Risa Hontiveros Stands Out in SONA as Opposition's Last Woman Standing

She's just one of two in the Senate minority.
Photo/s: ABS-CBN News/Screen Capture

When TV and livestream cameras panned through the audience during a standing ovation for President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s SONA on Tuesday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros was seen holding back on the applause, instantly standing out from her colleagues who were cheering the country's new leader.

Overnight, "Risa Hontiveros" was a trending topic on Twitter with some 8,000 posts as netizens swapped screen captures of Hontiveros' moment on the SONA floor. She is, after all, the only winning opposition candidate in the last senatorial elections.

"Outnumbered kami sa numbers, pero hihiramin ko ang sinasabi sa Marines: 'Always outnumbered, never outfought,'" Hontiveros said in an interview with reporters a day after the SONA.

"Kahit bilang minority mas kaunti kami, pero sa mga isyu na kailangan naming tayuan sa floor, tuloy-tuloy naming gagawin iyon," she added.

Before Marcos Jr.'s chief election rival, former Vice President Leni Robredo, stepped down last June, she turned over leadership of the opposition to Hontiveros, a widow and former TV news anchor who championed the rights of women, cgildren and the LGBTQIA+ community in her first six years at the Senate. She will serve for another six years, or throughout the entire Marcos presidency.

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Sen. Risa is last woman standing 

Hontiveros succeeded in her re-election bid since she focused more on her legislative performance instead of her membership in the opposition ticket, according to Alicor Panao, a Political Science professor at the University of the Philippine-Diliman.

While other opposition candidates highlighted their opposition stance, Hontiveros distanced herself from the "pink campaign" in her television ads, allowing her to widen her reach.

"Risa Hontiveros, even though she is with the current opposition, showcased her performance and platforms in her television ads. She didn't even wear pink," Panao said, noting that campaign colors "alienated" voters supporting different presidential candidates.

Maria Ela Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, credited Hontiveros' win in the May 9 election to her bills that had a "direct impact" on people's lives.

"She is a reelectionist who also championed laws that have a direct impact on the lives of basic sectors, including laws related to health services, parents, and women. However, the rest of the opposition was unable to win because they lack the resources needed to campaign and they were heavily attacked through disinformation," she said.

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The opposition under a Marcos presidency

While the constitution provides separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judiciary, the Senate has traditionally been viewed as more independent than the House of Representatives.

Atienza said being the lone opposition senator makes Hontiveros vulnerable to attacks. With the nation still waiting for Marcos Jr. to articulate his policies, Panao said the dynamics of his relationship with the Senate could not be ascertained for now.

Hontiveros needs to form alliances within the Senate to form a strong minority, Atienza and Panao said, especially given Marcos Jr.'s majority mandate.

"She has to network with other senators on specific issues and form a group with independent-minded senators," Atienza said.

Senators that are likely to take independent stances on certain issues according to Atienza are Nancy Binay and Koko Pimentel.

"Some other senators may also want to be seen as independent senators and may dislike being called 'tuta' or 'sipsip'," Atienza added.

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Hontiveros assured her supporters that she would work to form a Senate minority that past senators could be proud of. 

"Balak ko pa ring maghanap ng kasama sa loob na patuloy na magfi-fizcalize sa executive gaano man siya kalakas tulad ng nakaraang anim na taon at isang minorya na patuloy na magsusulong din ng makabuluhang batas para sa ating mga kababayan," she said.

Mobilizing public support for proposals is also a must for the opposition to pressure support from the government with barely any opposition left in the Senate, analyst Atienza said.

"The opposition will have to rely on the support and lobbying of people and various sectors. They should be able to mobilize public support for their programs so that senators who usually aspire to run for higher positions will be forced to also support these programs," she said. 

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