By Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema
MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine presidential candidates began on Tuesday their three-month long campaign to woo voters, making lofty promises to rebuild the shattered economy, wipe out corruption and uplift the lives of a pandemic-weary public.
Frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator who ruled the Philippines for two decades before his 1986 overthrow, repeated his message of fostering unity to overcome the economic and pandemic crises.
“All the challenges and disasters that came our way, we were able to surmount them because we were united,” Marcos, 64, said before thousands of cheering supporters wearing green and red, his campaign colours.
Joining Marcos on stage was his running mate, Davao mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, and the favourite to win the vice presidency, a separate contest.
“We offer you a tandem endowed with wisdom and experience,” Duterte-Carpio, 43, told the rally, which was held indoors, in contrast to open-air venues chosen by rivals.
The Philippines has maintained limits on mass gatherings to prevent election activities becoming “superspreader” events. It is still short of its COVID-19 vaccinations target, and saw record daily infections during January.
Candidates held motorcades on Tuesday to greet mask-wearing supporters who lined streets to cheer them on.
A parallel election battle is happening online in the Philippines, with campaign teams utilising social media like Twitter to win more supporters or launch attacks on rivals, hoping to make their hashtags trend.
As with the 2016 polls that catapulted Duterte to the presidency, social media will be crucial in the election buildup, while platforms will be under pressure to combat the rampant misinformation that has intensified in the Philippines, driving hate campaigns and deepening social divisions.
The #KulayRosasAngBukas (The future is color pink) is among the top trending hashtags in the Philippines, appearing in 269,000 tweets supportive of Vice President Leni Robredo, whose team’s colour is pink.
Robredo narrowly beat Marcos in the 2016 vice presidential contest but trails him in polls for the top job.
She promised her supporters honest, caring government.
“I am not afraid. I am not anxious because when I called on you to awaken your sleeping strength, you firmly heeded my call,” Robredo told a cheering crowd.
Roughly 67.5 million Filipinos are eligible to vote, including 1.7 million overseas, in an election for a president, vice president, about 300 lawmakers and roughly 18,000 local government positions.
Apart from Marcos, and Robredo, others vying for the presidency include Manila mayor Francisco Domagoso, Senator Panfilo Lacson and retired boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, who is promising to tackle graft.
“If I become president, you will see all corrupt government officials, whether appointed, elected, big or small, with popular names, in jail,” Pacquiao told his supporters.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)