By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
VICE-PRESIDENT Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo could still be a leading opposition figure after her presidential defeat, political analysts said at the weekend.
Her nearly 15 million supporters have committed to reach out to more people and hold the government to account, said Maria Ela L. Atienza, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines.
“Despite losing based on unofficial counts, the group, which is composed of nearly 15 million supporters and which has a creative, more grassroots orientation core, can transition into a full-fledged movement that is active even beyond electoral cycles,” she said in a Viber message.
“Robredo has a more committed core of people working for good governance and inclusive development,” she added. “The more than double number of Marcos-Duterte voters may include fanatics but many may not be able to commit to advocacy and developmental work beyond elections.”
Ms. Robredo on Friday night said she would transform her anti-poverty alleviation platform into a nongovernment group after her six-year term ends in June, as she rallied supporters to do more after the campaign period.
“We already have a template for this,” she said at a thanksgiving rally at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City attended by thousands of supporters. “We’ve done it already at the Office of the Vice-President even with limited funding and machinery.”
Ms. Robredo said she seeks to make the civic group the largest network of volunteers in the Philippines.
“We connected those who were ready to help to those who needed help,” she said. “We’re more organized now — there are many people’s councils and various groups that were formed among our ranks. We’ve shown that things are possible to be achieved if we all contribute.”
Political observers said no other losing candidate in the past had attracted thousands of people for a post-election activity.
Kenneth Requilman, a 22-year-old voter who joined the thanksgiving rally for the opposition tandem, said he would continue to “stand for the right and organize for change.”
“With our movement’s commitment to continue our efforts, we will be able to educate more people,” he said in an interview.
Ms. Atienza said the opposition would not be “the usual traditional opposition” that is only active during elections. “It will be active in all phases of politics, within and outside the formal institutions of power.”
“It can capitalize on its broad multisectoral networking and help empower sectors and communities currently mired in poverty and marginalization,” she said. “It will probably also actively monitor the performance of public officials.”
She said younger leaders who would emerge from the new civic movement might give the opposition a new political narrative and challenge the resurgence of authoritarian nostalgia.
Senator Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel is set to win her reelection bid with more than 15 million votes as of May 13, making her the only opposition candidate to get a Senate seat.
“If Risa is the only winnable oppositionist inside, the coalitions that surrounded the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem have to decide and strategize if she’ll take the position of offense head-on or not,” said Hansley A. Juliano, a former political science professor studying at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development in Japan.
“In 1968, that’s the position the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino took — offense is the best defense,” he said in a Messenger chat. “To some extent, Ninoy got enough traction even with persistent onslaught of attacks.”
But the opposition would not be dealing “with the kind of disinformation environment we’re in now,” Mr. Juliano said. “Our opposition needs to take stock of what has happened since 1986.”
He said that the ideological differences and policy debates within the emerging opposition could afffect its consolidation and expansion efforts.
“There are ideological, policy and even personal rifts that have caused them to grow apart and mobilize separately,” he said. “They all need to take stock of that, perhaps engineer reconciliations and affirm new alliances, and do coordinated engagements with each other’s demands.”
Mr. Juliano said the opposition should recalibrate its strategies and adopt a more compelling campaign narrative that could adjust to the country’s personality-driven politics.
“They can no longer simply throw the dismissive labels ‘bobotante,’ (dumb voter) ‘bayad’ (bribed) and ‘nagpapaloko’ (fooled) because this is not how the Marcos-Duterte voters see themselves,” he said. “It’s like you’re selling by bullying with that messaging.”
Temario C. Rivera, who heads the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, said Ms. Robredo should clarify in the coming days “whether she just seeks an NGO type organization or a political movement to contest political power.”
“If she aims to build a political movement, this also provides her the opportunity to build a real political party committed to a clear platform of government,” he said in a Messenger chat.
“Such a project requires a transformative leadership and Robredo must be prepared to face the attacks from traditional politicians and allies who only seek short-term, opportunistic goals.”
The opposition must be humble enough to go back to the drawing board “and study how they can create and articulate a more compelling message,” said Robin Michael U. Garcia, a political economy professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific.
“Galvanizing the support base towards 2025 or 2028 is the first step, but the task is to grow that base,” he said in a Messenger chat.
“Should Robredo decide to lead once more, the opposition might have a real chance in the 2025 midterms,” he said. “In the meantime, console supporters and give them continued hope.”
The analysts, meanwhile, warned that a massive disinformation campaign would be a major threat to the opposition’s consolidation efforts.
Just a day after Ms. Robredo announced her plans to form a volunteer group anchored on her flagship anti-poverty program, supporters flagged a dubious Facebook group with a name similar to the vice-president’s program that had attracted more than 40,000 members as of Saturday.
The Facebook group aims to “mislead and spy” and destroy the plan even before it gets off the ground, Zach Yanzon, a Robredo supporter, said in a Facebook post that became viral.