be packed with all seven commissioners appointed by Duterte – after three members retire in February 2022. The election agency, since its inception in the 1950s, has earned the reputation of being partisan contrary to the constitutional provision guaranteeing its independence. Whether this will mean that all administration candidates for the top three national positions – president, vice president, and the Senate – will make an incredible clean sweep of the coming elections indeed deserves close guarding by poll watchers.

Given the pandemic and the restrictions needed, the Comelec announced on May 31 the extension of the filing of certificates of candidacy (CoC) in October. Likewise, voting on May 9, 2022 may be extended by another day, the election body also said.


The Duterte administration needs to perform better in its containment management of the pandemic if it wants to win big in the coming elections. A survey published last February by the Asean Studies Center of the ISEAS-Yosoh Ishak Institute in Singapore showed 53.7 percent of Filipino respondents thumbed down the government’s pandemic response. Conversely, respondents in Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei gave an average 93 percent to their governments. In addition, 72 percent of the disapproving Filipino respondents said that scientists and doctors must contribute more to public policy discussions. At least 81 percent of the Filipino respondents pointed to the pandemic as the top obstacle to their lives, followed by unemployment and economic recession with 66 percent.

The Asean survey findings tally with previous pre-pandemic election polls showing jobs, food security, health, and corruption are among Filipino respondents’ main concerns. Whether these sentiments are translatable into votes in the next elections remain to be seen. Handled well by the opposition, however, these issues can potentially steal many votes from the Duterte camp.

Since the beginning, the government has used a rigid template in response to the pandemic. It has imposed harsh lockdowns and still failed to control the virus. In light of this, the country’s economy fell 14 percent (compared to its pre-Covid level) in the second quarter of 2020, and was still 9 percent smaller by the end of the year, placing it as one of the worst economic performers globally.

Based on the June 8 report of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the country’s unemployment rate rose to 8.7 percent or 4.14 million jobless in April. Underemployment rate or percentage of working population looking for more hours of work stood at 17 percent or 7.45 million individuals.

And the pandemic crisis persists in the Philippines with new Covid-19 variants reported. As of June 4, the total number of Covid-19 cases was 1,255,337 with active cases at 60,794. The total number of recoveries was 1,173,006 compared with the total number of deaths, 21,574. Government’s goal to achieve herd immunity by the end of 2021 may be unreachable: the current sluggish pace of vaccination would prevent such a scenario. For herd immunity to be reached, authorities have to fully vaccinate at least 70 million people out of an estimated population of 111 million. As of May 30, only 1.2 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated, while 3.9 million have received their first dose. #


Facebook share button

Twitter share button

Latest posts
Back to top Back to top >>
Telefax +6329299526 email:; Copyright ©2005
Center for People Empowewrment in Governance (CenPEG), Philippines. All rights reserved