Philippines' presidential candidates make one last pitch

Mr Aquino’s call for the trailing presidential candidates, including Mr Roxas (above), his preferred choice, to join forces to prevent Mr Duterte from winning the presidency fizzled out.
Mr Aquino’s call for the trailing presidential candidates, including Mr Roxas (above), his preferred choice, to join forces to prevent Mr Duterte from winning the presidency fizzled out. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

President Benigno Aquino had said tomorrow's elections would be a referendum on his "straight path" agenda. Going by latest poll numbers and street and online chatter, the verdict seems to be that the agenda has been a failure.

Mr Rodrigo Duterte, 71, a popular, tough-talking mayor seen by his fervent followers as their "saviour" from what they consider as Mr Aquino's failed presidency, is on the verge of becoming the Philippines' next president, as an often vicious campaign ended last night.

Candidates held their closing rallies - called the "miting de avance" - last night, pitching their last arguments to win votes.

 

Crowds who gathered at the rallies of Senator Grace Poe, 47, former interior minister Mar Roxas, 58, and Vice-President Jejomar Binay, 73, were said to be between 10,000 and 50,000 people.

Mr Duterte, on the other hand, drew at least 300,000 at his afternoon rally at the sprawling Luneta park in the heart of Manila.

Today is cooling-off day, after three months of intense campaigning. Despite crass jokes about rape, charges of ill-gotten wealth and ties to communists, Mr Duterte remains firmly on top, with an 11-point advantage over his nearest rivals, Ms Poe and Mr Roxas, in the last Social Weather Stations survey on who the Filipinos want to lead them over the next six years.

Mr Duterte returned to his theme on ending crime and corruption, but also took a step back from his remarks about killing criminals.

He said: "There are laws in the land. I will enforce them (with) due process, by all means.

"I will give it to you."

Ms Poe, meanwhile, took potshots at Mr Duterte, saying: "We don't need an executioner.

"It is unsettling to hear that if we do something wrong, we'll pay for it with our lives."

Mr Roxas also took a jab at Mr Duterte. "We are Filipinos. We fear God, and we respect each other," he said.

Mr Duterte's big lead is unlikely to change, said Mr Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. "By this time, many people have already made up their minds," he said. Mr Duterte's supporters yesterday came from all over metropolitan Manila, some packed in buses and jeepneys. "He is the real thing," said Mr Warren de la Cerna, 35, a street vendor at the rally.

Mr Duterte has built up a sizeable lead as he hammered on the message that the system is broken and he is the man to fix it.

His profanity-laced speeches that carried threats to criminals resonated with a population weary of news about cabbies robbing and raping their passengers or corrupt Customs men stealing in broad daylight. Businessmen are, meanwhile, hanging on to his pledge to amend the Constitution to allow foreigners to own properties and strategic industries.

As mayor, he transformed Davao from "murder capital" into the Philippines' safest city. Its economy has also grown at a rate faster than the national average.

A last-minute call on Friday by Mr Aquino for the other four presidential candidates, including Senator Miriam Santiago, to "join forces" to prevent Mr Duterte from winning fizzled out.

Mr Aquino said he had talked to Mr Roxas, his preferred candidate, and sent messages to Ms Poe to get one of them to back down, but neither of them budged.

In a hastily called news conference, Mr Roxas reached out to Ms Poe, saying: "Grace, let's talk...

"This is for unity. This is for our country. This is for our future."

But Ms Poe said in a radio interview that if Mr Roxas was suggesting she step down, "we have nothing more to talk about".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'Philippines' presidential candidates make one last pitch'. Print Edition | Subscribe