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Will the Philippines’ next president uphold Duterte’s controversial policies?

With the US-China rivalry intensifying in Southeast Asia, the May 2022 presidential contest in the Philippines is shaping up as the most important election in years for the region's balance of power. President Rodrigo Duterte has pivoted the traditionally pro-US country toward China, but the one-term limit means he cannot seek reelection, offering the possibility of a reversal under a new president. Similarly, he/she may rein in a violent anti-drugs campaign that has drawn international condemnation. We talked to Eurasia Group expert Peter Mumford to get some sense of who Duterte's potential successors are, and how they might approach his controversial legacy.

Do we know yet who's running?

Nearly 100 candidates registered for the 2022 presidential contest ahead of the initial deadline of 8 October, though the vast majority of these will fade away and parties can change their candidates up until 15 November. Currently, there are six credible contenders for the top job: Bongbong Marcos, a former senator and son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos; Isko Moreno, mayor of Manila and a TV/film actor; Senator Manny Pacquiao, the world-famous former boxer; Vice President Leni Robredo, head of the opposition Liberal Party; Senator Ping Lacson; and Senator Bato dela Rosa, the last-minute pick from Duterte's party. The presidential contest is one round, with the prize going to whoever secures the largest share of the popular vote in what is already a crowded field.

Who are the frontrunners?

Marcos is leading the pack among those who've confirmed their participation so far, benefiting from strong support in much of Luzon, the Philippines' main island. He is less popular elsewhere, however, and is generally seen as a divisive figure who evokes memories of his father's brutal regime. And he trails Sara Duterte-Carpio, the president's daughter and mayor of Davao, in rankings of all potential candidates. Moreno and Pacquiao are also both very popular and would pose a stiff challenge for either Duterte-Carpio or Marcos by appealing to a broad range of voters, though their campaign machinery is not (yet) as strong. Nor should Robredo be written off despite her low poll ratings — her decision to enter the contest has been warmly welcomed by many who are eager to turn a page on the Duterte era; she has been one of the president's staunchest and most consistent critics.

Is Duterte-Carpio expected to eventually enter the race?

She continues to disappoint her legion of supporters — who have been using the hashtag #RunSaraRun to build momentum online — by ruling it out. Days before the last week's filing deadline, she registered to run for another term as mayor of Davao her father's old job. However, her denials should not be taken at face value; there is a tradition of Philippine politicians (especially in the Duterte family) not wanting to look overly eager for power, lest it turn off voters. Several parties have presented what are clearly "placeholder" candidates in the hope that Duterte-Carpio will use one of them as a vehicle to get to Malacañang Palace. She has consistently topped the polls of potential presidential candidates, though her lead has narrowed recently while Marcos's numbers have been rising. This Duterte brand may have been tarnished somewhat by the president's perceived mishandling of the pandemic and a recent corruption scandal — or perhaps because her strategy of delaying a decision is backfiring.

Will Duterte's endorsement be important?

While the president's approval ratings have dipped, they remain very high (75 percent in the latest poll), handing a significant advantage to whomever he backs. That does not, however, guarantee victory for his chosen candidate. The election will become much closer if both Duterte-Carpio and Marcos run for the top job, splitting the vote of supporters of the current president and potentially allowing a candidate such as Moreno or Pacquiao to slip through the middle. Similarly, the Duterte machine would be easier to defeat if they and anti-Duterte politicians fall in behind a single candidate. However, it seems Pacquiao, Moreno, Robredo and Lacson are, for now, determined to stay in the race.

Could Duterte still run for vice president?

Though he recently abandoned plans to run for the vice presidency in response to polls showing voters were lukewarm on the idea, he could throw his hat back in the ring if the polling improves, and if his daughter doesn't run. Among many possible permutations, Marcos or Duterte-Carpio could also sign on to another ticket as vice-presidential candidates. A ticket with either Duterte or Duterte-Carpio as running mate would be much more competitive, although the current frontrunner for VP is Tito Sotto, Lacson's running mate and with big name recognition as a former TV personality.

Is the next president likely to uphold Duterte's legacy on China and the anti-drugs campaign?

None of the main contenders would hug China as closely as Duterte has, though changes in policy would be more moderate under Duterte-Carpio, Moreno, and Lacson, while Pacquiao and Robredo would shift foreign policy more dramatically back toward a firm pro-US stance. Either way, the Philippines appears likely to become a geopolitical "swing state" in terms of the US-China battle for influence in the region. As for the anti-drugs crackdown, polls suggest it has been broadly popular in the Philippines thanks to a perceived reduction in crime, but it has always been tainted with concerns about extra-judicial killings. An impending International Criminal Court investigation will bring to light more evidence of human rights violations. Duterte-Carpio, Marcos, and Dela Rosa would likely maintain (perhaps with some nuances) a tough crackdown on drugs; other candidates would likely distance themselves more from Duterte's controversial campaign.

Peter Mumford is practice head for South and Southeast Asia at Eurasia Group.

Philippines court convicts top journalist — what comes next?

Over a year ago, we reported on Maria Ressa's conviction for cyber-libel in the Philippines. While her appeal works its way through the country's byzantine justice system, today she won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Below is our original piece published on June 15, 2020.

Ever since the rough-spoken populist Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines in 2016, journalists have warned that his open disdain for the media would put press freedom in the country at risk.

On Monday, those fears were underscored when the authorities found Maria Ressa, an internationally-renowned journalist and fierce critic of Duterte's, guilty of libel under the country's cybercrimes law.

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Maria Ressa: Fearless and fair

The last time I saw my former boss Maria Ressa, about three years ago in New York, she wasn't worried about being arrested upon her return to the Philippines. Her friends and family had told her to consider staying in America, as she's a dual citizen after growing up in New Jersey. But she thought it was her duty to go back to Manila and continue doing her job as CEO of independent news site Rappler.

She wasn't arrested that time for her role in Rappler updating an old article deemed by a judge to be retroactively libelous. But she was detained in February 2019 over the same charge, and again a month later for allegedly violating a ban on foreign ownership of the media. Maria got out on bail both times, but that wasn't the end of her legal troubles.

In June 2020, she was convicted of cyber-libel, and now faces up to 100 years in prison under a very loose and retroactive interpretation of the law that's been panned as an attack on press freedom.

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Thrilla in Manila: Duterte vs Pacquiao

Rodrigo Duterte, the tough-talking president of the Philippines, pulls no punches with his political opponents. But this time he's picking on a popular rival who speaks softly yet can actually throw a jab or two himself: boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao. Less than 10 months out from next year's presidential election, a recent public feud between the two could usher in an epic slugfest for the top job.

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What We're Watching: Duterte's threat, West Africa's single currency, Raisi's hard line

Philippines' choice — jab or jail: As more countries get their hands on COVID vaccines, many are coming up with interesting schemes to convince skeptics to get the shot. But if you're in the Philippines, tough-talking President Rodrigo Duterte has the ultimate tough-love "incentive": he says he'll throw you in prison if you refuse your shot. A government spokesperson immediately sought to clarify Duterte's threatening comment, reassuring Filipinos that turning down a jab is not — yet — a criminal offense. This comes as the country's vaccination drive remains very slow, having fully inoculated only 2 percent of its population, in part due to high levels of vaccine hesitancy. Many Filipinos are turning down the Chinese shots provided by Duterte's pal President Xi Jinping because they perceive them as less effective and less trustworthy than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are scarce in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Philippines continues to suffer one of Southeast Asia's worst COVID outbreaks.

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What We're Watching: Africa desperate for vaccines, US-EU truce on airplanes, ICC probes Duterte

Africa is running out of vaccines: Africa has received fewer vaccines than any other continent, and the results are now showing. Faced with a third wave of infection, many African countries say that cases are soaring and that vaccine deliveries from the WHO-managed COVAX facility remain sluggish, in large part because of shortages from Indian drug manufacturers. South Africa, Namibia, and Uganda say that their healthcare systems are inundated with COVID cases; ICU beds are scarce, and COVID patients are dying while waiting for hospital beds. To date, just 0.6 percent of Africa's 1.3 billion people are fully vaccinated, and new variants are spreading, making containment across the continent even harder. (Cases in the South African province of Gauteng, home to the hubs of Johannesburg and Pretoria, where South Africa's more transmissible COVID strain has run rampant, have doubled over the past week, and doctors are bracing for a surge in deaths.) Meanwhile, the G7 countries agreed this week to send 1 billion COVID doses to poor countries, but experts warn that these may not arrive in Africa before most states' supplies run dry.

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What We're Watching: French and Brits fight over fish, Nigeria's insecurity, Duterte cozies up to China

Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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China makes a big move in the South China Sea

The Philippines on Monday demanded China withdraw a massive fishing fleet — presumably commanded by the Chinese navy — from waters that Manila has exclusive economic rights over in the South China Sea. Beijing, unsurprisingly, denied any involvement. But there's more to the latest milestone in China's increasingly aggressive strategy to assert its claims in one of the world's most disputed waterways.

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