2022 Philippine Elections

[OPINION] Thoughts on Senator Lacson’s plan for a unified opposition candidate

Carmel V. Abao
[OPINION] Thoughts on Senator Lacson’s plan for a unified opposition candidate

Graphic by Raffy de Guzman

'The thing is: even Leni Robredo’s supporters should also realize that the May 2022 elections will be bigger than their candidate – bigger than any candidate for that matter'

In this piece, I‘d like to share some thoughts on Senator Lacson’s proposal regarding a unified opposition candidate. His proposal is for all possible presidential bets from the opposition to file their candidacies in October, and then eventually withdraw their candidacies in favor of the most winnable among them according to surveys.  

This proposal was immediately rejected by VP Leni Robredo because, she claims, “When candidates file their certificate of candidacy, they are presenting themselves to the public…. There are those who will put their hope in us, so we can’t withdraw in the middle of the game.”  

Her words obviously speak of her taking caution not to betray her supporters’ trust. And rightly so – because in any political activity, especially in elections, which is about getting people’s consent –  honoring the people’s trust is of utmost importance. 

The thing is: even Leni Robredo’s supporters should also realize that the May 2022 elections will be bigger than their candidate – bigger than any candidate for that matter. The Duterte camp is now flexing its muscles everywhere – from EDSA billboards to social media to mainstream media.  Only a unified, massive opposition campaign machinery can win against that kind of resource base. Good intentions will be for naught if not backed with winnable strategies and tactics.  

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My thoughts are very random and by no means definitive. I was merely provoked by news items about the Lacson proposal and the subsequent Robredo rejection. These thoughts were initially written on my Facebook page, and were written from the point of view of a citizen, not as a political scientist or a political analyst (although, of course, my thoughts are informed by my discipline). At this point, I have a personal stake in the May 2022 elections. I just want to exhale all that bad smoke coming from the toxic masculinity of Duterte’s kind of governance.  

With this Rappler piece, I hope to reach a wider audience and continue (revive!) that much needed public conversation: how do we come up with that unified opposition candidate?    

In a nutshell, I think the Lacson proposal is doable, but with a number of conditions. Doable because it could serve as an incentive for supporters of particular candidates to showcase and push for their preferred candidate’s worth as nominee. Citizens – not just politicians – can thus participate in the nomination process. We need, then, to find a process that will produce not just a unified opposition presidential team, but also a unified opposition voters’ movement.  

Here is my Facebook post: 

I think [the Lacson proposal] can work, but only given the following conditions: 

1. The arrangement must be made known to the public. 

2. Which candidates should be part of the arrangement — and why — should be very clear to everyone. 

3. Which survey would be considered as the reference point for the eventual decision should also be clear, not just to the candidates but also to the public. 

4. Candidates belonging to this arrangement must not be allowed to campaign against each other — because otherwise, that would negate the premise that they were allies to begin with. Candidates should campaign based only on their own merit — and are disallowed to throw mud at each other. 

5. The participating candidates must sign a public covenant to remain faithful to the terms of the unification arrangement. 

What VP Leni should have negotiated with Senator Lacson were the terms of the possible arrangement, and the assurance that those terms would be made transparent. If she had done so, that wouldn’t have been a betrayal of people’s trust. 

Otherwise, she should have offered a counter proposal — how will they/we reach a decision on a unified presidential-VP bet? The reality is that the candidates are not likely to give way to each other, because they probably all think they have something to offer the country (which is good!). Only their supporters’ voices can thus end this kind of stalemate. 

In the absence of real political parties that make nominations meaningful, the Lacson proposal could be one way to get people’s consent regarding a unified candidate – something that would approximate the primaries in the US. 

To me, the bottom line is not VP Leni or Senator Lacson or Mayor Isko. My bottom line is a unified candidate who will commit to bring to Malacañang an agreed upon program to reverse Duterte’s policies that are excessive and abusive. 

At the moment, VP Leni is actually my candidate, because I have no doubt about her intention to stop Duterte’s abuses. My bottom lines these elections are just two: (1) someone who will stop the killings in the name of the war on drugs and the war on critics; and (2) someone who will rely on science and evidence to respond to the COVID pandemic (i.e response to health threats and the impact on the economy and people’s incomes). Dalawa lang. And I am sure of VP Leni agreeing to these two (because she has already said/done so).

The other candidates will have to be more categorical about these two bottom lines for me to consider them. But if Senator Lacson and Mayor Isko say yes to these bottom lines, I would also accept them as possible candidates. 

As for Senator Manny Pacquiao, there will have to be a third bottom line: he has to stop calling and viewing the LGBTQ+ community as animals. Because they’re really not. 

I hope VP Leni reconsiders. I hope Senator Lacson reconsiders. I hope Mayor Isko reconsiders. I hope Senator Manny Pacquiao reconsiders. Politics is all about compromises, after all. But the compromises have to be meaningful. – Rappler.com

Carmel Abao, PhD is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Ateneo de Manila University. She works in the areas of labor migration and politics and governance.