2022 Philippine senatorial race

Shared candidates: Parties out, personalities in

Bea Cupin
Shared candidates: Parties out, personalities in
The 2022 elections are shaping up to have the most ‘shared’ candidates in recent history. At least five senatorial hopefuls are ‘guest candidates’ on at least three slates.

Campaign launches before the pandemic usually worked this way: the entire ticket converges in a city, which is the electoral bailiwick of the standard-bearer or a place of personal and historical significance for them. Oftentimes, it’s both. 

The mood is celebratory and festive. After all, it’s a send-off, marking the start of a grueling three-month campaign that’ll bring candidates and their proxies across the country, in hopes of securing the most votes come election day. 

For a select group of senatorial bets, however, the campaign kick-off is the first of many delicate (sometimes, awkward) decisions they’ll have to make as “shared candidates” of different presidential hopefuls. 

Whose sortie will they appear in during the launch and conclusion of the campaign? More importantly, who will the candidates themselves be voting for president and vice president? 

“Shared” or “guest” candidates are a peculiarity of Philippine electoral politics. Popular candidates, usually Senate bets, appear on different, sometimes opposing, slates. 

2022 and history 

The 2022 elections are shaping up to have the most “shared” candidates in recent history. At least five senatorial hopefuls are “guest candidates” on at least three slates: 

  • Former vice president Jejomar Binay (Robredo-Pangilinan, Lacson-Sotto, Pacquiao-Atienza)
  • Former senator and incumbent Sorsogon Governor Francis Escudero (Robredo-Pangilinan, Lacson-Sotto, Pacquiao-Atienza)
  • Reelectionist Miguel Zubiri (Robredo-Pangilinan, Lacson-Sotto, Pacquiao-Atienza)
  • Reelectionist Richard Gordon (Robredo-Pangilinan, Lacson-Sotto, Pacquiao-Atienza)  
  • Re-electionist Joel Villanueva (Robredo-Pangilinan, Lacson-Sotto, Pacquiao-Atienza)

Six other senatorial candidates are also being endorsed by at least two presidential candidates.

That the five candidates “shared” by three slates include reelectionists, returnees, and a vice president aren’t a coincidence.

First, there’s personalismo and popularity, explains political analyst Julio Teehankee. “If you’re popular, you have a bigger chance of being elected in spite or despite your party,” he told Rappler in an interview. 

In the Philippines, a senatorial aspirant needs to be part of the top 12 with the highest number of votes to win a six-year term. That means, for a senatorial candidate, everyone’s a rival – even those on the same slate. 

Second, despite the 12 slots available, the average voter only picks between 8 and 10 candidates for senator. In January 2019, ahead of the official campaign period for the midterm elections, only a little over half of Filipinos surveyed by Pulse Asia said they had a complete Senate slate. 

Third, political parties are weak in the Philippines. “Because parties are not mass-based, most of our parties, which are clan-based, find it more difficult to mobilize voter support,” said Teehankee. 

It’s a familiar story when a president’s term ends and his or her anointed candidate loses – allies and “stalwarts” change color and affiliations in the blink of an eye. After Mar Roxas lost in 2016, allies – from the national to the local levels – quickly took off their yellow Liberal Party shirts in exchange for the red of PDP-Laban. 

To begin with, most slates in Philippine elections (the leading ones, especially) don’t carry the name of the party. Instead, you have coalitions made up of allied parties and independents, with a catchy nickname to boot. 

In 1998, there was Erap Estrada’s Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino. 2004 saw the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kaunlaran (4K) headed by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the ​​Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) headed by Fernando Poe Jr. 

More recent examples include the Liberal Party’s 2013 and 2016 slates (Team PNoy and the Daang Matuwid coalition, respectively) and Grace Poe’s Partido Galing at Puso in 2016. Only the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) carried the name of the party, although its slate featured guest candidates from both the Daang Matuwid and Partido Galing at Puso coalitions. UNA itself started off as a coalition in 2013 but was consolidated into a party in 2016, after Binay left PDP-Laban. 

Rodrigo Duterte, who’d go on to win the 2016 elections, only endorsed senatorial bets and did not have a slate of his own. During the midterm elections in 2019, the Duterte clan endorsed two or three slates, depending on how you count it – the ruling PDP-Laban slate endorsed by President Duterte and the Hugpong ng Pagbabago slates endorsed by Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte. 

Coalitions take the place of parties because parties simply aren’t enough to win elections – “they’re not rooted in society,” Teehankee stressed.

The ‘ideal’ slate 

There will be at least six major slates in the 2022 elections: 

  • PDP-Laban Cusi faction’s coalition slate endorsed by President Duterte (the final list of which has yet to be announced as of posting)
  • Vice President Leni Robredo’s slate
  • Senator Panfilo Lacson’s slate 
  • Senator Manny Pacquiao’s slate 
  • Manila Mayor Isko Moreno’s slate 
  • Partido Lakas ng Masa’s coalition slate 

(Note: Presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos Jr. has yet to announce his slate as of posting.) 

Teehankee said that, in forming a Senate slate, presidential candidates take several things into account – from a spectrum that goes from principle-based alliances to ones based on personalities and popularity. 

There are also other things to consider.

For instance, Teehankee said, incumbency is a huge advantage during the midterm senatorial race. Challengers may have an easier time during an end-of-term election. 

Ramon Belleno III, a political science and history faculty member at the Ateneo de Davao University, said it’s usually the senatorial candidate who seeks out a strong presidential candidate. 

“They have to find a feasible, winnable presidential candidate so that if that person wins, the senator doesn’t need to change political alliances,” he told Rappler in an interview. 

Again, this harkens back to the “norms” of Philippine politics, and how alliances and party colors change depending on who wins as president. 

Belleno said, without a dominant presidential candidate, especially among those who identify themselves as the “opposition,” the situation has flipped in 2022. To add to the chaos, early survey frontrunner Sara Duterte ditched presidential plans (for now) and will be seeking her third straight term as Davao City mayor. 

With no clear opposition frontrunner in sight, senatorial candidates who position themselves as the opposition to Duterte and also enjoy high preference rankings in surveys will find it hard to make a choice – so they don’t. 

“They all want to bet on who has the best chance of winning the presidency. In a tight race, I’d rather run with everyone who has the best chances to win the presidency,” said Teehankee.  

Who gets the biggest boost? The shared candidates who lead the pack in the first place. 

Personality, not party-building  

But that doesn’t mean that presidential candidates don’t get anything in return. When parties are weak and coalition-building is the name of the game, a presidential candidate wants a running mate and a Senate slate as a “projection of strength,” said Teehankee. 

A player in political circles put it this way: a “credible” Senate slate projects the seriousness of a presidential candidate. 

“What incentives do presidential candidates have in building a full slate? It’s all personality,” said Teehankee.

He also noted that there are candidates like Moreno who are fine with fielding just three senatorial candidates in hopes that “his personality is strong enough” to overcome the perks of a full slate. 

Most coalitions will expect certain things from shared candidates. 

Robredo’s guest bets are expected to not endorse a presidential candidate in 2022. In 2016, Daang Matuwid coalition guest candidates Lacson and Ralph Recto were expected to support only Liberal Party-allied candidates. When Recto showed up during a gathering with presidential candidate Poe, he still wore the LP’s yellow. 

The election before that, Poe and Escudero were dropped from the UNA line-up after they decided to appear exclusively at Team PNoy (Liberal Party) sorties. 

Thus far, only PLM presidential bet Leody de Guzman has explicitly said that his senatorial bets don’t need to endorse him back. “Hindi ito transactional politics. Nagtitiwala ako sa kanilang hangarin para sa bayan,” the labor leader said in announcing his slate. (This is not transactional politics. I trust in their aspirations for the country.)

If it seems like the cycle of coalition-building and candidate-sharing during each national election adds to the brokenness of the country’s party system, you’re right, it does.

But Teehankee thinks “banning” guest candidates isn’t a solution. “The better way of solving the problem is to go back to the root, which is to strengthen political parties,” he said. 

Strengthening political parties means passing legislation that have long languished in Congress – the anti-dynasty bill, the political party development act, a Freedom of Information bill, among others. 

Teehankee says that, ultimately, the country needs to change how legislators – in the Senate and the House of Representatives – are elected. He personally advocates for a proportional representation system, which would “shift the focus from personalities to parties.” 

Senators are expected to think and work independently of the president – even if they were on the same slate during the elections. Still, being on the same slate should be an indication of shared values and priorities. A senator, for instance, can champion a president’s priority legislation before the upper chamber of Congress.  

So it becomes tricky when, in the process of creating a broad, umbrella coalition, presidential candidates end up welcoming and sharing senatorial bets whose track records and legislative agenda may differ from theirs. 

What happens then? In a tight, uncertain race like 2022, you think about that after the win. “It’s something they’ll address when they win the election. As the saying goes, you ‘burn the bridge when you get there,’” quipped Belleno. 

Besides, in a personality-driven election, candidates have a more urgent matter to resolve: whose color will they wear and on whose stage will they appear during the campaign launch and the miting de avance? – Rappler.com 

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.