Recently retired boxing star Manny pacquiao presented his certificate of candidacy to the Philippine presidency on Friday when registrations opened for candidates seeking to lead a Southeast Asian nation that has been hit hard by the pandemic and deep political conflict.
Election officials imposed heavy restrictions to prevent the October 1-8 registration period from drawing large crowds of political supporters and becoming a hotbed for coronavirus infections. In addition to the presidency and vice-presidency, more than 18,000 national, local and congressional positions will be contested in the elections on May 9, 2022.
The Philippines, considered an Asian bastion of democracy, has also witnessed electoral chaos and violence. In 2009, gunmen deployed by the family of the then governor of Maguindanao province massacred 58 people, including journalists, in an attack on an electoral convoy that shocked the world.
Around 3,000 police officers, including some patrolling in armored police vans, were deployed around the seaside convention complex in Manila, where presidential candidates were expected to register. The area was declared a no-fly and fishing zone.
Applicants can only bring up to three companions, who were required to undergo COVID-19 smear tests, when registering their candidacies to avoid chaotic past scenes of candidates appearing with movie stars, musical bands, and noisy mobs of supporters.
“We really did everything we could to make sure the presentation was sober,” said Elections Commission spokesman James Jiménez.
Still, hundreds of fans and supporters wearing face masks and holding Pacquiao’s portrait and small Philippine flags lined the street leading to the heavily secured voter registration center in Manila Bay to cheer on his convoy.
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Many expect the race to succeed controversial President Rodrigo Duterte to be crowded and politically hostile. Pacquiao, former national police chief Panfilo Lacson and the mayor of Manila, Isko Moreno, have stated that they will seek the presidency and others are expected.
Pacquiao and Duterte were staunch allies until they had a highly publicized fight this year as election season approached. The two and their camps fought for control of the ruling party and Duterte threatened to campaign against Pacquiao if the boxing legend couldn’t prove his comments that corruption has worsened under the current administration.
“Those who take advantage of the nation, robbing, robbing the Philippine nation, their happy days of taking advantage of the government are already numbered because if the Lord places me there, I promise not only the Filipino people, but also my promise of God , that everyone go to jail, “Pacquiao told reporters after registering his candidacy.
The 42-year-old senator announced his retirement from boxing on Wednesday after winning fans with his life story from poverty to wealth and legendary career.
Duterte, 76, accepted the ruling party’s nomination to run for vice president in a move that sparked constitutional debate and shocked opponents who have long condemned it as a human rights calamity.
Philippine presidents are constitutionally limited to a single six-year term, and a constitutional expert has said he would question Duterte’s candidacy before the Supreme Court, as a successful vice presidential career would put him one step away from office again.
Western governments led by the United States and human rights activists have long raised the alarm over Duterte’s police crackdown on illegal drugs that has left more than 6,000 drug suspects, mostly minors, dead since he took office. the charge in mid-2016. The murders are being investigated by the International Criminal Court.
Although Duterte remains popular according to opinion polls, drug killings, along with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which led to one of the worst economic recessions and widespread unemployment and hunger, are expected to be key issues in the elections.
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Activists have long compared Duterte to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was toppled in 1986 in an army-backed “people’s power” revolt that heralded change in authoritarian regimes around the world. Marcos’ son and namesake, former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., is expected to run for president and has received good support in independent opinion polls.
“The stakes are high for Philippine democracy,” said Manila-based analyst Julio Teehankee, adding that the candidate who can provide a clear and viable roadmap to lift the country out of the pandemic and economic crises would have a crucial advantage.
The Philippines has reported more than 2.5 million COVID-19 cases, with 38,164 deaths in the second-worst pandemic toll in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
Associated Press journalists Kiko Rosario and Jim Gomez contributed to this report.
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