A victory for presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is not yet secured despite his continuing lead over other candidates in recent opinion polls, according to the Philippine unit of the London-based credit rating group Fitch Solutions.
In a commentary emailed to journalists on March 25, Fitch Solutions cited still unresolved issues on Marcos’s eligibility to run and the tendency of Philippine election race to take last-minute twists and turns.
It is still too early to predict a landslide victory for Marcos as “uncertainty” surrounding his eligibility has only been “partially lifted,” Fitch Solutions said.
While the Commission on Elections (Comelec) dismissal of disqualification cases against Marcos over his tax convictions may be a “key legal victory” for him, the Fitch unit noted that the poll body’s ruling can still be appealed before the Supreme Court.
“If Marcos were to be ruled ineligible after winning the presidency, he would be succeeded by the new vice-president,” Fitch Solutions said.
Beyond the legal battle, Fitch Solutions said there is “anecdotal evidence” showing Marcos’ main rival, Vice-president Leni Robredo, to be “gaining political momentum.”
Robredo has won endorsements from former cabinet members of past administrations, civil society groups, religious leaders and retired military officials, among others. At the same time, Robredo’s recent rallies have drawn enormous crowds even in her opponents’ traditional bailiwicks.
On the flip side, Fitch Solutions believes PDP-Laban’s endorsement of the dictator’s son and his running mate, presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, will “provide little upside to his support,” noting how fractured the ruling party is now.
It remains unclear, moreover, which candidate President Duterte would personally support. He met with Marcos last March 27 to “(share) his experiences and insight as an outgoing chief executive,” according to Malacañang.
This, Fitch Solutions said, just shows how elections in the Philippines are fraught with surprises that may reflect in the next opinion polls. So far, Marcos Jr. kept his 60 percent support in a February Pulse Asia survey released last week while Robredo trailed behind by a considerable margin with 15 percent support.
Fitch Solutions added that Marcos Jr.’s repeated refusal to attend presidential debates and interviews would only boost support for other candidates like Robredo.
“(We) note in the run-up to 2016 presidential elections, President Duterte trailed behind leading candidate Sen. Grace Poe in opinion polls for a significant period of time, albeit by smaller margins. Duterte only overtook Poe in surveys from mid-March 2016 onwards,” Fitch Solutions explained.
Moving forward, Fitch Solutions is expecting a smooth transition to the new administration “with only minor changes to economic policy” regardless of the winner. But the research firm noted a “more clear-cut” difference between the two leading candidates’ stance on the foreign policy front, particularly on the issue of South China Sea.
“Nevertheless, we believe the next Philippine administration will likely continue to prioritize the country’s economic interests and maintain a delicate balancing act between the US and China,” the Fitch unit said.
Comelec will decide on the pending disqualification cases against Marcos Jr. by April, a commissioner of the poll body said on March 24.
“Since I did not participate in the discussion on these cases, I was told by the chairman before the end of April, a decision by the en banc will be forthcoming on the consolidated cases and motion for reconsiderations,” Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said.
“The earliest would be the second week of April, the latest will be the third week of April,” Garcia said.
Garcia, an election law expert who handled high-profile cases prior to his recent Comelec appointment, earlier said that he will inhibit from cases involving former clients, which include Marcos Jr.
Comelec Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan, who was also recently appointed, has said that the commission will fast-track pending cases.