1Sambayan to nominees: Stick to word of honor

Leni Robredo

MANILA, Philippines — The 1Sambayan coalition expects its shortlisted nominees for president or vice president to honor their pledge of uniting and rallying behind the lone standard-bearer of the opposition, even as the prospective candidates hem and haw about their plans in 2022.

“That is the basis of the agreement. That is what we agreed upon: for personal interest and bias to be set aside. However, I understand politics. If they feel they should chart a different course, then we will respect that. However, I think we must stick to our word of honor,” lawyer Howard Calleja, a convener of the newly formed group, told the Inquirer on Sunday.

In a phone interview, he confirmed the statement of his fellow 1Sambayan leader, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, that all the nominees had vowed during initial talks to support whoever ended up being selected as the coalition’s official candidates.

“We don’t put names just because we want them there. We put them there, as Justice Tony said and I confirm it, because there were preliminary negotiations,” Calleja said.

On June 12, Independence Day, 1Sambayan released its shortlist of nominees consisting of Vice President Leni Robredo, Sen. Grace Poe, former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, House Deputy Speakers Vilma Santos-Recto and Eddie Villanueva, and human rights lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno.

Poe and Recto quickly issued statements saying they had no plans of seeking higher office next year. Earlier prospects like Sen. Nancy Binay and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso had also asked to be taken off the list.

But Calleja said this did not mean Poe and Recto were rejecting the coalition’s nomination.

“That’s not the same. I don’t think it’s a decline or a rejection, except with [Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who rejected 1Sambayan’s invitation on ideological grounds]. The others say they have no plans, like Mayor Isko who just wants his name to be set aside. They are not saying they do not believe in only one candidate or that the opposition should not unite,” he said.

“The purpose of 1Sambayan is really to unite the opposition, and it’s clear that [the nominees] agree that there should be a unified slate to come up against the administration candidate or candidates,” Calleja added.

“If they said they are not interested, it doesn’t mean they do not believe in the cause of 1Sambayan. I think everybody is agreeable to the cause but maybe their plans are unclear at this point in time,” he said.

He clarified that the shortlist was composed of only nominees and not the candidates.

Calleja noted that even the administration had not made any official declarations.

“Even the President says he wants to retire, [his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte] said she doesn’t want to run; same with [Sen. Christopher Lawrence] Bong Go and everybody; even [Sen. Manny] Pacquiao said he wants to prioritize the pandemic before politics,” he said.

“The words and phrases may be different but the message is similar. All these candidates, at this point, they are not thinking of anything other than the pandemic and the problems of the country. Any plans for 2022 are not on their horizon. We respect that,” Calleja said.

He said that uniting the opposition was “a challenging and a mind-opening task.” Though most members were familiar with elections, “I guess the more broad and bigger the coalition, the more challenges you have,” he noted.

“I am happy that although differences are evident and biases are evident, what’s clear is all of the members of 1Sambayan agree that personal interests should be set aside in favor of a bigger goal,” Calleja said.

Opposition can’t do it alone

For Robredo, however, aside from uniting its ranks, the opposition should also break out from its echo chambers and “recognize that we can’t do this alone” if it wants to turn the tide in its favor in 2022.

In her weekly radio show, she acknowledged what many pundits pointed out as the opposition’s most glaring weakness: Its failure to unify people and its tendency to assume moral ascendancy over President Duterte’s supporters, often referred to as Duterte Diehard Supporters.

“But we are not in this situation because of President Duterte himself but because of the prevailing conditions that gave rise to these circumstances. We need to understand why so many are still attracted to the President and to the politicians (who espouse the same branding),” Robredo said.

“We cannot say that we are the only ones who are smart or decent,” she added.

“When we talk of unity, we don’t talk about unity among people with similar beliefs. We need to give space for those with opposing views too,” she said.

Robredo has yet to officially announce her plans for next year, saying only that she remains focused on helping the country beat COVID-19.

On Sunday, she again reiterated that she was “open” to a lot of options, including running for a local post or even not participating in the elections at all.

Robredo is logical choice

But for Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Robredo was “the most logical, qualified, viable and winnable choice as the opposition’s standard-bearer.”

In a statement, Lagman said that she was the highest elected official in the ranks of the opposition—“a heartbeat away from the presidency.”

He cited her “enviable track record of winning” after being elected to the second highest post in the country in 2016, a feat that, according to him, shattered pollsters’ predictions.

Robredo defeated former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who filed an electoral protest against her. The Supreme Court, however, unanimously upheld her victory in February this year.

Lagman also lauded Robredo for her leadership amid the pandemic despite being accused by Malacañang of politicking.

“Her effective and singular performance during the continuing onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic exposes [President Duterte’s] errant and failed response to the contagion…,” he said.

Compared to Mr. Duterte’s “repressive machinations,” Robredo has a compassionate demeanor, Lagman added.

“Her enduring adherence to constitutionalism and the rule of law is the direct opposite [of] Duterte’s repeated violations of the Constitution on due process, human rights and press freedom, among others,” he said.