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Dictator’s son, rights lawyer vie for Philippine presidency

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Presidential hopeful, former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator, talks to the crowd during a campaign rally in Quezon City, Philippines on April 13, 2022. The winner of May 9, Monday's vote will inherit a sagging economy, poverty and deep divisions, as well as calls to prosecute outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte for thousands of deaths as part of a crackdown on illegal drugs. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA – More than three decades after a largely peaceful “People Power” revolt overthrew Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his son and namesake has emerged as the top contender in Monday’s presidential election based on most voter-preference surveys.

Here are some key facts about the major issues, the leading candidates and election concerns:

WHAT’S AT STAKE

If Ferdinand Marcos Jr. triumphs, it will be a stunning reversal of the 1986 pro-democracy uprising that booted his father out of office into global infamy. Many Filipinos remember the human rights atrocities and plunder that unfolded under his dictatorship and would likely push back against any perceived threat to democracy or Marcos Jr.'s attempt to recover his family's assets that were seized by the government as ill-gotten wealth.

The winner stands to inherit immense problems, including an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, deeper poverty and unemployment, hyperinflation due to skyrocketing oil and gas prices, decades-old insurgencies and inflamed political divisions. Outgoing populist leader Rodrigo Duterte's successor also likely faces calls to prosecute him for his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead and alarmed the international community. The International Criminal Court has been investigating the killings as a possible crime against humanity.

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FERDINAND MARCOS JR.

A former provincial governor, congressman and senator, the 64-year-old son of the late dictator is waging the most impressive attempt yet of the Marcos family to recapture the presidency. His mother, Imelda Marcos, twice unsuccessfully attempted to retake the seat of power after returning with her children to the Philippines from exile in the United States, where her husband died in 1989.

Marcos Jr. has defended his father’s legacy and steadfastly refuses to apologize for and acknowledge the atrocities and plunder during the dictatorship. Married to a lawyer, with whom he has three sons, he has stayed away from controversies, including a past tax conviction and the Marcos family’s refusal to pay a huge estate tax. Throughout his campaign, he tenaciously stuck to a battle cry of national unity. He denies accusations that he financed a yearslong social media campaign that harnessed online trolls to smear opponents and whitewash the Marcos family’s checkered history, daring critics to “show me one.”

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LENI ROBREDO

As an economics student at the state-run University of the Philippines in the 1980s, Leni Robredo joined the massive protests that led to the ouster of the elder Marcos. The 57-year-old also took up law and successfully ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2013 in her first foray into politics after her husband, a respected politician, died in a plane crash in 2012. She defeated Marcos Jr. in the 2016 vice presidential race with a narrow margin in their first electoral faceoff. Her advocacies center on defending human rights and empowering the poor partly by teaching them their legal rights.

The daughter of a trial court judge, Robredo does not belong to any of the prominent families that have dominated Philippine politics for generations, and is running as an independent propped by a network of campaign volunteers. As the opposition vice president, who was separately elected from Duterte, she condemned the killings of mostly poor drug suspects as part of his crackdown, angering the brash-talking leader and straining their ties for years. The mother of three has been cited for her integrity and a lifestyle that shuns the trappings of power — she used to regularly travel alone by bus to her home province as a congresswoman.

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OTHER CONTENDERS

Eight other presidential aspirants have lagged far behind in pre-elections surveys, including Manny Pacquiao, the 43-year-old former boxing star, who vowed to build houses for the poor and lock up corrupt politicians in a “mega-prison.” Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, a 47-year-old former TV heartthrob, banked on his rags-to-power life story and public awe over his massive cleanup of the capital. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a 73-year-old former national police chief, has promised to continue exploiting his investigative skills to expose major government corruption.

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SECURING THE VOTE

Aside from the presidency, more than 18,000 government posts will be contested in the elections, including half of the 24-member Senate, more than 300 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as provincial and local offices across the archipelago of more than 109 million Filipinos. About 67 million have registered to cast their ballot during the 13-hour voting starting at 6 a.m., an hour longer than the midterm elections in 2019 to compensate for slower queues due to social distancing and other coronavirus safeguards.

Thousands of police and military personnel have been deployed given longstanding risks posed by communist and Muslim rebels and a history of often bloody family and political rivalries in rural areas. In 2009, gunmen deployed by the family of southern Maguindanao province’s then-governor massacred 58 people, including 32 journalists, in an attack on an election convoy that shocked the world.