MANILA: Philippine presidential candidates were in the provinces on Tuesday (May 3) to drum up more support as the campaign entered its homestretch, in an election that has shaped into a two-way race between Ferdinand Marcos Jr and old rival Leni Robredo.
Marcos, the son and namesake of the ousted dictator who ruled the Philippines for two decades, has a wide lead in polls over incumbent vice president, Robredo, ahead of the May 9 ballot.
The 64-year-old frontrunner repeated his message of unity before supporters in central Iloilo province at the first of three big rallies this week before campaigning ends on Saturday, urging them to carry his "Uniteam" to victory.
"We have travelled around the country to rally support behind our unity movement," said Marcos, who appears on the verge of completing a once-unthinkable rebranding of the Marcos name, 36 years after a "people power" uprising toppled his father and drove his family into exile.
Political analysts say Marcos has been aided by a decades-long public relations effort to alter perception of his family, even as critics accuse the Marcoses of attempting to rewrite history.
"They have ... the advantage of crafting an appealing narrative, which we know distorts the historical fact and yet has somehow appealed to many voters," said retired political science professor Temario Rivera.
In Negros Occidental province, what was supposed to be a small assembly turned into a campaign rally for Robredo, 57, after dozens of supporters showed up. There, she promised an honest and transparent government if elected president.
The latest Pulse Asia survey conducted in mid April showed 56 per cent of 2,400 respondents supporting Marcos, 23 per cent backing Robredo and former boxer Manny Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso on 7 per cent and 4 per cent respectively.
Also a boon for Marcos is running mate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who has been riding on the huge popularity of her father, outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, who on Monday reiterated he would endorse no presidential candidate.
At the Marcos rally on Tuesday, crowds emphatically chanted "Duterte, Duterte," before she spoke.
Marcos and Robredo have a bitter rivalry, with Robredo's affiliation firmly with the movement that ousted his father after years of authoritarianism and martial law.
Despite Marcos's commanding lead, Robredo has attracted key endorsements and big crowds in recent rallies, support that some analysts say the latest survey may not have captured.
Robredo last week challenged Marcos to a debate, but he declined, saying he preferred to speak directly to the public.
Critics have accused Marcos of ducking debates to mask weaknesses, and complained he has been inaccessible to media, with some foreign journalists reporting being denied accreditation for his campaign events.
"All these restrictive actions undermine a critical and free press in an Asian bulwark of democracy and have sparked fears of how independent media would be treated under another possible Marcos presidency," the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said in a statement.
His team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.