A Senate that can say No
The challenge is to elect a Senate that can stand up to President Duterte. I do not mean that the majority must be necessarily hostile or confrontational; only that there must be a solid minority that can stop the mad descent into authoritarianism. Those of us who believe in the democratic project need at least six senators who will refuse to amend or revise the Constitution while Mr. Duterte remains president; we need at least eight senators who will refuse to impeach the administration’s largest stumbling block, Vice President Leni Robredo.
Of the six members of the current Senate opposition, one is no longer eligible for reelection: Sonny Trillanes. One is seeking reelection: Bam Aquino. And one remains unjustly detained, a victim of the President’s shameless vindictiveness: Leila de Lima can file bills, but cannot hold hearings or vote on the floor. Unless a court is courageous enough to order her release on bail, only three senators will carry the flag of the opposition by the end of the 17th Congress: Kiko Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, Frank Drilon.
Where will the other No votes come from in the Senate of the 18th Congress?
It is still early days; in fact, although you wouldn’t know it from Bong Go’s flagrant electioneering, the campaign period has not even started. But based on the latest surveys, Mar Roxas is the only one of the eight mainstream opposition candidates who will make it to the Senate. That brings the number to four, still dangerously short.
Bam Aquino did very well in his first run, in 2013. (I had advised against it, because he would be running while an Aquino was president; it seemed to me then an un-Aquino thing to do. Noynoy Aquino himself ran for the Senate only in 2007, a decade and a half after his mother served as president.) But unless you follow Mocha Uson, there is no arguing about the younger Aquino’s accomplishments in the Senate. By all measures, he should be leading the surveys; that he comes in at the outer limit of the winners’ circle is cause for concern, but not panic or desperation. If he wins reelection, the number of senators certain to stand up against President Duterte will rise to five.
An abyss separates the survey fortunes of Roxas and Aquino from the rest of the mainstream opposition slate. But it bears repeating: It is early days. It would be foolish to look at the current low ratings of the six other candidates — Florin Hilbay, Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada, Romy Macalintal, Samira Gutoc, Gary Alejano — and act as though these were definitive. History teaches us that unknown candidates or insurgent campaigns can win national office: Jojo Binay in 2010, Trillanes in 2007, going all the way back to eminent but obscure politicians like Nina Rasul in 1987.
But history has a sharp edge; unless a candidate is part of a genuine political movement, like the many who ran as “Cory’s Candidates” in 1987 and 1988 (Cory Aquino had the largest and longest political coattails in our history, bar none), these breakthroughs are usually individual, isolated instances.
Still too early to tell which candidates will break through. The need at the moment and for the next couple of months is to raise public awareness of these opposition candidates. Conversion (translating awareness into intention to vote) follows after, not before. For the sake of argument, let us assume that one other opposition candidate (I will include in this mix the candidacy of Bayan Muna’s Neri Colmenares, who has a 57-percent awareness rating) will make the breakthrough and win a Senate seat. That will bring the number to six.
Who among the other candidates running for the Senate can be expected to stand in the way of the railroading of a new constitution, or the impeachment of the duly elected successor to the President? In the last 30 or so days of the campaign period (and, I would think, only then), opposition supporters must ask themselves this question. Between Nancy Binay and Sonny Angara (both reelectionists), who can be counted on to stand against the most obvious attacks on democracy? Between Serge Osmeña and Grace Poe, who will defend President Duterte no matter what? These and similar difficult choices may be necessary to elect a Senate that can in fact say No.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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