Can the opposition win in 2022?

‘A decision by Robredo not to run will take more courage than choosing to run’

This is the second part of a two-part essay. You may read the first part here.

Vice President Leni Robredo has been the face of the opposition during the reign of Duterte. Despite the electoral protest that challenged her mandate for five long years — which was unanimously resolved in her favor by the Supreme Court — as well as being purposefully excluded in the national government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — which we all know could have benefited if she was involved — she never relented and delivered her best with pure intentions of public service. 

Personally, if VP Robredo decides to run, I will support her unconditionally. Based on her record and personal characteristics, which I have seen up close and personal, she is the most qualified to be president. Her staff in the Office of the Vice President is also well-prepared to take on the helms of leadership of this country anytime.

A ceiling on Robredo’s support

Having said this, I believe Robredo is asking the right question as she decides what to do: will her candidacy lead to the outcome she wants to most avoid: the victory of Sara Duterte or of Bong Go? If her numbers now are in fact near the ceiling of the electoral votes she can receive, which is easily determinable through polling that her supporters should have commissioned, is there a realistic path of victory for her? 

The reality is that unlike in 2016, Robredo is now universally known, and her ability to convert votes is limited. She would also not get the lift she got from the Aquino administration and Liberal Party, which was the case in 2016, when she overtook both Bongbong Marcos and Chiz Escudero in the last weeks of the campaign.

Former Senator Trillanes solidly supports Robredo’s eventual candidacy. He has been vocal about creating a unified opposition against Duterte and whoever may be the latter’s anointed successor. In so doing, he has cautioned Robredo in engaging in talks with those who he identified as “Duterte-enablers,” when Robredo was reported to have had met with the Lacson-Sotto tandem and Senator Gordon. While I respect Trillanes, I support Robredo’s effort in reaching out with the goal of broadening an anti-Duterte alliance. These maxims still hold true: “Politics is addition.” “There are no permanent allies and enmities but permanent interests.” “The enemy of your enemy is your friend.”

A decision by Robredo not to run will take more courage than choosing to run. This is so not because it is giving up an ambition, as the Vice President is motivated solely by public service. But she will be disappointing many of her core supporters who believe she is the only one worthy of supporting for 2022. From my own conversations with such supporters, they are not ready to support anyone else, and that is something Robredo would have to consider as well.

Choosing to run will of course lead to much personal sacrifice, including enduring the attacks on her family, but Robredo has shown that such harassment does not intimidate her. More than anything, it is the consequence of her candidacy – a likely win for the Dutertes – that she is rightly weighing.

Is Isko Moreno an option for the opposition?

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and Senator Pacquiao have the most compelling personal stories among the potential candidates for 2022.  Both can certainly claim to have been poor, to have directly experienced inequality, poverty, hunger, and the exploitation and contempt of the rich. They will be the first presidential candidates from the poorest class of Filipinos (Isko from the urban poor, Manny from the rural poor) that have a good chance of winning the presidency. Just for this fact, their candidacies should be taken seriously. 

Moreno rose to prominence by defeating former President and then incumbent mayor of Manila Erap Estrada by a landslide. He is a master of social media, which most likely will be the most important and effective means of campaigning in the 2022 elections. His theatric public governance, the viral videos of his speeches on social media, and his reversal of the city’s decline in just two years (of which one was hit by the pandemic) has earned the people’s praise. I think his approach to vaccination, with some adjustments for managing the movement of people, is most likely to help us exit from the pandemic fastest. 

Moreno’s latest political move is joining Aksyon Demokratiko, a party founded by former Senator Raul Roco and whose most prominent member now is Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto. This is a clear sign of the kind of campaign he will be waging – principled, vision-centered, and issue-based. Take note that in joining AD, he left a more traditional political party, the National Unity Party, which is identified with one of our richest businessmen.

There is talk that Moreno will be asking Senator Grace Poe to be his vice presidential candidate. They would be a competitive tandem. Between the two of them, Moreno and Poe have 20% support, according to the latest surveys. I suspect that there is an overlap in the profiles of Moreno and Poe supporters and that they should be able to shift allegiances to either candidate easily. This is not the case if Moreno or Poe run for vice president of Robredo, as their popular support will not automatically transfer to the latter and instead go to other populist candidates like Pacquiao or Sara Duterte.

My fearless forecast is that Mayor Moreno will run for President and will be able to wage a formidable, well-financed campaign. If there were no pandemic, I would even venture to say that he would win hands down, because he is best campaigner I have seen since Ninoy Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos, and better than Digong Duterte, because he is able to connect to younger voters. The pandemic, however, could limit direct connection to the people and could make local political machineries more influential. Moreno’s campaign would have to find a way around these limitations, and that is probably through social media.

Elections as a reset for the country

Regardless of the outcome of the 2022 elections, we must ensure that we have a positive agenda for the future. Besides having the right candidates elected to the country’s top positions, drafting a clear platform of issues is also a way to see through the chaos in our politics today. A positive agenda could also inform us of who among the candidates will pursue these issues not in a superficial way.

Exiting from the pandemic: It cannot be overstated that the Duterte administration had major gaps in its strategy. The next administration must be ready to pick up whatever has been accomplished and fast-track the implementation of more efficient and pro-active systems to ensure a safer Philippines. More testing, double – if not triple – rates of vaccination, and people and community-centered aid.

Climate justice: The Philippines must establish its role as an active actor on the international stage in pushing for the climate justice agenda and in implementing such an agenda nationally and locally. In the next few weeks, we will be seeing an avalanche of scientific reports that will highlight the extent of the climate emergency we are facing.

Peace process: On Mindanao, the Bangsamoro transition must be supported all the way with the best interests of the Bangsamoro in mind; on the communist insurgency, the negotiations must be rebooted, which becomes particularly challenging given the extent of polarization on the NTF-ELCAC and the red-tagging against many legitimate organizations.

Human rights: Human rights violations during the present administration, especially during its anti-drug campaign, must be held to account, while simultaneously restoring the status of human rights in the national psyche. 

Social inequality: Directed interventions for marginalized sectors such as urban and rural poor, youth, women, labor, farmers and fisherfolk, migrant workers, and indigenous people must be created. 

Education: The pandemic has uncovered the serious problems our educational system is confronted with. Aside from making our students catch up, radical reforms need to be done in this sector, especially directed at schools in poor rural and urban communities. Initiatives like community Lumad schools that the Duterte government has cruelly suppressed must be supported.

China: The new President must be able enforce all legal rights about the West Philippine Sea and not resort to a defeatist attitude when national sovereignty is on the line.

Elections always provide a reset. We must engage with whoever wins in the 2022 elections to put the country on a better track than the disaster it is in now.

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