Leading presidential candidates must make a firm stand on the Russian invasion in Ukraine. It is an attack of an Eastern European state on the march to democracy by an authoritarian regime attempting to expand its sphere of influence in the post-Soviet order.

Moscow must have underestimated Kyiv’s resolve to defend its sovereignty, holding off Russian troops in large cities despite a rain of missiles.

Russia, which had a big logistics headache when it simultaneously staged attacks in the last week of February, could lose in the conflict when the invasion drags and Ukraine decides to go into unconventional warfare, or guerrilla warfare.

Civilians, including women, have volunteered to fight for Ukraine. Citizens living abroad have been returning to offer their services while others raised funds to help relatives flee the country and seek shelter in Poland in the West, Moldova in the south, or other countries.

The United States offered to accept Ukrainian refugees but when it offered President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a safe way out from Kyiv, he responded with a statement: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

A comedian-turned politician, Zelenskyy opted to stay with his generals and fight to the end. He displayed courage in the face of superior Russian forces. Russia has more troops, equipment and firepower.

In contrast, Rodrigo Duterte melted in China’s intimidation in the West Philippine Sea. He made excuses that he did not want to lose soldiers in case war erupted between Beijing and Manila.

Filipino soldiers have demonstrated courage and valor in the face of Japanese invasion during the Second World War. They will not hesitate to offer their lives in a conflict to defend the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Duterte showed cowardice and chose to lick the boots of Xi Jinping, even ordering local troops to avoid joining US troops’ training and exercises in the West Philippine Sea to avoid getting China’s ire.

It’s a shame Duterte was not willing to fight for what is right, submitting to China’s might. He should learn from Zelenskyy who is unafraid to confront the most powerful army in Europe with the most number of nuclear weapons.

Duterte does not have to look for models in Europe. Indonesia and Vietnam have shown tenacity in dealing with China’s encroachment into their maritime waters. Jakarta’s navy has blown up Chinese fishing vessels in its waters. President Joko Widodo even witnessed one event.

Duterte meanwhile cowered in fear at Chinese threats issued by Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman. He does not deserve to become the country’s leader. Filipinos regretted electing Duterte who promised in 2016 to ride a jetski and plant a Philippine flag on a Chinese-occupied feature in the disputed South China Sea.

Filipinos should not make another mistake in electing their next leader on May 9. They should not vote for another coward like Duterte, who is not willing to defend the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

All leading presidential candidates have expressed concern about 400 Filipino migrant workers in Eastern Europe who have begun fleeing to Moldova and Poland, but his message to Kyiv was to give up the fight.

At a recent television debate, only Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, a former national police chief who had trained as a soldier, articulated the country’s stand to condemn Russia for the unprovoked aggression into Ukraine.

It was a principled stand as a responsible member of the community of nations. Duterte was silent about his own conviction because of his friendship with Vladimir Putin. The other presidential candidates’ only position is to save Filipinos living and working in Ukraine.

But there are some Filipinos who have expressed support for Russia, probably misled by disinformation in social media about Moscow’s justification for the attack. They must be influenced by troll farms that supported the twisted reasoning of Russia, and some local politicians aligned with Moscow.

They could have also been swayed by the irresponsible statement made by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who wanted the country to stay neutral in the conflict.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of land, and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation and amity with all nations.

It is wrong for Lorenzana to abandon the country’s obligation as a member of the community of nations. It is right not to join the conflict militarily but the country has to condemn the unprovoked aggression.

But the Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, has joined the international community in condemning the Russian invasion of a sovereign state.

Filipino voters should be wise enough not to support any presidential candidate who takes the side of Russia in the conflict. If that presidential candidate is elected into office, the Philippines would likely join the group of pariah states – North Korea, Cuba, and Russia.

The Russian invasion has united the world against aggression. Russia, North Korea, and Cuba have been isolated. Even China has condemned the invasion.

Russia is getting isolated by economic sanctions imposed by the free world. Global businesses, including banks, energy firms, and commodities traders are shutting down operations in Russia.

Filipino should discern and wisely elect a courageous leader who will stand up for the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, learning from Zelenskyy’s brave stand against Putin.

In 2016, Filipinos elected a cowardly leader who refused to confront China’s bullying into the West Philippine Sea.

Filipinos must not make another mistake of electing a morally flawed presidential candidate who will defy conventional wisdom and line up the Philippines behind pariah states.