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Last Man Standing is a Woman: How Risa Hontiveros Won, What's Next

A long six years ahead.
by Arianne Merez
13 hours ago
Photo/s: Risa Hontiveros/Facebook

Sen. Risa Hontiveros held back tears as she looked forward to her second six-year term, the only opposition politician on the national stage to have survived the bloodbath of the May 9 elections, drawing strength from grassroots supporters that helped her face the administration juggernaut.

Hontiveros will serve her second and last consecutive term in the Senate under the presidency of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and incoming vice president Sara Duterte-Carpio and with all her allies defeated in reelection and comeback attempts.

"Naniniwala ako na hindi ako nag-iisa, gaano man kahirap tingnan 'yung scenario na ganoon eh talagang tatrabahuin ko na magkaroon ng isang tunay at malakas na minorya sa Senado," Hontiveros said in an interview on Teleradyo two days after the election.

EXPLAINER: What are the Duties of a Philippine Senator?

The remaining minority lawmakers in the Senate will end their terms once Hontiveros returns for the 19th Congress. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is retiring, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan ran for vice president and lost, and detained Sen. Leila de Lima failed to win her re-election bid.

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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.

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"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.

READ: 'Pinklawan', Magnanakaw: How Name-Calling Works, Then Backfires

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.

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"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.

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.

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"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. 

With over a month left before Marcos Jr. takes over Malacañang and new faces join the Senate Class of 2022, Hontiveros remains hopeful that the people's campaign initiated by the opposition would persist beyond the election period.

"Hindi ako mag-iisa at hindi ako nag-iisa. Hindi ko malilimutan kailanman ang people's campaign na isinaginawa namin at naniniwala ako na yung enerhiyang iyon ay hindi matitigil sa araw ng eleksyon," she said.

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