Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo to run for top job in bid to rally opposition

MANILA – Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo on Thursday (Oct 7) announced her bid to run for president, hoping to energise her base and win over more supporters as the opposition’s unequivocal candidate.

“My resolve is unwavering. We need to emancipate ourselves from our current lot. I will fight. We will fight. I am offering myself as a candidate for president in the 2022 elections,” said Ms Robredo, who is also leader of the opposition Liberal Party.

She listed failings of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government, scorching it for what she sees as its dismal response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The lives and future of Filipinos are at stake here. Hospitals are overflowing, health workers are overtaxed, and hunger shadows those who’ve lost their jobs. Billions of pesos are landing in questionable deals as millions of Filipinos suffer,” said Ms Robredo.

Mr Duterte has been dogged by a Senate investigation accusing his supposed cronies of allegedly profiting from at least 10 billion pesos (S$268 million) worth of face masks, shields and other supplies meant for the government’s plans to roll back the spread of the coronavirus.

Mr Duterte has been trying to derail the probe, criticising senators leading it during his national addresses meant to elaborate on his government’s pandemic response.

His approval rating has been falling as a result. A recent survey also shows Filipinos increasingly becoming more sceptical about his performance against corruption.

Ms Robredo said: “Concern for the Filipino is not the No. 1 priority of those in power. The absence of a competent government is the root cause of our problems, and we must end this.”

She announced her run just a day after Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son and namesake of the late dictator, filed his candidacy.

The two tussled for years over who was rightfully elected as vice-president in 2016. Mr Marcos lost to Ms Robredo by a slim margin in the vote count, but he demanded a recount. The dispute was resolved years later in favour of Ms Robredo.

The two are now squaring off again for a bigger prize. This time, however, Mr Marcos has a huge lead.

A recent survey shows Ms Robredo getting just 8 per cent of the vote if the elections are held today. Mr Marcos, meanwhile, has cornered as much as 15 per cent, making him the second most popular candidate after Mr Duterte’s 43-year-old daughter, Ms Sara Duterte-Carpio.

All eyes are now on Ms Duterte-Carpio, who till Wednesday had said she was not running for president and was sticking to her plan to run for re-election as mayor of Davao city.

She has till Friday to withdraw that candidacy and instead file to run for president. But political parties can substitute their candidates till Nov 15.

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Five candidates are now officially in the running to replace Mr Duterte: Ms Robredo, 56; Mr Marcos, 64; boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao, 42; Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, 46; and former senator Panfilo Lacson, 73.

Ms Robredo, a lawyer and an economist, was not set on a political career. But she had to step in and run for a seat in Congress when her husband, a rising political star in the government of former president Benigno Aquino, died in a plane crash in 2012.

On the strength of her husband’s reputation as a civil servant and politician, Ms Robredo defeated the patriarch of a powerful political clan to win a Congress seat in 2013.

In 2016, Mr Aquino convinced her to run as vice-president to foil Mr Marcos’ own bid for the country’s No. 2 post.

As vice-president, Ms Robredo has had to deal with being an outcast in Mr Duterte’s government. The president and vice-president are elected separately in the Philippines.

Mr Duterte appointed her twice to key positions, first as housing minister and then “anti-drug czar”, but then quickly changed his mind, insisting she has been secretly working to unseat him.

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Without Mr Duterte’s support, Ms Robredo has been using whatever funding she can get as vice-president to provide aid during calamities, housing for some 40,000 families and livelihood for grassroots communities.

As head of the opposition Liberal Party, identified with the Aquino family, she has had to parry persistent accusations that she represents everything that has gone wrong in the Philippines since the 1986 People Power revolt that ended the Marcos regime.

The Liberal Party has been in power only once since 1986, when Mr Aquino was president from 2010 to 2016.

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