- The 2022 picture will remain incomplete until Sara Duterte clarifies her intentions.
- The outlook for the presidential contest has changed since our initial assessments in the spring — a wide open race is now a greater possibility, especially if Marcos can weather the initial attacks now that his candidacy is in focus.
- Marcos' rise will be unsettling for many of Manila's elites, including those in the business community and media.
On 6 October, Wednesday, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., (“Bongbong” or “BBM”) the son of the former autocrat, officially registered his candidacy for the presidential race in May 2022. He is a contender, drawing from a large regional base in the north called Ilocos and having the support of the scattered but still substantial number of sympathizers of his father across the country. According to the last survey available in a multi-candidate race, he is polling second, with 15% voter support.
Manila city mayor Francisco Domagoso (13%) and boxer Manny Pacquiao (12%), who may be considered as the other serious contenders, similarly filed the paperwork for their presidential runs this week. Vice-President Leonor Robredo also appears set to enter the race, but she is only drawing 8% support so far.
But a full handicap of the 2022 race may not be possible for a few days or even a few weeks more until the question of whether or not presidential daughter Sara Duterte is joining the presidential race is finally answered. And even this week may not provide full and final clarity. Candidate registration ends on 8 October, Friday, but parties can still substitute their nominees — as then mayor Rodrigo Duterte did in 2015 — until 15 November. If she holds out on making an announcement, this possibility will continue to be a key variable until next month.
Waiting for Sara
The reason Sara matters is that she has been the nominal front-runner for the presidency in all multi-candidate surveys since last year. However, her numbers have dropped recently from 28% to 20%. If she were to stay in, the race may be a tight one through the next few months between the top three candidates (who for now are presumed to be her, Domagoso and Marcos, with Pacquiao slightly trailing). Conversely, if Sara were to drop out, then the general assumption is that Marcos would draw a larger number of her prospective voters, giving him additional momentum. Given her early lead and the grassroots infrastructure that has been built for her candidacy over the past year, a withdrawal from the race still seems unlikely despite her having filed for reelection as Davao city mayor — the main question being when she will disclose her hand.
The other variable is whether Marcos can withstand the attacks against him now that he is in focus as a presidential candidate. He is a polarizing figure for many in the Catholic Church, media and the business community, as well as human rights' groups, all of whom believe that his family or its wealth were never made to account for his father's rule. He will be their target, even more than Duterte. And as the 2016 elections have shown, public reaction to the narratives that will evolve for and against him in the next few months could result in significant volatility in his performance in upcoming surveys.
And this reveals how much has changed since the spring.
That Sara may now face a tight contest after being the early leader indicates not only the unexpected rise of Marcos but also the possible miscalculations within her father's inner circle. The president said in August that he would run for the vice-presidency, prompting Sara to eschew a national post because the family wanted only one family member competing for a national post. Duterte then announced his retirement earlier this week, and that the 2022 lineup would be Sara for president and his factotum, senator Bong Go, for vice president — something that Sara openly attacked last August. The confusion has stifled some of her momentum, while Go is unlikely to be a strong VP candidate. And while Sara can still decide only by November, she risks losing further ground to Marcos and Domagoso.
Another possibility being discussed in Manila is that Sara could run for the vice-presidency independently, although this may be more difficult for her given that the race has a front-runner in senate president Tito Sotto. But even this would work out to Marcos' benefit.
The Marcos effect
Marcos' stints in the local and national offices that he has held since returning from exile in 1991 — governor, congressman and senator — will be of limited value in predicting his future agenda because he won his previous positions on the strength of his family's name. His legislative record has also been nondescript. And as with the candidates in the upcoming elections, any policy and campaign announcements that he makes over the next few months should be taken with a grain of salt because candidates rarely suffer any political backlash from unfulfilled election promises. Instead, their primary motive is to promote as broad an appeal as possible.
But what Marcos' candidacy does create is more political uncertainty because of his family's antagonistic history with many of the country's political elites and his unclear view on foreign policy. There will be speculation about whether his electoral ambitions are significantly fueled by his or his family's desire for delayed payback against the groups that worked for his father's ouster in 1986. These would include not only the Ayala and Lopez families, but also media entities that are seen as anti-Marcos such ABS-CBN, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Star (which is now controlled by Manuel Pangilinan of First Pacific, although he acquired the interest only in the last decade). We will provide more information on the Marcos family's historical relationship with key business elites in the coming weeks as the presidential race becomes clearer.