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Moving from a Duterte presidency may prove ‘difficult’ for 1Sambayan

Although the united opposition seeks to overpower administration bets in the upcoming national elections, their seemingly lack of concrete plans and platforms needs a discussion.

Last March came with a surprise for most. Amid fears over another executive win for President Rodrigo Duterte’s camp for the 2022 national elections, 1Sambayan was launched as a “pro-democracy” opposition coalition.

Three months later, it announced its six nominees for the presidential and vice presidential race, half of which denied the nominations. Social media was stirred with discontented reactions at the list. At the outset, many have cast their doubts on the coalition and have questioned their being well enough to win against the popular Duterte.

Deconstructing 1Sambayan

“A broad coalition is the weak opposition’s best chance of challenging Duterte’s successor,” opined Cleve Arguelles, PhD candidate at the Australian National University Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, in an East Asia Forum piece. And this is what 1Sambayan aims to do. 

Led by former Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the group sought to form a unified slate of candidates to concentrate enough votes to beat Duterte’s bets. Among its convenors and members are high-ranking government officials from previous administrations, civil society figures from the left and right, as well as religious leaders. Former DLSU President Br. Armin Luistro FSC, Filipino Jesuit activist Fr. Albert Alejo, and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales are among many of their fellows.

Consolidating all those against the administration into a “coalition of diverse opposition forces” is important, Arguelles noted in an article with COMMONER last April. “This we know from two things. First, how a divided opposition failed spectacularly in the 2019 midterm elections. Second, how unified opposition coalitions have successfully won against popular autocratic and populist incumbents and their candidates in the recent past.”

Up against a giant

Critics fear for 2022, with multiple pronouncements of presidential bids that would threaten an opposition success, such as Sen. Ronald dela Rosa for PDP-Laban, dictator’s son Bongbong Marcos Jr., Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, and retired boxer Sen. Manny Pacquiao. The worries come especially as approval ratings and preferential surveys still show an inclination toward the administration and its bets, including Sara Duterte-Carpio, who did not file for the presidency despite rumors.

However, outside of this data and before her announcement, numerous groups have urged Vice President Leni Robredo to run for president. Last September 30, just a day before the filing of certificates of candidacy, the coalition endorsed Vice President Leni Robredo as their standard bearer. After Robredo’s declaration of her presidential bid, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan filed as her running mate. 

Mirroring 1Sambayan’s strategy, Robredo has also included 11 senators across seven political parties as part of her senatorial slate, some of which have not been on good terms in the past. These seem to be part of her efforts to unite different political parties against Duterte.

But University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) Department of Political Science Chair Herman Kraft worries that for Duterte’s supporters, Robredo represents the kind of politician that they did not like in the previous administration.

The problem is not just the candidate, too, Kraft posits. “Anybody who is a threat to the administration will…be the target of black operations, if you will, to try to destroy the reputation of that person and then minimize his or her chances of actually winning.”

There is a lot to consider in choosing a candidate. With a senatorial lineup still in the works, for 1Sambayan, it might mean getting someone regardless of political affiliations and reputation just to win. “1Sambayan is still trying to balance between the idea of winnability and the issue of getting the right kind of candidate…who [represents] what we think are the right kinds of values [and] the right set of ideas,” Kraft explains.

Unclear plans, strategies

For Kraft, this places 1Sambayan’s credibility into question, especially since candidates rarely turn down support. While Robredo did file her candidacy for president, the group’s anti-Duterte stance still allows the Duterte administration to mobilize supporters against what it can brand as the Liberal Party’s successor at a time when it considers the Aquino administration as a failure. 

For Rogelio Panao, associate professor at the Department of Political Science at UPD, the party’s general stance against Duterte also shows a lack of plans and platforms. “If popularity (or approval rating) approximates citizens’ satisfaction, do you think voters will bet their chances on candidates without a clear blueprint of action? They would just settle for their usual tried-and-tested,” he reasons.

This means that despite their first success at somehow unifying the opposition, there is a need to determine those who legitimately represent the group and are not just simply against Duterte, Panao emphasizes. A united opposition may involve having other candidates withdraw their presidential bids to not divide the opposition vote as the possibility of alternatives can already make voters second guess. 

For the party to succeed, Panao believes that coming up with platforms that go beyond being anti-Duterte will help the party become more “genuine” as a programs-based political party. 

Upholding human rights, democracy, and other abstract ideas may not cut it, as Arguelles advises. The responses and messages the party sends out have to directly tackle issues faced by the lower socioeconomic classes who make up a large portion of voters. Instead of elevating itself as being more than Duterte in moral terms, 1Sambayan can instead focus on creating concrete platforms that people can relate to. 

By Kim Balasabas

By Dustin Albert Sy

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