2021: How the opposition broke down into separate teams | Inquirer News

2021: How the opposition broke down into separate teams

MANILA, Philippines—Aside from 2021 being an important chapter in COVID-19 response as the government rolled out its vaccination campaign, the year also signaled the start of the unofficial campaign season as groups started to prepare for the 2022 national elections.

With the year almost over, INQUIRER.net takes a look at events that shaped the 2022 election season just as the health crisis brought new normal scenarios.

Robredo’s dilemma

Even before 2021, there have been talks that the country may see a showdown between Vice President Leni Robredo and Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio in the 2022 presidential race, after they led opposing senatorial slates in the 2019 midterm elections.


The results were polar opposites, too: none of the eight candidates in Robredo’s Otso Diretso ticket made it to the Senate, while nine out of Sara’s 13 Hugpong ng Pagbabago senatorial candidates won.

Robredo hopes Bicol vote will offset opposition's drawback in Mindanao

Vice President Leni Robredo (center) poses with Otso Diretso senatorial candidates (from left) former House Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, civic leader Samira Gutoc, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, Sen. Bam Aquino, and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano. (Photo from the Otso Diretso Facebook account)

Midterm elections have been considered as a referendum for the sitting President, a measurement of people’s support. If the 2019 election results were any indication, people still backed the Duterte administration.

Even after the administration’s mid-term election victory, Robredo’s moves were put under a microscope with several government officials predicting she would run for president in 2022. Salvador Panelo, former presidential spokesperson and chief legal counsel, even said the Vice President should view her short lived appointment as drug czar to be a stepping stone for the presidency.


Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Robredo and her projects got their share of criticisms that much of what the Vice President had been doing was all driven by politics. The criticisms persisted even after Robredo insisted she had no plans of running for president and was instead aspiring to unite the opposition.

READ: PACC to NBI: Probe Robredo for ‘competing with national govt’ in fight vs COVID-19

READ: Robredo OK with unity among opposition in 2022 polls — spox 

The opposition and 1Sambayan

One vehicle that offered hope for a united opposition was the 1Sambayan coalition composed of pro-democracy leaders, led by retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. The group’s goal was to put together an opposition ticket strong enough to beat whoever President Rodrigo Duterte would endorse as his successor.

Manny Pacquiao in a meeting with 1Sambayan

Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who had already announced his intention to run for president in 2022, meets with some of the convenors of the opposition coalition 1Sambayan. With him (starting from left, clockwise around the table) Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ, of Ateneo de Manila, lawyer Howie Calleja, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and (at right, end of the table) former Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro, FSC). To Pacquiao’s left is former Bacolod Rep. Monico Fuentevella (who is not a 1Sambayan convenor). (Photo from the Office of Sen. Manny Pacquiao).

“This government is really incompetent,” said Carpio at the launch of 1Sambayan.

“They’ve been tested and everybody’s saying they’re laggards,” he said partly in Filipino. “So, we have to offer a better alternative for people because we don’t want the same thing to happen again in the next six years,” Carpio said.

The group was hailed for initiating dialogues with other figures from the opposition—Robredo, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay and former senator Antonio Trillanes IV—at a time of uncertainty in the political landscape.

READ: Carpio launches coalition to challenge Duterte’s ‘anointed one’ in 2022 polls

READ: Carpio’s coalition woos Robredo, Isko, others to join slate vs Duterte’s bets

But some groups saw gaps in 1Sambayan’s plans. Left-leaning activists, led by labor leader Leody de Guzman, said while noble 1Sambayan’s plans were not those in the best interests of the people as the masses are not part of any of the group’s discussions. De Guzman would later file a certificate of candidacy for president.

“While we support this good initiative, we want to express the limitations of the coalition, as part of our contribution to push and strengthen it,” De Guzman had said.

“Promises of good governance would not suffice because this would go to a personalized discussion of trust or mistrust in a leader’s individuality,” De Guzman said.

READ: Labor leader: 1Sambayan is ‘breath of fresh air,’ but needs broad public participation

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, another presidential aspirant who was perceived to be part of the opposition, denied 1Sambayan’s invitation on the grounds that it was inconsistent for the group to endorse someone with links to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which the coalition condemned.

Lacson was principal author and sponsor of the ATA.

READ: Lacson declines 1Sambayan nomination offer for 2022 presidential polls 

The emergence of Moreno, Pacquiao

But aside from Robredo, who was being urged by the opposition to run for president, another faction of anti-administration forces was rallying behind Manila Mayor Moreno, whose name also started to figure in surveys.

His performance as Manila’s local chief executive, along with his pronouncements which positioned him to be against key national government policies, had earned for him a following especially from circles who reject what seemed to be two sides of a coin—Duterte-backed candidates and Liberal Party nominees.

Results of a survey released by Pulse Asia on July 13, 2021 indicated that if elections were held on that day, Moreno would be second with 14 percent of the votes to Sara, who had a 28 percent rating.

Other names on the survey list, considered as opposition, also lagged behind—Poe (10 percent), Robredo (6 percent) and Lacson (4 percent).

READ: Duterte-Duterte tandem leads in Pulse Asia survey 

The surprise at that time, though, was Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who got 8 percent in the Pulse Asia survey, and who positioned himself as an opposition candidate despite his known ties with Duterte.

But it appeared that any ties with the administration were cut once Pacquiao ranted about alleged corruption in the government, particularly in the provision of social aid for families hit by COVID-19 lockdowns.

On July 3, Pacquiao, before leaving for the United States for his fight with Cuban Yordenis Ugas, held a press conference to claim that the third party mobile wallet app provider tapped by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to distribute cash aid was chosen despite the availability of other reputable companies.

As a result of the deal, Pacquiao claimed that P10.4 billion worth of cash aid was unaccounted for.

READ: Pacquiao says lockdown ‘ayuda’ marred by corruption

Unity talks

With key players in the opposition becoming clearer since July, Robredo engaged in unity discussions with several individuals, first of whom were Lacson and Sen. Richard Gordon.

Senator Panfilo Lacson (left) and Vice President Leni Robredo (right)

FILE PHOTO: Senator Panfilo Lacson (left) and Vice President Leni Robredo (right). INQUIRER FILES

Lacson and Robredo were no longer strangers to each other, as the vice president consulted the former national police chief during her brief stint as anti-drug czar.

READ: Gordon in talks with Robredo for possible ‘partnership’ ahead of 2022 polls

READ: OVP confirms Robredo’s separate meetings with Lacson, Gordon for 2022 polls

READ: Robredo, Lacson to meet, discuss war on drugs

Robredo next met with Moreno and Pacquiao. Again, Robredo initiated the talk with Moreno, who is also not a total stranger, as the mayor and Robredo’s office have collaborated for vaccine drives.

In one interview, Robredo admitted that she was willing to back a Moreno-Pacquiao tandem if that would stop the return of the Marcoses to power and prevent a Duterte nominee from winning.

READ: Robredo to back Isko-Pacquiao tandem if it will bring end to current regime

“Buong-buo ang loob ko ngayon. Kailangan nating palayain ang ating sarili mula sa kasalukuyang sitwasyon. Lalaban ako, lalaban tayo, inihahain ko ang aking sarili bilang kandidato sa pagka-pangulo sa halalan ng 2022.”

Botched unity talks

While information that unification talks had begun between different opposition camps were confirmed, details of how these went remained scarce.

Not until Lacson, who has set his mind on running for president from the start, revealed in August that he offered a “sure unification formula” during the meeting with Robredo, but was met with “resistance.”

“She resisted,” Lacson said in an ANC interview, referring to Robredo.

“It was a sure formula for putting up, at least between the two of us, a common candidate but, unfortunately, she didn’t buy it,” he added.

READ: Lacson offered ‘sure unification formula’ for 2022, but Robredo ‘resisted’

Robredo, in reply, had said she opposed Lacson’s offer because of her “personal belief” that she should follow through with her presidential bid until the end, even if she ranked low in surveys.

It turned out Lacson’s formula called for non-administration candidates withdrawing at certain points from the race once the strongest candidate emerged as determined by survey ratings.

Read: Lacson respects Robredo’s junking of ‘winning unification formula’

Following this, the run-up to the filing of candidacies in October was filled with speculation over whether Robredo would push through with a presidential bid, run for a local post in her hometown Camarines Sur instead, or just retire from politics.

Come October 6, these speculations were answered when Robredo announced she will run for the highest position in the land.

“Buong-buo ang loob ko ngayon. Kailangan nating palayain ang ating sarili mula sa kasalukuyang sitwasyon. Lalaban ako, lalaban tayo, inihahain ko ang aking sarili bilang kandidato sa pagka-pangulo sa halalan ng 2022,” the vice president announced on October 7, the second to the last day of the filing of certificate of candidacy (COC).

(Today, I stand with total resolve: We must break free from the current situation. I will fight. We will fight. I offer myself as a candidate for the presidency in the 2022 elections.)

READ: ‘Buong-buo ang loob ko’: Robredo to run for president in 2022 

But before this, there was an attempt to broker a deal between Robredo and Lacson days before the October 8 deadline, but the senator said he left the meeting feeling “insulted.”

Lacson, in an interview with Senate reporters, admitted he felt insulted after his second “unification” meeting with Robredo, who was accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a Liberal Party stalwart.

According to Lacson, Sotto told him after the meeting that Drilon was supposedly making hand gestures suggesting a Robredo-Sotto tandem.

“Parang effectively, telling me, in my face, to withdraw and mag-create ng bagong tandem between the Vice President and the Senate President,” Lacson had said.

(It’s like effectively telling me, in my face, to withdraw and to create a new tandem between the Vice President and the Senate President.)

The presidential aspirant said this did not sit well with him and it could have prompted him to walk out from the meeting had he seen it himself.

“When I was told [about] that. I felt insulted, had I noticed that when it happened I could’ve have stood up and left that meeting,” Lacson said.

Read: Lacson says he felt ‘insulted’ after 2nd ‘unification’ meeting with Robredo

No ‘hand signal’

Both Robredo and Drilon denied this.

“I was the one who sought out the meeting and for me, why would I waste my time if I was not serious about the objectives I wished would come out of the talks?” Robredo said in Filipino.

“I do not recall those hand gestures attributed to me, much less the interpretation accorded to it,” Drilon, for his part, had said.

Read: Hand signal? We could have just met with Sotto sans Lacson, says Robredo

But aside from the botched talks between Lacson and Robredo, another candidate—Moreno—also pulled out of talks with the Vice President.

A day after she announced her intention to run for president, Robredo was asked if Moreno’s stand regarding the Marcoses was a factor in her decision to run, to which she said yes. Moreno, however, took this personally, ranting against Robredo a day after.

READ: Isko questions Robredo’s rationale: Why run only to block the Marcoses? 

READ: Isko to critics after remarks vs Robredo: I’m sorry, this isn’t about Mr. Congeniality

READ: Isko tirades shock Robredo camp: In fact, all VP has for him is respect 

VP aspirants

Another question arising during the filing of COCs is the identity of Robredo’s running mate as she filed her candidacy for president.

READ: Robredo files COC for president in 2022 polls

Pacquiao and Moreno, who Robredo also both met for a united slate against the administration’s candidate, both had their picks.

RELATED STORY: Robredo: If we can’t unify personalities, then we’ll unite the people

Pacquiao chose Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza as his running mate while Moreno picked online personality Dr. Willie Ong.

Read: Atienza is Pacquiao’s VP for 2022

Read: Isko Moreno on Willie Ong as VP: I need a doctor to manage COVID-19

In a surprise move, Sen. Francis Pangilinan on October 8 formalized his bid as Robredo’s vice president.

As early as June, Pangilinan had hinted at plans of seeking another Senate term in 2022.

Read: Pangilinan eyes Senate reelection in 2022

But as chances of unity among non-administration candidates became slimmer with Lacson, Pacquiao and Moreno formalizing their candidacies, this plan seemed to have taken a turn for the worse.

Read: Emotional Pangilinan feels weight of ‘call of duty’ in VP run

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“Tinawag tayo ng tungkulin (We were called by duty). Call of duty,” Pangilinan said at a press conference after filing his COC.

“Nagtitiwala ako sa sambayanang Pilipino — lalabas ang ating tapang, makahahanap ng lakas ng loob, makahuhugot ng liwanag ng puso, para iwaksi ang baluktot na pamamahala, at kapalit nito ay magtatalaga ng mga pinunong tapat at totoo, may puso at tibay, matino at mahusay,” he added.

(I trust the Filipino people — our courage will come through, we will find our strength, a light in our hearts, to eliminate the crooked system, and to appoint leaders who are truthful, who have hearts and endurance, who are sensible and effective.)

TAGS: Elections, Isko Moreno, Leni Robredo, Politics, Rodrigo Duterte, Sara Duterte, yearender

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