On Thursday, before a wedding ceremony got underway in a Cavite farm, Sara Duterte-Carpio took her oath as a member of the Lakas-National Union of Christian Democrats (Lakas-NUCD) party, a signal she would run for a national position in next May elections.

The wedding event is symbolic because it was an alliance of the country’s powerful and influential political families — the Arroyos of Pampanga, the Dutertes of Davao, Leyte’s Romualdezes, the Estradas of San Juan, and possibly the Marcoses of Ilocos Norte.

Congressman Martin Romualdez and former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr are cousins. Martin’s father is the brother of Marcos Jr.’s mother, Imelda, who longs to see her son rise to power to vindicate the family’s honor and name.

It is a formidable political alliance but tainted by controversy.

Both Marcos and Romualdez families were linked to the monumental plunder of the country’s coffers in the 1970s and 1980s when the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, was in power.

Imelda’s brother Benjamin Romualdez was ambassador to the US and controlled most of the corporations seized from the Lopez family when martial law was imposed in 1972, including the Journal group of newspapers. It was the old Manila Chronicle under the late Geny Lopez of the broadcast giant ABS-CBN.

Arroyo remained politically strong but could never rise anew to a national position because the people hated her on perception she stole the election in 2004 from movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., as well as corruption, like the $320-million national broadband deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

Among past presidents, Arroyo had the worst trust and approval ratings based on the Social Weather Stations (SWS) opinion polls in 2011, plunging to minus 62 after she was arrested on her way to the airport and placed on hospital arrest.

Janet Lim-Napoles’s multi-million-peso PDAF scandal also blew up on her face, linking many of her allies, including the host of the wedding ceremony in Cavite.

Former senator Jinggoy Estrada is also linked to the same PDAF irregularity and his case remained pending before the anti-corruption Sandiganbayan court.

President Rodrigo Duterte has higher trust and approval ratings compared with all presidents since Corazon Aquino in 1986, but these declined in the third quarter this year due to perception of poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic response and corruption, after a group of Davao City-based Chinese businessmen was awarded nearly P11 billion in medical supplies deals from last year.

Corruption has been an election issue in the Philippines. Marcos was toppled by a military-backed popular uprising in 1986 for accumulating an estimated $10 billion in ill-gotten wealth during his 20-year iron-fisted rule.

Estrada did not complete his term as a president in 2001 after his alleged corrupt dealings involving tobacco tax kickbacks, stock market manipulation, and illegal gambling payolas.

Arroyo had survived coup attempts and impeachment motions at the lower house, but corruption in her government, including the fertilizer scam, hounded her until she stepped down from power in June 2010.

Thus, many eyebrows in the capital rose when the Marcoses, Estradas, Arroyos, and the Dutertes formed a political alliance to hold on to power in the 2022 elections.

They are supporting the candidacy of Sara Duterte-Carpio, who was expected to run for president and give in to the clamor of her supporters and allies.

Like her father who ran for president in 2016 at the last minute by replacing Martin Diño who filed his candidacy for president under the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), Sara also decided to run for vice president before the Commission on Elections’ deadline for political parties to substitute candidates.

Like her father who also filed his candidacy for mayor of Davao City in 2015, Sara had repeatedly denied she was interested in a higher position, filing instead her certificate of candidacy for mayor in October.

But this week, things suddenly changed after she withdrew her candidacy and resigned her membership in regional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago. The next day she joined Lakas-NUCD.

A commissioned Social Weather Stations (SWS) opinion poll in October, right after the filing of certificates of candidacy, showed Sara in second position with 25% behind the leader, Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who got 44%.

The fourth-quarter survey in December will give a clearer picture of the political contest.

Political analysts say survey frontrunners end up losers in the elections, citing the cases of former senator Manuel Villar and former vice president Jejomar Binay and Grace Poe in the 2010 and 2016 elections, respectively.

Sara would still be a formidable candidate for vice president because of the administration’s machinery and resources behind her. She has also allied with two established political parties — Lakas-NUCD and her father’s PDP-Laban.

Marcos may have a problem, as a petition before the Commission on Elections to cancel his candidacy could affect his chances of winning.

The petition is expected to be resolved with finality by the Supreme Court, a sword of Damocles hanging on his head.

It appears to be difficult to stop Sara from winning the elections as well as the other politicians who have aligned with her. Who can stop the unholy alliance of families tainted with graft and corruption?

The coronavirus pandemic could become an equalizer, however.

Other presidential candidates may not have the muscle and money to run a campaign but the right messaging during the three-month campaign period could boost their candidacies.

In 2015, people did not pay attention to Rodrigo Duterte when he began preaching federalism as a campaign platform. It was so abstract that he himself did not understand it.

But when he shifted to an anti-crime and anti-corruption rhetoric, warning drug addicts, petty criminals and corrupt officials that 2015 would be their last Christmas in a TV ad, it caught fire, catapulting him to the leadership position in the March survey.

The candidate who can promise jobs, address soaring prices and present a workplan to get the country out of the rut caused by the pandemic could win votes in May.

So far, candidates are only making motherhood statements. The candidate with a clear and workable plan could win. Filipinos are now moving past personalities. A popular candidate can still win the elections but if he or she cannot deliver a definite plan to address jobs, prices, vaccines and a plan to defeat the pandemic, he or she may not make it.

The people got burned by Duterte’s 2016 promise to end drugs and corruption in three months and ride a jet ski to assert the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea.

The people got wiser now. No more promises, just a concrete plan to get the country back on its feet and return to normalcy. Without the face shields, of course.