On Independence Day, the 1Sambayan opposition coalition announced its potential candidates for president and vice president in the 2022 elections. Leading the nominees was Vice President Leni Robredo, who has served as the de facto leader of the opposition.
The coalition’s goal is simple: come up with a single slate of opposition candidates to run against the administration ticket backed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
While Robredo agrees that the opposition must field a single presidential candidate, she can't commit herself to be the standard bearer, except to say that she remained "open" to running for president.
If Robredo eventually refuses to run for president next year, the opposition would have to look for another potential candidate who can also offer an alternative brand of leadership, said University of the Philippines political science professor Jean Encinas-Franco.
“We need to have an alternative. Otherwise, we're validating Duterte's popularity, and we're in fact validating that Duterte did very well in the past six years,” she told reportr.
“That's the message that's going to come across the public. It's as if we already surrendered,” she added.
Challenges to a Robredo candidacy
Robredo’s potential candidacy for president in the 2022 elections would work well for 1Sambayan, as she already enjoys at least “high awareness” among Filipinos, Encinas-Franco said.
However, that it remains to be seen whether Robredo will be a good contender against whoever Duterte will anoint given that her poll ratings are not that high, Encinas-Franco said.
In the Feb. 22 to March 3 Pulse Asia pre-election survey, Robredo placed sixth in the list of preferred presidential candidates for the 2022 elections, after Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, former Sen. Bongbong Marcos, Sen. Grace Poe, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, and Sen. Manny Pacquiao.
Four of these names were part of the President’s “options” for a successor next year.
Another obstacle that Robredo would face if she runs for president is her low trust and approval ratings, which Encinas-Franco attributed to her lack of an official function aside from the vice presidency.
“That's one thing that went against her. Because of that, she has not received very high public approval rating compared to Duterte,” she said.
Robredo got a 57% approval rating and a 50% trust rating in the September 2020 survey of Pulse Asia, lower than those of the three other high-ranking government officials --- Duterte, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and then Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
In 2017, Robredo quit as chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council after being told to “desist from attending all Cabinet meetings.” She has since spent her time managing her flagship project, “Angat Buhay,” an initiative to bring together the public and private sector to help poor families in remote areas of the country.
The vice president also led activities aimed at helping individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as providing free shuttle services to frontliners and raising food and non-food donations. Recently, she also launched the teleconsultation service “Bayanihan e-Konsulta.”
Unity under Leni
Despite the challenges to her candidacy, Encinas-Franco believes that a Robredo presidency would bring a much-needed unity among Filipinos after years of division due to diverging political views.
For the political science expert, Robredo has all qualities of a good leader: she has not made any serious mistake, she presented herself well, she was not involved in any form of corruption, and she was there for the people.
“Leni will be able to unite because she has not in any way presented a divisive rhetoric from day 1. She's been very consistent,” Encinas-Franco said. “So I believe she's the one who can unite us. But she has to win first.”
In the end, whether Robredo will run for president or not, the upcoming 2022 elections would allow Filipinos to correct the mistakes of the past and look forward to better governance, Encinas-Franco said.
“That's always the essence of elections. It's a mechanism of democracy to seek accountability,” she added.