The race to succeed Rodrigo Duterte as the president of the Philippines has started to rev up, with contenders officially set to file from Friday their candidacies for next year’s elections.

The contest for the top post is turning out to be a colorful affair, with a world boxing champion, a heartthrob actor-turned-mayor, a former police chief and Duterte’s own daughter emerging as potential contenders. Whoever wins the presidential elections will need to bolster the Philippines’ economic recovery beyond the pandemic and formulate a stance on the South China Sea.


While candidates have to file their intentions with the elections commission by October 8, the list of presidential contenders won’t be finalized until mid-November. This means other contenders can emerge as substitutes in a final attempt to join the race — a path previously taken by Duterte, who is now eyeing the vice-presidency because he wants to see his anti-drug campaign to the end.

Here’s a look at the likely candidates, and their stand on issues:

Sara Duterte, 43, Davao City mayor
The president’s daughter has succeeded him as their home city’s mayor, and she could do the same as next Philippine leader. Sara has showed openness to becoming a presidential candidate, and she’s the front-runner in recent surveys even though she maintains the focus is on seeking re-election as Davao City mayor.

Sara is still someone to watch, as Duterte has signaled he is willing to drop his vice-presidential ambition if his daughter runs for the top post. On foreign policy, Sara has said the Philippines shouldn’t be begging China for access to disputed waters in South China Sea, although she has showed willingness to work with Beijing on the pandemic response.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., 64, ex-senator
The son and namesake of the late dictator, Bongbong could chart a path for his clan’s return to the presidential palace, three decades after his father’s ouster. He’s been involved in local politics since the 1980s under his father’s rule, and has also been elected to Congress.

Bongbong narrowly lost the vice-presidential race in 2016, and is eyeing a political comeback by seeking a national post next year. He plans to run on a platform of food security and pandemic recovery, although he is facing criticism that he’s using his clan’s alleged hidden wealth to further his political career. Bongbong has denied knowledge of these assets.

Isko Moreno, 46, Manila City mayor
The capital city’s celebrity mayor has a life story straight out of a movie. Born in the slums and scavenging for food as a child before he became a film star in the 1990s, Moreno has pledged to use his life experiences to address poverty if elected president.

Moreno, who was once President Duterte’s appointee, said he will pursue the current administration’s infrastructure push, and oil exploration with Beijing in the South China Sea if elected. He also plans to expand Manila’s pandemic response at a national level.

Manny Pacquiao, 42, senator
The recently retired world-famous boxer has thrown his hat in the ring for his biggest battle yet. After stints as a lawmaker since 2010, Pacquiao is gunning for the presidency — backed by a faction in the ruling party — with a promise to fight poverty and corruption.

Pacquiao was once a loyal ally to President Duterte, defending his drug war and death penalty push, but has recently been criticizing the administration, including its pandemic response and South China Sea stance.

Leni Robredo, 56, vice president
As opposition leader, Robredo has been among the most vocal critics of Duterte’s policies, calling the drug war “a massive failure” and criticizing the administration for “selling out” to China. A lawyer and a social activist, Robredo was thrust into the public eye when her husband Jesse, a former Cabinet official, died in a plane crash in 2012.

She was elected congresswoman, and narrowly defeated Bongbong in the 2016 vice-presidential race. Robredo had brief stints as the housing chairwoman and head of the anti-drug panel under Duterte’s government. Currently without a cabinet post, Robredo has been visiting remote areas, and partnering with local governments in responding to the pandemic.

Panfilo Lacson, 73, senator
Lacson, who once headed the nation’s police force, was the first to officially declare his presidential bid. He was the subject of an arrest warrant in 2010 for alleged murders of a publicist and his driver, and went into hiding briefly. Lacson has denied involvement in those murders, and charges against him were dismissed in 2011.

He was first elected senator in 2001, and has been a vocal critic of the questionable use of funds in the country’s annual budget. Lacson wants strict management of the public coffers and pledges a campaign against corrupt officials if elected president.

Christopher “Bong” Go, 47, senator
A management graduate, Go has served as Duterte’s aide for two decades, and was given a cabinet post in 2016 as the president’s special assistant. A fixture by Duterte’s side during meetings with world leaders, Go has taken selfies with China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

While Go was elected senator in 2019, he is often seen at the president’s events and attends his weekly televised cabinet meetings. Go has been named presidential candidate by a faction of the ruling party and has declined the nomination, although that can change depending on the strategy Duterte takes in his bid to stay in power. Go has pushed for better medical facilities in remote areas in the Philippines as the Senate health committee head. — Bloomberg

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