Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, an archrival of President Rodrigo Duterte and a staunch critic of his deadly war on drugs, said Thursday that she will run for the top job, becoming the leading opposition candidate in a crowded electoral field.
Robredo has been under pressure from supporters and opposition groups to join the 2022 presidential race, but has lagged far behind the favorites in opinion polls.
Analysts say the fair-minded former congresswoman could be in trouble.
“I will fight, we will fight,” said Robredo, 56, declaring herself a presidential candidate.
“We will defeat the archaic and rotten style of politics.”
The president and vice president are elected separately in the Philippines. Robredo resigned from Duterte’s cabinet less than six months after being sworn in, after a presidential aide told him she had been excluded from their meetings.
His decision comes after his nemesis Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son and namesake of the country’s former dictator, said Tuesday that he would run for the top job.
Robredo narrowly defeated Marcos Jr for the nation’s second-highest office in 2016, dealing a blow to the powerful clan’s political aspirations as they sought to rehabilitate their image.
Marcos Jr, a Duterte ally and advocate for the crackdown on drugs that has killed thousands of people, fought a nearly five-year legal battle challenging the vote, but lost in February when the Supreme Court rejected the protest.
Marcos Jr. was ranked second behind Duterte’s daughter Sara in a recent Pulse Asia Research poll, though she has denied plans to run.
Robredo was a distant sixth, behind the great boxer Manny Pacquiao and the famous mayor Francisco Domagoso, who have confirmed that they will seek the presidency; and Senator Grace Poe, who has not.
Most of the leading candidates have supported the war on drugs, which is being investigated by the International Criminal Court as a possible crime against humanity.
‘All my strength’
Robredo, originally a lawyer for the underprivileged, rose to fame as the wife of Jesse Robredo, a respected cabinet member in the administration of former President Benigno Aquino.
When her husband died in a plane crash in 2012, public outcry encouraged her to enter politics.
Robredo, who has three daughters, served only one term in the House of Representatives before his successful run for the vice presidency.
“My promise is to give all my strength, not only until the elections, but until the end to fight for the Philippines we dream of,” Robredo said Thursday.
University of the Philippines political science professor Jean Franco told AFP: “It’s going to be an uphill climb, but his career sends a strong statement in itself that there is genuine opposition to Duterte and the return of another Marcos to the presidency “.
Duterte has repeatedly attacked Robredo since he took power in 2016 with a promise to rid the country of drugs.
Among other things, he opposed Duterte’s plan to recover the death penalty and his decision to allow the embalmed body of Ferdinand Marcos to be buried in the National Heroes Cemetery.
So far, more than 40 candidates have registered to run for president in the May elections, but the field will shrink significantly in the coming months.
Election season began this month and candidates flocked to the electoral commission offices to present their nominations.
The process launched a typically noisy and deadly seven-month campaign for more than 18,000 posts, and the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic recession caused by the closures are expected to cloud the atmosphere.