A beginner's guide to the Philippine elections

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Filipinos at a Duterte rally in ManilaImage source, Getty Images

Elections in the Philippines are never dry. This campaign has been no exception with a presidential candidate who made a joke about rape, another the adopted child of film stars and a boxing legend running for senator.

Here is what you need to know.

Who is getting elected?

In the Philippines, the president can serve only one six-year term. So this poll will choose a new one.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
President Benigno Aquino III can only serve one presidential term

On 9 May voters will cast their vote for outgoing President Benigno Aquino III's replacement. They will also vote for a vice-president, 12 senators and other representatives and local officials, such as mayors.

It's a huge election

More than 54 million people are registered to vote across the archipelago of 7,000 islands.

Republic of the Philippines

Capital: Manila

  • Population 104 million

  • Area 300,000 sq km (115,831 sq miles)

  • Major languages Filipino, English (both official)

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 66 years (men), 73 years (women)

  • Currency Philippine peso

Getty Images

So what are the big issues?

Money and who gets it

The economy, crime, corruption, poverty and territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea are all major issues.

Although the economy has performed well, poverty remains stubbornly hard to stamp out in rural areas. Population growth in cities has often outstripped gains in infrastructure spending.

Corruption remains a major concern, exacerbating the sense that economic gains are going disproportionately to the powerful.

Gay rights remain a talking point

Senatorial candidate and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao caused a storm by saying homosexuals were "worse than animals". He later apologised but it drew ire from gay Filipino celebrities and rights groups.

Conflict, inside and out

Tension with Beijing over disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea are a big issue. All the candidates support the Philippines' claims to territory in the disputed waters, but are not united in their stance towards Beijing.

There are also differences over how to end the long-running conflict in Mindanao, where some rebels have pledged allegiance to the group called Islamic State. Some candidates oppose proposals to enlarge the autonomous area, while others say concessions should go further.

An alternative look at the election campaign

Image source, Goh Wei Choon and Jiahui Wee
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Voting technology (and its failings)

The election will use automated voting technology, in a bid to reduce fraud and speed up the count.

But in one of the biggest data breaches the country had ever experienced, personal information, including the fingerprint and passport data of around 70 million people, is thought to have been accessed by hackers. Authorities insist most information was in the public domain anyway.

Keeping safe

There is often violence around elections in the Philippines, hence a nationwide ban on private citizens carrying firearms outside homes or workplaces during the election period. Candidates are also not permitted to use security personnel not approved by Comelec.

Family politics

Elections in the Philippines are typically battles between powerful political families. But the dynasties have also become a liability.

Critics say a disproportionate amount of the Philippines' recent economic growth has gone the country's oligarchs, so those unhappy with this are increasingly turning to leaders from outside the traditional elites.

Who is running for the top job?

Image source, Reuters

Rodrigo "Digong" Duterte

Image source, Reuters

Leading the polls at the moment is Rodrigo Duterte, nicknamed "The Punisher" for his tough crime-fighting approach, which he credits for making Davao city relatively safe during his 22 years as mayor. He promises to eliminate corruption nationwide in six months.

The most controversial candidate, he recently joked that, as mayor, he should have been first to rape an Australian missionary murdered in a prison riot. He later apologised.

Grace Poe

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Ms Poe returned to the Philippines in 2004 to help her adoptive father Fernando Poe Jr in his failed bid for the presidency

Adopted by film stars, Ms Poe moved to the USA where she became a nursery teacher in the 1990s. This almost derailed her bid until the Supreme Court ruled she could run. But the perception she is close to oligarchs has dented her appeal.

Manuel "Mar" Roxas III

Image source, AP

Mr Roxas hails from one of the country's political dynasties - his grandfather was the first president of the Philippine Republic.

A former investment banker in New York, he developed a reputation for supporting small businesses during his time as secretary of trade and industry in the 2000s.

Miriam Defensor-Santiago

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ferdinand Marcos Jr, standing behind Ms Defensor-Santiago, denies he profited during his father's regime

A former judge and now senator, Ms Defensor-Santiago has been dogged by rumours of ill health. She once turned down an offer to be a judge at the International Criminal Court because of lung cancer, but insists she is now fit.

Controversially, she picked Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr as her running mate - the son of President Ferdinand Marcos, ousted in 1986.

Jejomar Binay

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Faith is still a big part of Filipino politics - here Jejomar Binay arrives for a service in Manila Cathedral, to sit alongside Manuel Roxas and his wife

Orphaned aged nine, Mr Binay became a human rights lawyer and was imprisoned for defending political prisoners during the rule of Ferdinand Marcos.

He became vice-president in 2010, but has been linked to several corruption scandals, which he says are politically motivated.

And thousands more...

Voters will chose 12 senators; one party list representative; one district representative; provincial, city, and municipal officials - thousands of officials nationwide.

But surely the biggest name among them is world-famous boxer "Manny" Pacquiao, running for a seat in the senate.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Boxing champion "Manny" Pacquiao is among those standing in elections for the senate - being held alongside the presidential vote