The Manila Times : A press conference in defense of electoral integrity and as karma

23 April 2022

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

THERE is no benefit for the presidential candidacies of Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales to hold a press conference for the sole purpose of openly attacking Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo. But they also had nothing to lose. With single-digit results in the voter preference surveys, it is understandable that they would take desperate measures to pump some blood and optics into their campaigns.

However, this is not just about optics, or of creating drama for the sake of it. There was a reason. Sadly, this has been lost somewhere as people spin the event using convenient and partisan lenses. The storyline being peddled by Robredo partisans is that the press conference had no rational basis, and was nothing but three men attacking a woman, a misogynist offensive that backfired terribly.

Yet, a dispassionate and rational analysis of events would reveal that it was a coordinated reaction to a series of acts emanating from the Robredo camp, which may or may not have had her tacit approval or participation. The following facts cannot be denied:

– Since the early stages of the campaign, Robredo supporters have been calling on Domagoso, and even Leodegario "Ka Leody" de Guzman, to withdraw, even as they launched a coordinated takedown of Domagoso. Recently, several supporters of Domagoso abandoned him in favor of Robredo.

– Lacson was abandoned by his own party in favor of Robredo. He also revealed even before the press conference that former Quezon City mayor Brigido Simon Jr. approached him and asked him to withdraw in favor of Robredo. While the Robredo campaign disavowed Simon's actions, the former mayor has not so far denied what Lacson alleged. I also personally read former Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon openly ask Gonzales, whom she called a friend, to throw in the towel in favor of Robredo.

While overtures made by individuals like Simon and Guanzon may be beyond the control and knowledge of Robredo, the calls made on social media by her supporters asking Domagoso to withdraw would have definitely reached her. The fact that she did not restrain her supporters is clear indication that she tolerated it. She cannot feign ignorance, or pretend she does not follow social media traffic considering that she and her campaign have repeatedly released advisories and reminders to her supporters on other concerns, like how to wage a house-to-house campaign, using various platforms.

It is also common knowledge that political realignments do not happen as spontaneous developments, but are outcomes of wheeling and dealing, and of deliberate moves by parties and candidates. The withdrawal of support by organized supporters, or an entire political party, is a product of deliberate acts that are known to those involved. The shift of support by former Domagoso supporters to, and the mass migration of Lacson's former party away from him toward, Robredo were all done with the knowledge and active participation of Robredo and/or her representatives.

These acts of raiding of and poaching from the ranks of supporters of rival candidates, matched with a coordinated campaign among supporters to ask rivals to withdraw either on social media or in person, are unprecedented in the history of Philippine elections. These are, in fact, fundamental assaults on the very integrity of the electoral process. They undermine the party system which Robredo vowed to strengthen, and devalue the legal meaning of certificates of candidacy. They aggravate the transactional, fluid and negotiable nature of Philippine politics that is detrimental to its strengthening and maturity.

If we allow the withdrawal of official candidates to be unchecked, even after the campaign period has already started, where rivals are bullied or even paid to withdraw to prevent someone from winning, then we are in effect denying some in the electorate the right to their original choices. We are effectively turning suffrage into an exercise that distorts the very spirit behind authentic representation.

This is exactly why we need to go beyond the partisan spinning of what transpired last Easter at the Manila Peninsula Hotel. We should begin to see some silver lining there, beyond the selfish interests of those who participated in the press conference. Sans the drama and the political theatrics and calls for withdrawal, the event can be seen in the light of exposing attempts to further weaken our electoral system.

It is odd that Robredo supporters who either took active part or cheered or simply tolerated these acts of asking Domagoso or de Guzman to withdraw, or cheered when Domagoso's supporters or Lacson's partymates decided to junk them in favor of Robredo, would now suddenly take offense. They focus on how Domagoso, Lacson and Gonzales offended Robredo, yet seemed to ignore the offensive impact of their calls to withdraw and their support for turncoats against these candidates. They play the victim card without even taking a pause and reflect on how they savaged rival candidates. With audacity, and as expected, they play the gender card, accusing the three men of misogyny, while deploying gendered attacks that seek to emasculate them.

The irony is that it is useless to call for candidates to withdraw at this stage since their names will remain in the ballot. Domagoso took offense when he was asked to withdraw by Robredo supporters, but now appears to contradict himself by urging Robredo to withdraw. The fact is that a candidate's withdrawal may not necessarily increase the chances of other candidates to win. Survey data indicate, in fact, that withdrawal by any one of them would benefit former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the frontrunner who has been so quiet in this entire affair.

Robredo's campaign subsisted on attacking Marcos who never returned the favor. Now, it is the other candidates, in a press conference held on Easter Sunday, who have not only exposed her campaign's underhandedness, but who seemed to have also served her a dose of karmic justice by doing what Marcos refused to do — fight back.