Philippine Opposition still lacks a POPULAR united front critical to a 2022 win

“Dutertismo” is supposedly a label coined by the Philippine Opposition to encapsulate the character of the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. It is, of course, widely known that the character of the Duterte presidency is marked by strong words, a cult of personality, and a virulent nationalist sentiment. The latter — strong nationalism — was one of the pillars of Duterte’s campaign in the lead up to the 2016 elections. Duterte’s use of the national colours provided his personal brand a stark contrast to his predecessor, former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III who wore a yellow ribbon pinned to his shirt in practically all his public appearances over the entirety of his term. The yellow ribbon has long been a symbol of the political camp of the Aquino-Cojuangco dynasty — the “decent” camp, we were all led to believe.

Filipinos had grown so tired of this pompous self-absorbed political brand and the elitism it reeks of that the 2016 elections came around with a red carpet pratically rolled out for Duterte to march triumphantly into Malacanang flying the Philippine flag. Almost as soon as that happened, the Opposition, smarting from that devastating loss, quickly got to work on a vicious propaganda campaign to paint “fascism” all over the Duterte administration. The Opposition’s manufactured notion of “Dutertismo” allowed them to put an “ism” frame around the Duterte government that defined the space within which the Opposition would be dropping their “truth bombs”. Of course, their notion of “the truth” is just as engineered and ideologically aligned with the “war” on “disinformation” and “fake news” being waged by their allies in the Philippines’ Big Corporate Media industry.

“Fake news” and “disinformation” were the additional bogeys created by the Opposition put up alongside “Dutertismo” as targets for the bombardment sustained by his “critics” over the last several years. Despite the catastrophic loss of the Opposition’s “Otso Diretso” coalition in the 2019 elections, there was no letup in this bombardment. Opposition spotters were evidently directing artillery fire to ineffective targets. One would think such a colossally-ineffective campaign will have been re-evaluated following that 2019 fiasco which all but crushed the political careers of eight high-profile Opposition personalities. None such re-evaluation happened. As we can plainly see today, the same approach persists and the Opposition continues doing the same thing, not only expecting different results in 2022 but feeling entitled to it.

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Beating Duterte’s camp will require massive popular backing and it does not take rocket scientists to see that the Opposition cannot afford to spread their votes thin across multiple presidential candidates. This is the thinking behind their first lame attempt at a broad Opposition coalition, their so-called “1Sambayan” group headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio. Unfortunately, a broad coalition endorsing one candidate to unite their lot will require other ambitious bids for the presidency to step back and get behind the coalition standard bearer. This is a lot to ask of what could easily be up to three or four non-administration-backed presidential aspirants each with their own personal agendas at stake. There are, after all, no real platforms at stake — only these fragmented competing agendas.

A sample of the infighting that will likely beset the Opposition in the coming months is the attempted coup for the top position within 1Sambayan mounted by convicted coup plotter and former “senator” Antonio Trillanes. His attempt to unseat “vice president” Leni Robredo from her loft in 1Sambayan was an embarrassing circus that played out before an electorate that had already started taking stock of their options. It was a preventable setback for a lot that aspires to “unite” to survive.

To this day, such a united front eludes an increasingly desperate Opposition whose eminent thought leaders have run out of ammo after their pathetically “weaponised” issues — their “assault on press freedom” ululations, their “human rights” chorva, their community pantryneering, and their “Duterte is a misogynist” demonisation campaign amongst others — have all miserably failed to put a dent on Duterte’s popularity. What next for the Opposition? There’s still a few months ago — increasingly emphasising few. Nonetheless, as the favourite tagline of that crooked media network ABS-CBN goes, abangan ang susunod na kabanata.