Philippines presidential race heats up as campaign enters final stretch

Philippines presidential race heats up as campaign enters final stretch

Philippine presidential candidate Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr, the son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Laoag City, Ilocos norte province. TED ALJIBE AFP MANILA Philippine presidential candidates will hold final election rallies this week as the campaign enters its homestretch, in a contest that has turned into a two-way race between frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his main rival Leni Robredo.

Marcos, the son and namesake of the ousted dictator who ruled the country for two decades, has a wide lead in polls over the current vice president, Robredo, ahead of the May 9 ballot.

The frontrunner, who is due to hold the first of three big rallies this week, appears to be on the verge of a rebrand of the Marcos family name 36 years after a people power uprising ended his father's rule.

Political analysts say his path towards the presidency has been aided by a decades-long public relations effort to alter public perception of his family, even as critics accuse the Marcoses of trying to rewrite history.

The advantage of crafting an appealing narrative, which we know distorts the historical fact and yet appeals to many voters, said retired political professor Temario Rivera.

Marcos has pushed a message of unity in his campaign, even as rivals tried to highlight the plundering of the country's wealth during the harsh authoritarian rule of his late father.

According to a survey conducted by Pulse Asia in mid April, 56 percent of 2,400 respondents said they would vote for Marcos if the election was held during that period, while 23 percent said they would back Robredo.

The former boxing champion, Manny Pacquiao, and Manila mayor, Francisco Domagoso, had 7 percent and 4 percent support. The last day of official campaigning is on Saturday.

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Robredo challenged Marcos to a debate last week, so voters can examine their characters and visions, but the former senator declined to say he preferred to speak directly to the public.

Robredo's affiliation is firmly tied to the movement that took to the streets to topple his father in 1986, and the two have a bitter rivalry.

Despite Marcos' dominating lead, Robredo has attracted tens of thousands of people to her recent campaign rallies, support that some analysts say may not have been fully captured in the latest survey.

Barry Gutierrez, campaign spokesperson for Robredo, said that they were feeling confident going into the last week of the campaign.

Marcos, 64, has said he would not let his strong showing distract him from work to ensure victory.

Robredo and Marcos will hold rallies in the central Philippines on Tuesday, with the frontrunner being Iloilo province and his rival in Panay Island and Bacolod city.