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Dirty tricks allegations mar last days of Philippine election campaign

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine election rivals traded allegations of dirty tricks and vote-rigging yesterday, in the final stretch of an acerbic campaign that is tipped to bring the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to power.

After months of fierce campaigning marked by relentless misinformation and an online whitewashing of the country’s violent history, rivals Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Leni Robredo implicated each other in underhand tactics.

Marcos Jr – the son of the late dictator and notoriously kleptocratic first lady Imelda Marcos – is predicted to win Monday’s poll by a landslide.

The Marcos campaign yesterday urged supporters to “protect their votes” against unspecified attempts at vote-rigging.

“We’ve already won!” Marcos Jr said. “Just make sure you guard the votes on Monday – don’t sleep… we know that when we sleep, a lot of undesirable things happen.”

The Marcos campaign also accused Robredo of being “toxic, divisive and acrimonious” and having “associated themselves” with shadowy political groups.

Robredo campaigned on a promise to clean up the Philippines’ chronically corrupt politics.
The 57-year-old lawyer, and current vice president, attracted fevered support from progressive young Filipinos.

Despite her deficit in opinion polls, few are ready to completely rule her out, as febrile rumours swirl about the accuracy of polls that currently put her on 23 per cent of the vote versus Marcos’ 56 per cent.

With all still to play for, her campaign took legal action yesterday to bat back potentially damaging rumours that she is in league with the Communist Party.

Unproven allegations that party founder Jose Maria Sison, who lives in exile in the Netherlands, was advising her campaign recently resurfaced in Marcos-allied media.

In a complaint affidavit filed with the prosecutor’s office Robredo’s spokesman called the allegations “fabricated” and “fictitious”.

“This crossed a line,” Barry Gutierrez told reporters.

“This is not a vlogger, it’s not some random influencer on social media putting out criticisms. This is supposedly a respectable member of the journalism profession.”

Despite a lack of evidence, the allegations circulated widely on Facebook, which is extremely popular in the Philippines, gaining hundreds of thousands of interactions.

Misinformation seeking to discredit Robredo as stupid, unfriendly or even a communist has surged during the election season.

Communist rebels have waged a decades-long insurgency in the country.

Red-tagging – accusing someone of being a communist sympathiser – intensified under President Rodrigo Duterte and has resulted in the deaths of many activists, journalists and lawyers.

Robredo hit back yesterday, accusing Marcos Jr of being a “liar”.

“I pity the Filipinos who were deceived by him,” she told reporters in the central city of Sorsogon.

The allegations against Robredo carry echoes of the elder Ferdinand Marcos tactics of discrediting enemies, justifying his dictatorial rule and retaining United States Cold War support by playing up the spectre of a looming Red Peril that was hell-bent on taking over the country.