First, get out the vote

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The president of the Liberal Party has his mind on a deadline. Not tomorrow, June 12, the launch of the nomination process for the opposition 1Sambayan coalition. Not Oct. 8, the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2022 general elections.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan has his mind on Sept. 30, 2021, the deadline for the registration of new voters.

Pangilinan estimates the number of young voters at around eight million – enough to spell victory for their candidates of choice. And he’s hoping that youths will behave as they normally do – actively working for change, anti-establishment, ready to toss out the old and ring in the new.

Surveys in the 2019 midterm elections showed strong support among the youth – university students in particular – for the Otso Diretso candidates, noted Pangilinan, who managed the campaign that turned into a debacle for the opposition. He believes the results could have been different if more youths had voted.

The administration lockout of Otso Diretso in the Senate prompted Pangilinan to offer his resignation as LP president, but it was rejected by the party chair, Vice President Leni Robredo.

This time, it doesn’t look like Pangilinan intends to take a similarly active role in the opposition campaign in 2022. He’s up for reelection and he wants to focus on his own campaign, he told us Wednesday on One News’ “The Chiefs.”

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As for Robredo, Pangilinan sees no rush for her to declare if she would seek the presidency.

He reminds us that in the 2016 race, Rodrigo Duterte tossed his hat into the ring only in late November 2015, past the deadline for the regular filing of candidacies, as a substitute presidential bet.

In 2009, a reluctant Noynoy Aquino was also belatedly pushed into the race by the death of his mother Corazon, forcing Mar Roxas to slide down to the vice presidential race.

This time, while Pangilinan says he respects the efforts of 1Sambayan to pick a common opposition candidate, he believes decisions will again be firmed up only at the last minute.

At this time, he points out, it’s unseemly to be preoccupied with politics when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, calling for all hands on deck to contain.

Also, the lessons of previous elections have not been lost on him: in a presidential race, the early bird gets targeted and shot down first.

Instead of forcing anyone to declare presidential ambitions this early, why not focus on ensuring that all eligible new voters will register? On Election Day 2022, he stresses that it’s critical to get that anti-establishment vote out.

Pangilinan is unfazed by surveys showing the continuing popularity of Rodrigo Duterte, which is rubbing off on his daughter. For presidential races, Pangilinan observes, surveys have proved unreliable. Consistent survey frontrunners have fallen by the wayside in the campaign homestretch, ending up trounced by come-from-behind candidates. We saw this with Manny Villar in 2010, and Jejomar Binay and Grace Poe in 2016.

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Robredo isn’t the only one who’s in no rush to make up her mind on her 2022 plans.

President Duterte himself is playing coy, about the push to make him run for VP, and about calls for his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio to seek the presidency.

Few people believed Duterte’s pronouncement Tuesday night that his P200,000-a-month job is a thankless one that isn’t worth all the brickbats, or that he intended to retire at the end of his term in pastor Apollo Quiboloy’s mountain retreat in Davao, or that he didn’t want his daughter Mayor Sara to endure his tribulations as president.

Sure enough, his mouthpiece clarified the next day that Duterte’s retirement, and the possibility of a run for VP, would depend on whether Sara would decide to seek the presidency. That door isn’t closed, the Palace clarified, for either Sara and the President’s loyal aide Bong Go.

The implication is that the President would not want a Duterte-Duterte tandem. Maybe he’s sensitive to admonitions about the need to moderate greed for political power.

We don’t know if Harry Roque can speak for Inday Sara, who has said in the past months that she did not intend to run for president. But she still has several months to change her mind.

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We can’t rule out the possibility that President Duterte is genuinely exhausted and raring to become a “boarder” in Quiboloy’s spiritual retreat. The presidency is a demanding 24/7 job under normal circumstances. It has become extraordinarily more so with the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s the possibility that aides are saying Duterte is keeping his options open mainly to keep him from becoming a lame duck with a year still to go in his term – not that Philippine presidents, who retain all their powers until their final day in office, can truly become lame ducks.

On the other hand, Pangilinan points out that Duterte also played coy in 2015, saying he did not intend to run for president – until he did, at the last minute.

Lawyer Howard Calleja of 1Sambayan says Duterte’s sincerity in wanting to retire should be gauged not by his words, which have as much value as his jet ski promise, but by his actions and those of his aides.

For now, it’s prudent for the opposition to believe that Duterte will give in to the “strong public clamor” – as expressed by the PDP-Laban executive council – for him to run for vice president in 2022.

And it’s prudent not to rule out the possibility that father and daughter will attempt on the national stage what they have been doing in Davao City: a Duterte-Duterte tandem, in power forever.

At this point, the opposition should share Pangilinan’s sense of urgency in first getting those millions of young voters registered. His message to the youth, with the essence borrowed from India’s Mahatma Gandhi: go out and register, so you can be the change you want to see in the world.

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