May 9, 2022

“It is foolhardy to think that we can predict what will happen.”

A year from now, there is a strong likelihood that on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, the country would already know the results of the May 9, 2022 elections.

This was the case in 2010 and 2016 when by midnight or early morning the next day, it was clear that Noynoy Aquino and Digong Duterte had won decisively over their rivals. They may have won only a plurality of votes but it did not matter; in our system, the winner takes all. Besides, the margins of victory of Aquino and Duterte were large enough so their closest rivals could not imagine protesting their proclamation, unlike Fernando Poe Jr in 2004 when he lost narrowly to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo amid cries of fraud, later on reinforced by the Hello Garci tapes, or earlier in 1992 and 1986 when Fidel V. Ramos and Ferdinand Marcos prevailed over Miriam Defensor Santiago and Cory Aquino, respectively, over the objections of the latter candidates. Santiago’s protest with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal did not prosper while the older Aquino ascended to the presidency not by the ballot box but through a civilian-military uprising called the People Power Revolution.

What will May 9, 2022 look like?

In terms of potential candidates and winners, it is foolhardy to think that we can predict what will happen. One recalls how the political landscape looked like in May 2015. It seemed then that Vice-President Jojo Binay was going to cruise to victory with only Senator Grace Poe potentially blocking his path. It seemed obvious then that Senator Mar Roxas was not going to win but still he could not be discounted given the formidable Liberal Party and administration machinery. Who would have thought that the Binay campaign would be weighed down by relentless (in my view unfair and unfounded attacks) against his integrity? One did not expect that the protests over her qualifications, although ultimately failing, would hinder the momentum of Grace Poe’s campaign? Above all, nobody predicted that a mayor from Mindanao would be able to run a social media-driven, populist campaign and outsmart the better financed candidates.

We are not even sure about who the candidates will be a year from now.

From the Duterte camp, will Sara Duterte go for it or is it going to be Bong Go, and whether it’s one or the other, will Digong stand for Vice President?

Also uncertain is who the opposition will field as a presidential candidate. The default for many, including for me, is Vice-President Leni Robredo because of her record but the reality is she is facing a Roxas-like situation where no matter how good the campaign is, the obstacles to victory might be insurmountable.

Next to Robredo, Sonny Trillanes, Grace Poe, Mayor Isko Moreno (who I predict will run a strong populist, social-media driven, and well-financed campaign and has an excellent chance of winning), and Senator Pamfilo Lacson could be options. If Robredo does not run, I hope that VP Binay will consider running again. As far as I am concerned, on the most important issue confronting the country—the deterioration of human rights—Binay is the best person for the job.

In any case, 1Sambayan will have to do its job well so that the opposition can be unified by October 2021. If it fails to accomplish this unity, the candidates from Mindanao will likely win.

Less uncertain for me is the candidacy of another Mindanawon, Senator Manny Pacquiao. I will not underestimate the man. There are good people around him. He is very determined and not shy about it. He has the personal funds to mount a good campaign.

More than worrying about the candidates, what we must however pay attention to now is the conduct of elections. And in this regard, I welcome a Unity Statement to Make the 2022 Elections Safe, Fair, and Free for All issued yesterday by over 300 organizations from all over the Philippines, including the Ateneo School of Government, the La Salle Institute of Governance, National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), Caucus of Development NGO Networks Inc. (CODE-NGO), Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services Inc. (IDEALS), Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals, the Makati Business Club, The Ten Outstanding Women in The Nation’s Service (TOWNS Foundation), and Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas.

The signatories call on the national government, Congress, and the electoral stakeholders to COVID-proof  the 2022 elections.  This means ensuring that the elections are safe, fair, and free for all Filipino voters by taking pro-active measures and to start doing them now.

According to the Unity Statement, this goal can be  achieved as long as the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is given enough support and resources including budget, and assistance to implement effective health and safety policies. Together with these measures, a multi-stakeholder approach is essential to support the COMELEC, including extensive information and awareness initiatives, and protocols to ensure safe and fair political campaigns.

The groups presented several recommendations, based on the recent experience of the Palawan plebiscite and lessons learned from other countries. I will discuss these recommendations next Tuesday.

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