Philippines’s No. 2 Leni Robredo joins race to succeed Duterte

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo has declared she will run for president in May 2022, embarking on an uphill political battle in a crowded field to succeed populist incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, as she hopes to replicate her come-from-behind 2016 victory in an election reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m officially offering myself as candidate for president in the 2022 elections. I will take on the fight. We will fight together,” Robredo said on Thursday as she announced her campaign for the presidency in a speech delivered in Tagalog.

“The challenge we face is clear to everyone. We’ve seen the lies and the abuse. They have the money and the machinery.”

Robredo’s candidacy takes on a new urgency following the entry into the presidential race of Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son and namesake of the Philippine strongman, who was removed following a popular revolt in 1986. In the 2016 vice presidential race, Robredo defeated Marcos by a razor-thin margin.

Robredo, 56, has been Duterte’s vice president since they were both sworn into office in 2016. But she has locked horns with Duterte on several issues and has labelled his so-called deadly war on drugs a “failure”, angering him.

Presidents and vice presidents are elected separately in the Philippines, frequently resulting in candidates from rival parties, like Duterte and Robredo, working together in office but often clashing sharply on policies.

On Thursday, Rodbredo sought to make the contrast with Duterte even more stark, declaring, “we will defeat the old and rotten type of politics. We will hand back to ordinary Filipinos the power to make change.”

Last week, she was endorsed by a newly formed coalition of political and civic groups to take on the ruling party machinery, which is beginning to crack due to infighting between Duterte’s loyalists and those supporting the candidacy of Senator Manny Pacquiao, the boxing legend who is also seeking the presidency.

In endorsing Robredo, the coalition said that she has the “integrity, competence and track record” to lead the country, which is facing a historic economic slump as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed at least 38,000 people in the Philippines.

When the endorsement was announced last Thursday, the vice president had pleaded to be given more time to think through her decision. In recent months and weeks, she has been trying to convince divergent political groups and personalities to rally behind one opposition candidate. But she has been spurned by her would-be rivals.

Gonzales adds that Robredo’s grasp of what a leader should be “is both broad and deep”, having served as vice president since 2016.

“If we are talking about the qualities needed in order to govern, I think she has it in spades,” Gonzales said.

Crowded race

Aside from Robredo and Pacquiao, those who have declared their candidacy include former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and former police chief and incumbent Senator Panfilo Lacson.

Except for Robredo, all the other declared presidential candidates have past affiliations with Duterte, leaving her as the nominal opposition candidate.

Her supporters have argued that she is the “real opposition” in the upcoming race. But in a country, where politics is driven more by personality and political connections and less about policy and ideology, staking a claim to represent the opposition could be tricky.

Looming large in the race is Duterte himself, who until last weekend was expected to run as vice president. Instead, he has said that he is retiring from politics.

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