Dictator’s Son a Front-Runner as Filipinos Elect Next Leader | World News

By JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Filipinos began voting for a new president on Monday, with the son of an ousted authoritarian and a champion of reforms and human rights as top contenders in a tenuous moment in a deeply divided Asian democracy.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the strongman ousted in a 1986 army-backed “People Power” uprising, has led pre-election surveys with a seemingly insurmountable lead. But his closest challenger, Vice President Leni Robredo, has tapped into shock and outrage over the prospect of another Marcos recapturing the seat of power and harnessed an army of campaign volunteers to underpin her candidacy.

Eight other candidates, including former boxing star Manny Pacquiao, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and former national police chief Sen. Panfilo Lacson have lagged far behind in voter-preference surveys.

Long lines of turned up early across most of the country without any major incident. But in southern Maguindanao province, a security hotspot, unidentified men fired at least three grenades Sunday night in the vicinity of the Datu Unsay town hall compound, wounding nine villagers who traveled there in advance from far-flung villages to be able to vote Monday. Two other grenades exploded shortly after in nearby Shariff Aguak town but caused no injuries, police said.

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The winner will take office on June 30 for a single, six-year term as leader of a Southeast Asian nation hit hard by two years of COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns.

Still more challenging problems include a sagging economy, deeper poverty and unemployment, decades-long Muslims and communist insurgencies. There will likely also be questions over how to deal with calls demanding the prosecution of outgoing populist leader Rodrigo Duterte, whose anti-drug crackdown has left thousands of mostly petty suspects dead and sparked an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Duterte’s daughter, southern Davao city Mayor Sara Duterte, has topped surveys as Marcos Jr.’s vice-presidential running mate in an alliance of the scions of two authoritarian leaders who had long been in the crosshairs of human rights groups. The tie-up has combined the voting power of their separate northern and southern strongholds, boosting their chances but compounding worries of human rights.

“History may repeat itself if they win,” said Myles Sanchez, a 42-year-old human rights worker. “There may be a repeat of martial law and the drug killings that happened under their parents.”

Sanchez said the violence and abuses that marked the martial-law era under Marcos and Duterte’s drug war more than three decades later victimized loved ones from two generations of her family. Her grandmother was sexually abused and her grandfather tortured by counterinsurgency troops under Marcos in the early 1980s in their impoverished farming village in Southern Leyte province.

Under Duterte’s crackdown, Sanchez’s brother, a sister and a sister-in-law were wrongfully linked to illegal drugs and separately, she told The Associated Press in an interview. She described the killings of her siblings as “a nightmare that has caused unspeakable pain.”

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