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Hilbay, Diokno, others who can say No

/ 09:07 AM May 07, 2019

In next week’s midterms, the country looks set to elect the most proadministration Senate slate since, well, the last midterm elections. With one exception, every midterm election as reflected in the Senate has always been a successful referendum on the incumbent.

The first legislative elections after the ouster of the Marcoses were not exactly a midterm; they came a mere year after people power installed Corazon Aquino in Malacañang. But the results of the 1987 Senate elections set the template, or rather restored the template of previous Congresses, with an overwhelming proadministration cast of winning candidates: Only Joseph Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile overcame the massive pro-Aquino tide, winning two of the 24 seats at stake.

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In 1995, Ramos administration candidates won nine of the 12 positions; only Gringo Honasan, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Nikki Coseteng made it from the opposition. (This was the same year Ferdinand Marcos Jr. first ran for national
office; he lost.)

In 2001, after Estrada resigned and with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in power for only four months, the Senate slate of the new administration won eight of the 13 seats at stake. (Honasan was elected to serve the remaining three years of Vice President Teofisto Guingona’s term.)

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In 2007, in the middle of Arroyo’s full presidential term, the legitimacy crisis caused by the “Hello, Garci” election cheating controversy had taken an irreversible toll. For the first and only time since Edsa, the administration lost the midterm Senate elections. Only two members of the administration slate, Edgardo Angara and Joker Arroyo, overcame President Arroyo’s unpopularity. (Three, if we consider Juan Miguel Zubiri’s initial victory; Koko Pimentel replaced him after an election protest.)

And in 2013, the Benigno Aquino III administration, with a coalition name that capitalized on a popular president’s popular nickname (Team PNoy), won nine seats. Only Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito and Honasan (yet again), bucked the administration tide.

All this is to reinforce the old argument: The odds in the Senate elections were always in favor of the Duterte administration slate. Add President Duterte’s continuing popularity, and the administration’s undisguised abuse of government resources (case in point: presidential aide Bong Go, against whom a solid disqualification case can be filed for repeated violations), and the prospects for the opposition were always sobering.

But not impossible. Bam Aquino’s hardworking reelection campaign remains within striking distance of the winning circle. He can stand a few more endorsements, and all things being equal, he can capitalize more on his family name. The emphasis on his many accomplishments in his first term (and they are truly impressive) should now give way to a simple repetition of a rare fact of Philippine politics: He carries a storied name, and is worthy of it. (I also don’t buy the supposed survey finding about former president Aquino’s low endorsement potential. This election is also about turning out one’s base, and the former president retains considerable goodwill.)

Mar Roxas’ lackluster campaign has adversely affected not only his slate’s chances but also his own. He needs to overhaul the gap with the kind of massive TV and radio advertising campaign only he, among all the opposition candidates, is
capable of. He’s won one national campaign (2004) and lost two (2010, 2016).
Another loss would put him on the brink of political irrelevancy.

He may be tempted to use his successful 2004 run, which accentuated the positive, as his template; I share the view that his strongly oppositionist campaign for the vice presidency in 2010, which he lost narrowly, is the better template. The people—including his thousands of volunteers—need Roxas in the Senate not as a bland avatar of multipartisanship, but as an alternative to the prevailing indecency.

In fact, the appeal of the opposition candidates is precisely that of the alternative; I have argued before that the public interest demands a Senate that can say No. Candidates like Pilo Hilbay, Chel Diokno, Samira Gutoc and Gary Alejano have seen a rise in their awareness ratings because they have taken the fight to an antipoor, antidemocratic, anti-Filipino (procrony, proauthoritarian, pro-China) government. At the moment, the increases do not seem enough, though the ratings of Diokno and Neri Colmenares suggest that a Trillanes-like surprise is within their reach.

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Hilbay is an excellent lawyer, with a genuinely innovative grasp of the law—it is exhilarating to listen to him discuss legal strategy and South China Sea legal diplomacy. Diokno, a worthy son of a great man, has demonstrated a decades-long commitment to human rights. Gutoc is the champion that the people of Marawi—now abandoned by the administration that provoked their city’s destruction—need at this time.

I am voting for them, and for Alejano, Erin Tañada, Romy Macalintal, Leody de Guzman, Colmenares, Roxas and Aquino, because the Senate doesn’t need yes-men, and because I believe our No’s, together, can make a difference.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]

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TAGS: 2019 elections, 2019 senatorial candidates, Chel Diokno, Florin Hilbay, john Nery, Newsstand, Senatorial elections
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