Barely 45 days before Filipinos troop to polling precincts to elect more than 18,000 political leaders, from a president down to a new set of city and town councilors, candidates for various positions are stepping up personal attacks against rivals.

It is normal for those lagging behind opinion polls to start hitting those who are on top to bring them down, narrow the margin, and perhaps overtake them before May 9.

In the last few days, Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, better known as Isko Moreno, launched attacks on former senator Ferdinand Marcos and Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, the two frontrunners in the presidential race.

Isko raised legitimate issues against the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, criticizing him for his refusal to show up at debates sponsored by media organizations and the Commission on Elections.

He also raised the issue of the Marcoses’ non-payment of the estate tax which has ballooned to more than P200 billion. The government was asking the Marcos family to pay taxes for the assets of the late dictator that the heirs would inherit.

It was not certain how the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) had come up with the Marcos family’s tax liability but its assessment was made final in the 1990s. The courts even ruled that the Marcoses could no longer appeal the BIR’s assessment, dismissing a petition filed by Marcos Jr. before the Court of Appeals in 1999.

Based on the BIR’s assessment, the Marcos family owed the government P23 billion in estate taxes, nearly P185,000 in income tax deficiencies of Marcos and his wife for 1985, and Marcos Jr.’s own deficiency of about P20,000 as a local official in Ilocos Norte from 1982 to 1985.

If Marcos refused to settle his own income tax deficiency and the fine imposed by a court after he was convicted in 1995, how could the government expect him to pay the P23-billion estate tax?

Isko raised a legitimate issue. Marcos may no longer pay the family’s tax liabilities once he is elected president. All civil and criminal cases in local courts of the Marcos family, collectively or individually, may also be gone.

History may be re-written once again to erase the unpleasant years of the Marcos dictatorship and a new narrative may be taught in schools to future Filipimos.

Isko’s fears are not unfounded. These are legitimate issues. The future of the next generation of Filipinos are at stake. And it starts with the payment of estate taxes and other deficiencies.

The Marcoses chose to lie. Speaking through a spokesman, Vic Rodriguez, the Marcos camp said Marcos Jr. had paid the fines imposed by the court but there was no documentary evidence to show the court had received payment. Instead, he showed a receipt that Marcos Jr. paid the BIR. It’s dishonesty. The court demanded payment but Marcos Jr. paid the BIR, and this may not even be true.

Rodriguez later claimed the Marcos family had a deal with both the BIR and the Presidential Commission on Good Government, an agency tasked to recover the stolen Marcos assets. The PCGG has denied there was such an agreement but the BIR has kept mum about the collection of the tax deficiency.

Isko also hit Robredo for her description of the poor. It could be semantics but for the lack of a legitimate issue against the vice president, he chose to attack her campaign strategy to win votes from the poor. It is the same constituency that Isko was trying to woo. It’s very obvious both are fighting to win the same constituency.

Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson raised the communist menace. But the issue seemed out of place since there was really no proof that the Vice President had made a pact with the Communist Party of the Philippines.

It is not a crime for a person to espouse communist ideology and the sedition law was repealed in the 1990s during the time of President Fidel Ramos, a former army general who had fought the communist rebels all throughout his military career.

He even saw action in the Korean War against the communist North in the 1950s and during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

What is illegal is taking up arms against the government. Ping’s warning against rebel infiltration is valid but the rebels have been trying all means to infiltrate the government. Lacson never raised it as an issue when President Rodrigo Duterte appointed some left-leaning personalities to his Cabinet in 2016.

Lacson is fast losing steam and his tirades against the vice president have boomeranged. He was trying to pull down Robredo because both have the same constituency.

Marcos himself was not hitting back but has allowed an army of trolls, social media influencers and paid hacks in the mainstream media to attack his opponents. The barrage was directed at Robredo who may be too far behind in the surveys but is the biggest threat to Marcos.

The Marcos attacks on Robredo betray the former senator’s insecurity. He actually fears a repeat of the 2016 contest when Robredo came from behind to secure a narrow political victory.

Marcos has all the reasons to worry. He has been canceling his campaign sorties and does thrice-a-week sorties instead.

In sharp contrast, Robredo is gaining momentum, packing her rallies with genuine supporters and volunteers who spend for their own food and transportation. There have been reports the Marcos camp had to pay P200 to P500 each for people to go to his rallies. The crowd was provided food and transportation as well.

The campaign rallies do not reflect the sentiments in opinion polls. There were lesser crowds whenever Isko Moreno, Ping Lacson, and Manny Pacquiao moved around. Marcos’ crowd is artificial. But Robredo’s crowd is genuine support.

There are rumors swirling in political circles that some candidates are reassessing their campaign and may fold up to give way to a candidate who has a bigger chance of defeating Marcos. Campaign funds could also be drying up as donors have started shifting to the winnable.

But there are also wild rumors that all is not well in the “unity team” because Marcos has become a big political baggage, a burden even. Some local politicians have begun switching loyalties.

Three governors and two mayors outside the Bicol region have endorsed Robredo. There is a bandwagon effect as Robredo’s campaign gathers steam not seen in her 2016 vice-presidential campaign.

In 2016, she won big in the Western Visayas, Bicol, and Eastern Visayas regions, but performed dismally in three regions in northern Luzon and in Metro Manila. She only won in Tarlac and Batangas.

But this time, she is getting support bigger than the 2016 campaign in Cagayan and Isabela, Bulacan, Cavite, and Metro Manila. She remains strong in Western Visayas, Bicol and Samar island.

Robredo has to sustain the momentum to catch up with Marcos. Pulse Asia said it was not impossible for her to catch up but it would be difficult given the huge margin Marcos had built over the months.

But the attacks from all sides could affect Marcos’ popularity while the tirades on Robredo would no longer have an effect since she has been at the receiving end from Day 1 of the Duterte administration. The attacks are stale. Marcos’ trolls have to look for a fresher issue to throw at the vice president.

As May 9 draws near, vicious attacks on candidates will shift to a higher gear. Marcos and Robredo will be at the center of these black propaganda and disinformation. It is expected as they are the two top contenders, but Robredo has been getting more attention as she is perceived to be gaining strength in the home stretch.