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Challenges in uniting the opposition

In the twilight of the Duterte regime, prospective political candidates are emerging for the May 2022 elections. On the Duterte side, “Run Sara Run” posters have mushroomed all over the country. The Punch-and-Judy show of President Duterte and Sen. Bong Go is trying to titillate audiences: Mr. Duterte says Go really wants to run for president, while Go says he will run only if Mr. Duterte would be his vice president.

A unified Duterte vote is threatened by Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s declaration that he will run for the presidency, apparently as a matter of “God’s anointment.” Friction has surfaced. Pacquiao as the president of the PDP-Laban party of Mr. Duterte was visibly piqued when a PDP-Laban resolution urging the President to run as vice president in 2022 emerged in media without his knowledge. He lashed out publicly at Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, PDP-Laban vice-chair, who was apparently behind the resolution, for splitting the party.

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On the opposition side, unification is also problematic. Vice President Leni Roberedo is having difficulty reining in her supporters who wanted her to declare herself prematurely as a candidate, especially when the “Run Sara Run” posters appeared. VP Leni has wisely held off on such a declaration on legal and strategic grounds, saying she will run only if all the opposition forces are behind her. Understandably, she seeks to avoid a repeat of the fragmentation of the administration vote that led to the Duterte victory in 2016.

Cobbling a united opposition is a daunting challenge. The social media groups that support VP Leni appear to have the false sense of the invincibility of the Vice President, convinced of the demonstration effect of her various accomplishments as a “busy President.” VP Leni has a more realistic assessment of the situation. Many supporters balk at the need to forge a wider united opposition that might include Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay, and Ping Lacson.

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The VP Leni supporters are most vehement against Senator Poe as a potential ally. In Liberal Party circles, Poe has been demonized and singled out as the cause of Mar Roxas’ defeat in the 2016 presidential election, despite evidence that it was probably the other way around. But the vote contribution of Poe to an opposition coalition would be enormous and stable, and fatal if credited elsewhere. Considering the slim margin by which VP Leni won over Bongbong Marcos, Poe’s vote-getting potential would be crucial for the opposition. She won the second highest number of votes in the senatorial elections of 2019 and garnered the third highest number of votes in the 2016 presidential election. In recent polls, she accounts for 14 percent of votes for president were the elections to be held on the day of the survey.

A fortuitous way out of these difficulties in forging a united democratic opposition is the 1Sambayan initiative, widely anticipated by people frustrated with and fatigued by the Duterte administration’s incompetence, especially in dealing with the pandemic. The 1Sambayan drive is intended to be the first step in a journey to come up with a complete and unified presidential, vice-presidential, and senatorial slate in the next elections. The convenors are former senior justice Antonio Carpio, former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, former justice Conchita Carpio Morales, and a host of prominent religious and political personalities from a broad ideological spectrum.

At the launch of 1Sambayan on Thursday morning, the convenors said they have talked to several potential candidates, including Poe, Trillanes, VP Leni, Sen. Nancy Binay, and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. While the objective is to arrive at a binding commitment to a single slate of candidates at the end of the 1Sambayan process, it is clear that no such binding commitments have been secured at this time and the process remains open.

The 1Sambayan initiative is laudable, but it needs to move beyond relying heavily on the would-be candidates’ rational appreciation that a fragmented vote would be fatal to each one’s candidacy. The lack of enforcement mechanisms behind 1Sambayan requires that the unification process must be incentivized. The benefits that matter to candidates would be access to common funding, platforms, and resources, and facilities to support the campaign of the unified democratic opposition slate. This is no part-time job. The first step is to create a sufficient 1Sambayan professional secretariat and formulate the systems for accomplishing its work.

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TAGS: 2022 elections, Bong Go, Duterte, Go-Duterte, presidential run
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