MANILA - Registration for the election that will determine who will succeed President Rodrigo Duterte next year and steer the Philippines through a post-Covid-19 world began on Friday (Oct 1), with boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao first off the blocks to file his candidacy.
For the next seven days, politicians, activists, advocates of all stripes, businessmen pivoting to politics and a bizarre Everyman seeking to push Beijing out of the South China Sea with a Gundam super robot are expected to head to a sprawling polling centre set up at a hotel in Manila to file their papers.
Most will be culled as "nuisance candidates". But not Mr Pacquiao, the 42-year-old multi-millionaire, superstar athlete who this week retired from boxing to focus on running for president.
"This run isn't for myself or my family, but for the Filipino people, to give them a better future amid the hardship they have endured for so long," he said at a brief press conference, after he filed his certificate of candidacy.
He quickly rattled off key points of his political platform: better Internet access, lower electric bills.
But he reserved his sharpest dagger for President Rodrigo Duterte, his former ally whom he is now sparring with for control of his political party.
"To those who are stealing from the people, your days are numbered… You will all share a jail cell," he said.
Mr Duterte has lately been dogged by allegations that his supposed cronies profited from millions of United States dollars worth of face masks, shields and other supplies meant for the government's Covid-19 pandemic response.
Pundits say a Senate investigation uncovering sensational details into these charges is taking the sheen off of Mr Duterte.
He is also being dogged by growing public discontent over his government's seemingly lackadaisical handling of the pandemic and an economy on a downward spiral.
At 76, Mr Duterte is running for vice-president next year. But his polling numbers have been slipping.
His missteps have also been rubbing off on his daughter, Davao City mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, 43.
She is still the odds-on favourite to win if the polls are held today, but her lead has been whittled down by a surge in support for former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator.
A poll by survey firm Pulse Asia showed her rating dropping 8 percentage points to 20 per cent, narrowing her lead over Mr Marcos, who now has 15 per cent.
An internal survey by another polling company seen by The Straits Times showed Mr Marcos already overtaking Ms Duterte.
Mr Marcos, 64, has yet to say whether he is running for president, but he is widely expected to file his candidacy within the week.
Manila's popular mayor Isko Moreno, 46, who is tied statistically with Mr Marcos, will also be filing this week.
A coalition of civil society groups and activists opposed to Mr Duterte has urged Vice-President Leni Robredo to also throw her hat in the ring.
Bringing up the rear in recent surveys, she has been reluctant to show her cards. She said she was grateful for the endorsement, but she was still praying for guidance.
Candidates in next year's elections will be contesting 77 national positions, including the presidency, vice-presidency and 12 seats in the Senate.
In all, about 18,000 posts for governors, mayors, vice-mayors, congressmen, as well as city council and provincial board members are up for grabs across the Philippines.
"It is a circus," political analyst Tony La Vina told Agence France-Presse. "People have a sense that in this brief moment, they are the boss, to be wooed by suitors whom they demand to sing, dance, act as clowns."
A still-raging coronavirus outbreak across the Philippines, though, may temper the usually festive and rowdy campaign season, which will last till May 9 next year, when the elections will be held.