A country at the crossroads

Exactly a week from now, 54 million registered Filipino voters will troop to the polls to decide who they want to lead the country in the next six years. This is a crucial time in this country of 100 million. This is a country at the crossroads. Voters on May 9 can either take the high road to improve the lives of the rest of the populace or continue on to the straight path to the abyss where President Benigno Aquino III has taken them to the edge of the cliff in the last six years.

This is the baggage of Aquino's anointed presidential candidate Mar Roxas. Mar wants to continue taking this country on the road to ruin. The former senator, Trade secretary, and Interior and Local Government secretary is actually the most qualified of the pack seeking the presidency. But he is carrying the baggage of being identified with Noynoy Aquino and that is quite a burden given the President's dismal six-year track record.

With no clear winner yet despite what the conscripted poll surveys claim, this year's elections can really be called a cliffhanger. A lot can happen in one week. Poll survey leader, the ebullient Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, can make political history by being the first local official to be elected president. Or he can self-destruct with more of his own outrageous and outlandish comments.

San Juan City Mayor Joseph Estrada did not go direct to the presidency. He established his credentials by being elected senator and then vice president before winning the presidency by a landslide in 1998. His term was short-lived though as he was toppled by a people's uprising in 2001 on allegations of plunder.

Senator Grace Poe, an outsider who came into the picture after renouncing her American citizenship, could still pull an upset to become the country's third woman president after Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Poe and Liberal Party vice presidential hopeful Leni Robredo could set a precedent if they both win. They will be the world's first woman president and vice president. Robredo, Camarines Sur representative, is fast gaining on VP leader Senator Bongbong Marcos and Senator Francis Escudero.

There is another interesting angle if Bongbong Marcos wins as vice president and Grace Poe makes it as president. If the rumors are true that they are half-siblings, Poe and Marcos would be the first such brother-sister act to occupy a country's No.1 and 2 positions.

Simmering South China Sea

Beijing, in a pointed remark at Washington, said the United States had no right to comment and get involved in the South China Sea territorial dispute because the US had not signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. China's statement was supported by its historical ally Russia.

A US State Department statement, on the other hand, found Beijing's comment strange since China is a signatory to UNCLOS but is violating its provisions on the 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone that UNCLOS mandated for countries with coastal lines. The US also criticized China for refusing to accept the authority of the international arbitration court in The Hague, where the Philippines filed a case contesting China's sweeping claim to nearly the entire South China Sea.

Against this backdrop of word war between Beijing and Washington, the US raised the bar in its challenge to China with surveillance flights near Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) occupied by the Chinese since 2012. The US said its planes were on a mission to protect freedom of navigation and overflights in international air space. The American aircraft were used during the recent "Balikatan" war exercises between US and Philippine troops.

Source: The Standard