Are Senators Still Presidents in Waiting?

Is the Senate a waiting room for Malacañang?

Senator Richard Gordon and ex-Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV have declared their intention to run for president in 2022, seeking to leverage their national popularity to the highest office in the land. Should the five survey frontrunners go for it, all but one are either incumbent or former members of the Senate.

Regardless of their placement in opinion polls, senators almost always set their sights on the vice presidency or the presidency because they see their victory in senatorial elections as a "test case" for a presidential run, said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

"The senator is a national position where you can dream of becoming a president," Casiple, Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, told reportr.

"Kung napanalo mo na yung national electorate, kilala ka na sa buong bansa, nandoon yung malaking possibility. Parang na-testing mo na ang sarili mo para sa isang presidential race," he added.

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For 2022, incumbent Senators Manny Pacquiao, Bong Go and Grace Poe have been floated in the surveys, in a statistical tie with ex-Sen. Bongbong Marcos. They all trail President Rodrigo Duterte's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

Senators are national politicians

Presidents and senators have one thing in common: they both deal with national issues, said Casiple. Since they are elected on a nationwide scale, senators are expected to take up matters that concern the nation as a whole.

This leads many senators who aspire to be president to think that they can also perform the responsibilities of the country's head of state, Casiple said.

“They already have the experience in national issues, even foreign relations issues. So they can actually test that by becoming a senator in the first place,” he said.

The last senators to get elected president were Duterte's predecessor, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. While both were former senators, they were elected president under peculiar circumstances.

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Noynoy Aquino rode an outpuring of grief over the death of his mother, former President Cory Aquino. Arroyo, on the other hand, was in power when she won the 2004 vote. As former President Joseph Estrada's vice president, Arroyo took over after the former movie actor was ousted in People Power-style uprising in 2001.

In 2016, then incumbent Sen. Poe and ex-Sen. Mar Roxas were defeated by Duterte. In 2010, it was ex-Senate President Manny Villar and Gordon who lost. In 2004, it was Sen. Panfilo Lacson.


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2022 elections: A different ball game

Although senators running and winning the presidential race is a "historical thing" in the Philippines, the upcoming 2022 national elections could see a different scenario, Casiple said.

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In the 2016 elections, Duterte succeded in the city hall-to-Malacanang crossover, one that his daughter, Sara, coupld replicate based on a Feb. 22 to Mar. 3 Pulse Asia survey.

Apart from Duterte-Carpio, Casiple said voters are starting to see local government heads as presidential material. He cited incumbent Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno, who transformed Manila in his first three-year term.

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“The politics of the Philippines today is not the same as 20, 30 years ago. So many want to be the president based on their own specific circumstances,” Casiple said.

“Basically, the politics in the Philippines has developed to the point where even local officials can actually win and voters on a nationwide scale would be open to becoming a president,” he said.

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