Bangkok Desk, Feb 27 (EFE).- Philippine presidential frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Sunday missed the first major debate ahead of the May 9 elections.
Nine of the 10 candidates vying to be the Philippines’ new president, including current vice president Leni Robredo, retired boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and Manila mayor Francisco Moreno, attended the meeting organized by CNN Philippines.
Bongbong, son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ruled with an iron fist from 1965 to 1986, had not been expected to attend because he rejected the invitation, but the organizers still placed an empty lectern for him on the stage.
Analysts believe that Marcos Jr., who is enjoying a comfortable lead in pre-election polls, did not take part to avoid the other candidates’ scrutiny over the billions of public funds his father was accused of plundering during his 20 years in power.
Despite complaints deeming him unfit for the president’s role given that was convicted of tax evasion, survey give the experienced Marcos a 54% share of the vote.
Robredo, the only female candidate, is in second with 22% of the votes in the survey by Pulse Asia Research, attempting to emerge as an opposition symbol against outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte and his notorious war on drugs which has led to thousands of deaths in anti-narcotics police operations.
Robredo and Marcos are familiar political foes, as they had competed for the vice president’s job during the 2016 elections, which Robredo narrowly won.
Before the presidential debate kicked off, another took place between candidates for the vice president post, which Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, running under Marcos, also skipped.
Walden Bello, an academic and a former member of the House of Representatives, stood out during the vice presidential debate after he denounced alleged human rights abuses and other crimes committed under Duterte’s government, as well as years of repression under martial law declared by Ferdinand Marcos.
Philippine’s Commission on Elections plans to hold a second debate with all candidates attending on March 19, although Marcos’ participation has not yet been confirmed, unlike other presidential hopefuls. EFE