The Weigh-In: Bongbong vs. Leni

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (Source:

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (Source:

There continues to be a lot of analyses of why Rodrigo Duterte has captured the imagination and the adulation of a broad swath of Filipinos from all social classes. Reports that his supporters are making their own campaign paraphernalia and have pledged to guard his votes assiduously should give his rivals pause. The country has not seen such active, grassroots-based political passion since Cory Aquino ran against Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. And it’s perplexing, considering that Duterte defies all the traditional concepts of how a leader should talk, act and think.

But as is always the case with politics, there is a story behind the story. And here’s the latest on why Duterte might just be the next president:

But what is looming as the more interesting and the more important race, if doomsday soothsayers are correct in saying that whoever will be elected president this time will not last his/her term, is that for vice president. As of this late date, according to the surveys, the five candidates have been winnowed down to two: Bongbong Marcos and Leni Robredo.

Unlike the race for president, the VP contest at this point is still too close to call, with Marcos leading in one survey and Robredo leading in another, albeit with a hair-thin margin.

And so we have a situation where another Ferdinand Marcos is fighting another widow. In 1986 Marcos, the father, faced off with Corazon Aquino, the widow of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, the incumbent president’s father who was assassinated in 1983. Today, Marcos, the son is pitted against Robredo, whose husband, the esteemed Jesse, was an incumbent cabinet official who died tragically in a plane crash two years ago. 

Vice presidential candidates Senator Bongbong Marcos and Congresswoman Leni Robredo (Source:

Vice presidential candidates Senator Bongbong Marcos and Congresswoman Leni Robredo (Source:

Similar circumstances, different situations.

In this election, Bongbong Marcos – much to the consternation of his detractors and critics, of which there are many – is connecting with the electorate quite strongly, not only among the loyal Ilocano crowd, but also among the non-Ilocano A, B, C classes and the above-50 age group as well. While his solid Ilocano base is expected, what is astonishing about the above-50s is that they were the ones who lived through martial law and who presumably were among those angered by the Aquino assassination, the repression and human rights violations, and most of all, the plunder that has been well documented nationally and internationally.

Here’s a profile of the Marcos supporters:

Why then is Bongbong doing so well? From this distance, it’s difficult to fathom, but let’s hear from reporter Patty Pasion who covers his campaign for Rappler ( in Manila:

“First, of course, the people are really nostalgic for the regime of the father, the late President Marcos. Ever since I covered the proclamation rally in Ilocos, that has been the narrative. For the first few stretches of the campaign, Bongbong seemed to solidify the support base his family has: the Ilocanos of Norte, Sur, La Union and Pangasinan. And he also campaigned in areas where his father had legacy projects like in Barangay Bagong Silang in Caloocan, which was a massive relocation site for people living in the slums during martial law. He even campaigned in North Cotabato where a lot of Ilocanos have relocated. The local leaders there are themselves Ilocanos.”


Senator Bongbong Marcos (Source:

Senator Bongbong Marcos (Source:

Leni Robredo is from the Bicol region, whose voting population almost mirrors that of the Ilocos region: about 3 million. The numbers however do not tell the entire story. Unlike the staunchly loyal (to their own) Ilocanos who have traditionally voted as a bloc (with exceptions here and there), the Bicolanos are not known to be as unified in their voting behavior.

The Ilocanos too have scattered all over the country and even the world. The biggest bloc of overseas Filipinos are Ilocanos. Marcos therefore has a ready constituency in various regions.

To Robredo’s disadvantage, three of her vice presidential rivals are also Bicolanos: Chiz Escudero, Gregorio Honasan and Antonio Trillanes IV, thus theoretically splitting the regional vote. The good news is that Honasan and Trillanes have barely gotten traction in their campaigns, while Escudero, the former frontrunner, has sunk. So hopefully their Bicolano supporters will break for her on May 9.

Another aspect to this core constituency issue: Marcos loyalists, Ilocano or not, are intensely aggrieved about what happened to their idol; his 20-year reign that had provided them largesse had also given them the feeling of entitlement to whatever it is that they lost. Thus, with the son’s ascension to the vice presidency, many of them feel the wheel will be turning in their favor once again. Their solid support is both redemption and retribution.

Robredo’s supporters, Bicolanos or not, do not feel such anger or emotion. How this will pan out on election day is something to watch.

Congresswoman Leni Robredo (Camarines Sur, 3rd district) (Photo by Niño Jesus Orbeta/

Congresswoman Leni Robredo (Camarines Sur, 3rd district) (Photo by Niño Jesus Orbeta/

Charisma and Alliances

Leni Robredo is a fresh face in politics. She is personable, humble and obviously very grounded in reality. Her weekly public bus rides home to Naga every weekend so she could be with her constituents have been well documented; her long-time grassroots work as legal counsel to NGOs and ordinary citizens sets her apart from all the other candidates for VP and even for president.

Because she only has three years in elective office, she doesn’t have the baggage of mistakes and enemies that her rivals are saddled with. On the other hand, she was an unknown element and had to introduce herself to the electorate. If her numbers, which show an impressive upward trajectory, are any indication, she has done very well doing that.

Here’s more on Robredo: 

Bongbong Marcos’ appeal to the electorate, according to Patty Pasion, is because “he looks like his father and that he inherited his charisma. When I ask people, really they see Bongbong as somehow the return of the late President Marcos.” Why is this an advantage? An internal survey commissioned by the Marcos camp in 2014 revealed that 56% of voters remember the Marcos regime as a better time for the country.

Being the son of a long-time president also gives Marcos the advantage of drawing on the alliances established during his father’s time, and also the alliances he and his sister, Imee, have established among various groups. And in Philippine politics, those personal quid pro quos, the favors handed out decades ago are still valid even until the next generation.


Both candidates are able to establish themselves as distinct from their presidential running mates. Robredo, while fully supportive of the Liberal Party platform and talks highly about Mar Roxas at every turn, is her own person by her personal narrative and grassroots commitment. While Roxas’ long experience in government gives him gravitas in policy-making and agency management, Robredo understands and empathizes with the people at the bottom whose exposure to government programs may be minimal, if at all.

The physical absence of his presidential running mate Miriam Defensor-Santiago from the campaign trail because of serious health issues has enabled Marcos to craft his program and message independently. His constant message, Pasion reports, is that he wants to unite the Philippines just like the Ilocanos are united. “He is also veering himself away from his father. In one sortie in Abra, Bongbong said that he is not the copycat of his father. He also rarely talks about the late Apo Marcos but it is very evident that he still tries to [subliminally] present himself as his father” --  in the way he dresses, his V sign (reminiscent of his father’s first presidential victory) and his mannerisms on the trail.

This two-faced approach to campaigning – being his father’s son and asserting himself as a different person addresses the two contradictory forces that Marcos has to contend with. To loyalists, he is the reincarnation; to detractors, he asks not to be judged by his father’s sins.

Because the Philippine political system mandates that vice presidents are elected separately from presidents, being seen as your own person, especially if your president is weak, is a major plus.


As far as areas of strengths of the two, Miriam Grace Go in her article summarizes them thus:

“A major strength of Bongbong which is not measured in surveys is his familiarity with the local government sector. A former provincial governor, he has, in my view, done a good job as chairman of the Senate committee on local governments. When he discusses provinces and cities and towns and barangays, you can tell he has a good grasp of how they work, what they need, what they want. He can talk to the locals.

“So can Robredo. A lawyer, she worked with advocacy and grassroots groups for decades while her husband was a city mayor who produced results. In small-town forums and in big rallies, she tells her story in a way that arrests the attention of voters who have barely heard of her before. Her platform reveals a practical understanding of how local governments can be empowered.”


Legislative Records

Having been elected as representative of Camarines Sur 3rd District only in 2013, Robredo’s neophyte status has not stopped her from pursuing the commitments she has set out for herself: rural development; the empowerment of women; better governance.

Some of the bills she filed or strongly supported in the House of Representatives are: the National Food Security Bill of 2015, Anti-discrimination Bill of 2013, People’s Participation in Budget Deliberation Bill, People Empowerment Bill of 2014, Full Disclosure Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill.

(For more information about Leni Robredo, go to

Bongbong Marcos has a longer experience in legislative work, having served in the House as Ilocos Norte 2nd District representative twice, from 1992-1995 and then from 2007-2010, and as senator since 2010.

According to Rappler’s Michael Bueza, during Marcos’ first stint as congressman, he authored 29 House bills and co-authored 90 more, including those that created the Department of Energy and the National Youth Commission.

On his second congressional term, he was the principal author of three House bills, including his version of the Archipelagic Baselines Law, which is still pending in the House, and co-authored 21 more, six of which became law.

As senator in the 15th Congress (2010-2013), he authored 34 bills and co-authored 17, seven of which became Republic Acts. These included the Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, and the National Health Insurance Act. Of the 34 bills he principally authored, he refiled 28 in the 16th Congress.

In the 16th Congress (2013 to the present), Marcos has filed 52 bills, one of which became law.


To his credit, he voted in favor of the controversial Reproductive Health bill, which was signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III in 2012 and declared constitutional, albeit with certain provisions struck down, by the Supreme Court in 2014.

The Role of the Vice President

The VP position used to be as a spare tire, a person-in-waiting until something untoward happens to the head honcho. Since 1986 however, because vice presidents were mostly from an opposing party as the presidents (the exception was Noli De Castro), the position of VP has become a contentious one. Several elected VPs demanded cabinet posts or, at the very least, an agency which he can use as springboard to begin his campaign for the presidency. In several cases, the president and VP end up parting ways.

In this year’s election, the VP position has emerged as equally or even more significant as the president. Whether it’s prescience or wishful thinking, there seems to be a pervasive feeling that whoever will be elected president will not serve his/her full term either for health reasons or through impeachment.

However it pans out, profound change is in the stars for the Philippines and whoever becomes VP will play a major role in this transition. It is the country’s good fortune that the two leading candidates are so different from each other, coming from two very different backgrounds.

The choice should be easier.