The Philippine vice president, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, has been nominated by an opposition coalition as their candidate in the May 2022 presidential race.
Leni Robredo has been serving as Duterte’s vice president since he was sworn into office in 2016, but she is considered an opposition figure and has labelled Duterte’s war on drugs – a bloody crackdown that left thousands of people dead – as a “failure”.
Presidents and vice presidents are elected separately in the Philippines, frequently resulting in candidates from rival parties like Duterte and Robredo working together in office and often disagreeing on policies.
In an announcement on Thursday, members of the coalition known as 1Sambayan said they had determined Robredo is the best-qualified candidate to lead the country, based on several benchmarks on leadership as well as their internal survey.
Robredo “will lead us in healing our nation, reviving our economy, generating employment, eliminating hunger, ending the wanton killing of fellow Filipinos,” said former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, one of the convenors of the coalition.
1Sambayan coalition’s membership includes highly respected legal and foreign policy experts, human rights and civil rights advocates as well as opposition politicians, farmers groups, students and retired military officials who have united to fight Duterte’s policies.
“We believe that the nation cannot survive another six years of gross mismanagement of the government and the economy,” Carpio said in his announcement broadcast live on different social media platforms.
In a statement posted on social media, Robredo said that she was “honoured” by the nomination.
“In the coming days, please join me in prayer that our decision will be what is best for the country,” she said in Tagalog and English.
The coalition had also considered Manila Mayor Isko Moreno as a contender but eventually picked Robredo, citing her track record as vice president.
Moreno, a former ally of Duterte, declared last week that he is running for president.
The filing of certificates of candidacies will begin on Friday and will last until October 8.
Aside from Moreno, those who have officially declared their candidacy for president include international boxing champion Senator Manny Pacquiao and former police chief and incumbent Senator Panfilo Lacson.
But because of the declared candidates’ previous identification as allies of Duterte, none of them is considered as the “real opposition”, leaving Robredo as the nominal opposition candidate.
Also widely tipped to run for president is Duterte’s daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, who has consistently topped a hypothetical presidential race, but whose numbers have declined in the most recent survey published on Wednesday.
Robredo has not yet officially declared her candidacy, but she is expected to run.
In recent weeks, she has sharpened her critique of the Duterte administration’s “failed response” to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as allegations of corruption in the purchase of millions of dollars of medical equipment for health workers.
The latest survey conducted by the polling firm Pulse Asia in early September, however, showed Robredo trailing five possible candidates. But she has doubled her support in Metro Manila and Visayas areas since the last polling in June.
In 2016, when Robredo ran for vice president she was also behind several other candidates, but in the end managed to defeat a popular and well-financed senator, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Because of her opposition to many of Duterte’s policies throughout her vice presidency, Robredo became a target of relentless political and personal attacks on social media by allies of the president, weighing down her popularity.
A relatively novice politician, Robredo had only served one term as a member of the House of Representatives before she successfully ran as vice president. A human rights lawyer, she ran for public office after the 2012 death of her husband, who was the country’s interior minister.
As vice president, Robredo served briefly as head of the government’s housing and development agency. She was forced out of office after she was excluded from the meetings of Duterte’s cabinet.
In 2019, she also served in a government anti-drugs council, after Duterte asked her to help following her repeated criticisms of his bloody crackdown.
She only lasted 18 days in the job before she was fired by Duterte.
Duterte’s deadly war on drugs is now a subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Robredo had said the drug war violated the human rights of many suspects, and was focused on the “small-time pushers and users”, while not addressing the supply side of the illegal drugs trade and not going after the big-time suppliers.