Opposition: May elections a referendum on Duterte
The midterm elections will shape up to be a referendum not only on President Rodrigo Duterte’s three-year administration but also on the people’s capacity to vote wisely, according to members of the opposition Otso Diretso slate.
Sounding a message of resistance to the President’s populist policies, the Liberal Party (LP)-led coalition launched its nationwide door-to-door campaign in Caloocan City on the first day of the election season on Tuesday.
“We are the alternative candidates,” civil society leader Samira Gutoc said at a press conference attended by all members of the team, except former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who opted to kick off his campaign in his hometown in Roxas City in Capiz province.
Proclamation in Naga
All eight, however, will gather in Naga City, Camarines Sur province, on Wednesday for their official proclamation rally to be headlined by Vice President Leni Robredo, LP chair.
“We adjusted to the schedule of Vice President Leni Robredo,” said Otso Diretso campaign manager Sen. Francis Pangilinan, deflecting a question on why the candidates could not adjust to Roxas’ schedule.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano also doused speculation about a rift within the coalition, stating that all eight would show a united front in the Naga rally. “We have a united message though we may have different personalities,” he said.
With only Roxas and Sen. Bam Aquino figuring in the “Magic 12” of early senatorial surveys, the Otso Diretso candidates appeared to relish the role of underdogs, expressing optimism that a grassroots campaign would convince people to vote based on principle.
They conceded that it would be an uphill battle, considering the President’s enduring popularity.
“Others are on the side of the President. But we are on the side of the people,” said Aquino, who is seeking a second term.
Silence not an option
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said the campaign would try to communicate its clear opposition to the Duterte administration’s regressive policies, including extrajudicial killings and the tax reform law that had caused prices of goods to soar.
“I think silence is no longer an option nowadays. With so many things happening, we have no choice but to stand up. We are witnessing the destruction of so many democratic institutions,” Diokno said.
Gutoc said: “I feel this is a referendum of where our values are headed.”
She said she felt she belonged to the right campaign, as “we share a collective value of opposing” the President’s policies.
‘Campaign of contrasts’
Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said the May elections could be considered an “indirect referendum” on the President though his name was not on the ballot.
“To that extent, it’s a campaign of contrasts. We are facing off with their forces, their wealth, their tarpaulins,” Hilbay said.
“We think the coalition endorsed by the administration is a coalition of traditional politicians, whereas we are a coalition of men and women,” he said.
He said the coalition was banking on the votes of “those who can see right from wrong.”
Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the polls would also serve as a referendum “on whether the people have learned to vote wisely.”
Former Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada echoed Macalintal’s point, saying it was a clash between “politics of convenience and politics of principle.”
Tañada challenged administration candidates to a debate.
In Capiz, Roxas spoke to some 2,500 supporters and allies led by Gov. Antonio del Rosario, Rep. Emmanuel Billones and Roxas Mayor Alan Celino.
Also present were the senatorial candidate’s mother, Judy Araneta-Roxas, and his wife, Korina Sanchez.
“I am running because of you,” Roxas told the crowd at Dinggoy Roxas Civic Center.
“This campaign will not be easy. This is different from the past because of the serious situation and because we are not ‘flavor of the month’ of the government,” he said. “But we are still here because we are only fighting for what is right and true.”
Roxas, who topped the senatorial race in 2004, said his being a senior citizen had given him a different perspective in seeking to return to the Senate. He is turning 62 on election day, May 13.
“I’m no longer running to prove something for myself. I’m here to help ensure that we will leave a better Philippines to the younger generation of Filipinos,” he said.
Sen. Franklin Drilon, LP vice chair, noted that administration senatorial candidates were scrambling to campaign individually with no semblance of a political party.
Drilon said that while the opposition was trying to campaign as a group and put up a semblance of party machine, others were campaigning on their own.
“The administration does not seem to care for a political party. It’s becoming more and more a personality-oriented politics rather than platform-based campaigning,” he said. —With a report from Marlon Ramos
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