There are five reasons why I support 1Sambayan, the coalition of democratic forces launched last week in Makati City. I also have four suggestions for the coalition so it can be more effective and achieve its main objective of coming up with a winning unity slate for the national elections in 2022.
The personalities and the political parties
First, I trust its convenors. I have followed the careers of Justice Tony Carpio, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario for a long time and I am certain of their nationalism, integrity, and strong leadership.
I personally know Brother Armin Luistro, Fr. Albert Alejo SJ, Attorneys Howie Calleja and Neri Colmenares, former Commission on Audit Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, and Governor Lito Coscolluela. They are the best of the Filipino leaders I have worked with on a range of issues for many years.
I also know of the sterling work and reputations of Admiral Rommel Jude Ong, Partido Manggagawa chair Renato Magtubo, and civil society leader Rickie Xavier.
If this were a war, these are people I would choose to be with in a foxhole. I trust them completely.
Second, I like that Bayan Muna and the Magdalo have joined the coalition. This in itself is worth celebrating. While many would describe them as poles apart, and they are on some issues, Bayan Muna and Magdalo share fundamental values. Both are nationalistic parties. Both are militantly against corruption. Both are committed to upholding human rights and have consistently done so since Duterte came to power.
We need to bridge ideological and historical differences to successfully put together and sustain a united front against the Duterte coalition. Bringing and keeping Bayan Muna (and I suppose it brings with it the whole Makabayan Bloc) and Magdalo together would be proof of concept for a united front.
On a personal note, I have good friends in both political formations. I have grown to admire Senator Antonio Trillanes and former Magdalo Representatives Gary Alejano and Ashley Acedillo (one of my best students in the University of the Philippines College of Law). I have always looked up to former Bayan Muna Representatives Colmenares, Satur Ocampo, and Teddy Casiño, as well as being a big supporter of current Bayan Muna Representatives Carlos Isagani Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, and Eufemia Cullamat.
While the Magdalo and Bayan Muna representatives might differ in their priorities, they are the most courageous and principled of our legislators. I can imagine the change they can engender with power they can wield together.
Both Bayan Muna and Magdalo are also disciplined and command loyalty from its supporters. They have proven their respective abilities to organize and mobilize voters. They have won elections.
Third, I like the goal and the shared values of 1Sambayan. The former is straightforward, as articulated by Justice Carpio: “We have discussed this, again and again, and this is the understanding of everybody: that unless we are united, we cannot win in 2022. We have the majority, but the majority will become a minority if they are divided. So we have to remain united, and that is the unifying force.”
Colmenares reinforced this, saying: “Many of us are here today precisely because we are unified first, that the issue of [the] 2022 elections, when another Duterte comes into power, will be substantially affecting our survival as a nation. And because that is what is at stake, many of us are here because we agree that we all want a united opposition to resoundingly defeat the forces of tyranny that has ruled this country in the last five years. For us, that is the main unifying point here.”
The shared values are also explicit, as Carpio articulated: “We are a coalition of democratic forces. We reject those who are identified with authoritarianism. We reject those who are responsible for extrajudicial killings or who abet extrajudicial killings.”
Fourth, I like the pragmatism of this new coalition. I like that its starting list casts a wide net, which includes Vice President Leni Robredo, Senators Nancy Binay and Grace Poe, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, and Trillanes. I think this should not be seen as the final list but should be expanded to include other potential candidates that might meet the criteria. I would certainly include former Vice President Jejomar Binay, Governor Francis Escudero, and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Leila De Lima, and even Panfilo Lacson in that list.
For the record, at present I am inclined to support Robredo and VP Binay, the former because of the solid record of the Office of the Vice President in these last four years even with its limited resources, the latter because Jojo Binay has proven himself to be a lion for human rights, and we need that right now.
I am however open to Grace Poe and Isko Moreno because they could be the best candidates to attract the broadest support from the vote-rich regions of Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog, and Central Luzon (and I would include Pangasinan in that last region). In my view, the Duterte coalition (which could include an alliance with the Marcoses) will have a big advantage in Mindanao and parts of Visayas and possibly the Ilocos provinces, which only a strong showing in Luzon by the 1Sambayan-supported candidates could offset. Visayas could possibly end up a tie or with the Duterte coalition ahead in Central and Eastern Visayas while the opposition takes the lead in Western Visayas.
Regardless of my preference, I would yield to the results of the 1Sambayan process as long as it decides the final slate with transparency and fairness, based on the data as well as the positions and reputations of the candidates.
Fifth, I like the timing of this effort by 1Sambayan. This is the right time to do this. The 2022 elections may be more than a year away but we have no time to lose to organize successfully and win decisively.
In my view, an opposition coalition, even a united one, would enter the electoral race extremely disadvantaged against administration-supported candidates. An early start can help overcome that.
The unification process is also going to be long, winding, and tedious. There will be many crises in getting and keeping the groups together. The earlier 1Sambayan deals with the challenges of unification, the more it is positioned to succeed.
Suggestions for 1Sambayan
First, 1Sambayan must expand the current coalition and bring other progressive forces into its fold, groups like Akbayan and Laban ng Masa, for example. It must also increase representation of women, youth, and the basic sectors (workers, farmers and fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, the urban poor).
Second, 1Sambayan must expand geographically and identify champions from the regions, and especially the Visayas and Mindanao. Earnest efforts to include Bangsamoro leaders into the united front must be a priority. While Duterte-supported candidates in Mindanao will have an advantage, their winning margins could still be reduced significantly.
Third, a unity platform must be adopted. It is not enough to criticize the failings of the Duterte government – even if they are many and serious.
A united opposition must put forward its positive platform – asserting our territorial integrity against the Chinese threat (the most potent issue that favors the opposition), a clear plan on how to recover economically from the pandemic, a vision of a public health system that will ensure that never again will our people (the poor especially) suffer as much as we have in this last year, effective programs to deal with the challenges of the growing climate emergency, and a pathway to permanent peace agreements that would settle outstanding social conflicts.
Fourth, and finally, 1Sambayan must take command of public opinion as early as possible. It must establish professional and volunteer communications teams, formulate convincing messages based on the truth and the shared values of the coalition, identify its champions, and dominate social media platforms.
A united democratic front is possible. It is a coalition of the good for the good. But hard work lies ahead for this to succeed. – Rappler.com
Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.