Philippine presidential candidates were in the provinces on Tuesday to drum up more support as the campaign enters its homestretch, in an election that has turned into a two-way race between Ferdinand Marcos Jr.Marcos Jr. and old rival Leni Robredo.
Marcos is the son and namesake of the ousted dictator who has ruled the Philippines for two decades, and has a wide lead in polls over incumbent vice president Robredo ahead of the May 9 ballot.
The 64-year-old frontrunner repeated his message of unity to supporters in the central Iloilo province at the first of three big rallies this week before the campaigning ends on Saturday, urging them to carry his Uniteam to victory.
"We have traveled around the country to rally support for our unity movement," said Marcos, who appears on the verge of completing a 36 years old rebrand of the Marcos name, 36 years after a People's Power Uprising toppled his father and drove his family into exile.
Political analysts say that Marcos has been aided by a decades-long public relations effort to alter perception of his family, even as critics accuse the Marcoses of trying to rewrite history.
They have the advantage of crafting an appealing narrative, which we know distorts the historical fact and yet appeals to many voters, said retired political science professor Temario Rivera.
In the Negros Occidental province, what was supposed to be a small assembly turned into a campaign rally for Robredo, 57, after dozens of supporters showed up. She promised that if elected president, there would be an honest and transparent government.
The latest Pulse Asia survey conducted in mid April showed 56% of 2,400 voters backing Marcos, 23% backing Robredo and former boxer Manny Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso on 7% and 4% respectively.
A boon for Marcos is running mate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who has been riding on the enormous popularity of her father, outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, who on Monday said he would endorse no presidential candidate.
The crowd chanted Duterte, Duterte, before she spoke at the Marcos rally on Tuesday.
Marcos and Robredo have a bitter rivalry, with Robredo's affiliation firmly tied to the movement that ousted his father after years of authoritarianism and martial law.
Despite Marcos's commanding lead, Robredo has attracted key endorsements and big crowds in recent rallies, support that some analysts say may not have captured.
Robredo challenged Marcos last week to a debate, but he declined, saying he preferred to speak directly to the public.
Critics have accused Marcos of ducking debates to mask weaknesses, and accused him of being inaccessible to media, with some foreign journalists reporting being denied accreditation for his campaign events.
All these restrictive actions undermine a critical and free press in an Asian bulwark of democracy and have sparked fears that independent media would be treated under another possible Marcos presidency, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said in a statement.
His team didn't respond immediately to a request for comment.