MANILA – Campaigning for municipal and legislative elections on May 13 in the Philippines began across the country on Tuesday.
The elections will mainly pit candidates who support Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte against those closer to the opposition.
Regional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by Sara Duterte, the president’s daughter and mayor of Davao on the southern island of Mindanao, is fielding several candidates close to the leader’s family and former advisers of his administration.
The party is backing the senatorial bids of former Special Assistant to the president and one of Duterte’s closest friends, Bong Go, and former National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa.
Dela Rosa helmed some of the bloodiest operations during the controversial anti-drugs campaign the president launched shortly after taking office in 2016. Filipino authorities say some 5,000 drugs suspects have been killed during police raids and operations, although human rights groups estimate the figure to be over 15,000.
Hugpong ng Pagbabago is also endorsing Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, and former senator Bong Revilla, who is facing numerous corruption cases.
All 13 senatorial candidates that the Hugpong ng Pagbabago is fielding were formally presented on Tuesday at an event in Pampanga province, one of the richest in the country.
In the Philippines, the Senate consists of only 12 seats, for which national elections are held every six years, making it a very influential position that often serves as a platform for grander political aspirations.
Most of the rest of the field are candidates supported by opposition coalition Otso Diretso, led by Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo, one of Duterte’s main rivals and among the fiercest critics of his policies.
On Tuesday, Robredo presented the candidates to be backed by her party in Caloocan, a district on the outskirts of Manila, where Duterte won a landslide victory in the 2016 presidential elections.
Among the opposition candidates are former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas – who ran for president in 2016 – lawmaker Gary Alejano, who belongs to a party comprising military officers who staged a failed coup in 2003, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno and senator Bam Aquino, who is bidding for re-election.
The upcoming legislative and municipal elections are considered to be a litmus test for Duterte’s government in the middle of its six-year term.