The Manila Times : United they compete, divided they fall

25 July 2021

By Marlen Ronquillo | The Manila Times

After the 1992 presidential elections, the most important figure in the political world was 24 percent. That figure represented the percentage of votes cast in favor of the winner, former Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos, the Malacanang-endorsed candidate.

In the agri-business realm of that same period, the 24 percent represented the market share of RFM-Swift, then the biggest poultry integrator in the commercial broiler market. Pundits did not miss the almost identical numbers of the voter share in favor of General Ramos and the commercial broiler market share of RFM-Swift.

Today, 28 percent, a figure slightly higher than 24 percent, is the talk of the political community. It represents the preference of Filipino voters for the presidential candidacy of Sara Duterte-Carpio, the daughter of the President and currently the mayor of Davao City, in 2022, according to the survey firm Pulse Asia. The survey firm asked voters to choose from several names, all identified as presidential hopefuls, and the President's daughter, with her father as possible running mate, topped the crowded field. Second was Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso at 14 percent.

The survey numbers of Pulse Asia are instructive. Should the 2022 presidential elections turn out to be the same as the slam-bang, free-for-all fight in 1992, the daughter and father team of the Dutertes will, like former General Ramos, eke a minority win (since there are no run-offs in our democracy).

A one-on-one fight, the Dutertes versus a united opposition with a single standard-bearer, will be another story. Under this scenario, the Dutertes would mightily struggle to win.

The numbers tell the opposition this historical bit: the 2022 polls will mostly be a repeat of the 1992 elections unless great sacrifices are made. United you win, divided you fall.

Mr. Ramos snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The general sense then was that the former general would be handily beaten by the youth-backed campaign of Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the colorful firebrand who electrified the young with her promise of change and new politics. Mr. Ramos' campaign also lacked support from the major political parties and the powerful regional political bosses. Only six members of the House of Representatives led by Joe de Venecia and Francisco "Komong" Sumulong supported Mr. Ramos. A hastily formed group, the Lakas- NUCD (Partido Lakas ng Tao-National Union of Christian Democrats), was the political party of Mr. Ramos.

Here was what favored Mr. Ramos. There were several other presidential candidates who sucked in votes for change that otherwise could have gone to Miss Santiago. Former Senate president Jovito Salonga, the Liberal Party candidate, was the candidate of the intelligentsia. Tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco appealed to the anti-establishment votes, which he had to share with the Marcos widow, Imelda Marcos. Former speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. was the unanimous candidate of the local government unit leaders and grassroots political operatives.

With the votes spread out, with all the 1992 candidates possessing substantial voting bases, the 24 percent of Mr. Ramos after the final tally of the votes was enough for a minority win. Mayor Duterte will have the definitive advantage in a crowded 2022 field. Next year's elections will be a repeat of 1992.

What if the personal ambitions of those identified as possible presidential candidates are sacrificed to face the Dutertes head-on? What if the 1Sambayan succeeds in uniting the divergent forces, with the presidential hopefuls rallying behind one candidate? This will pose a major problem for the Dutertes. The 28 percent, assumed to be their peak strength right now, cannot be competitive. In a limited field, a 28 percent peak strength is toast.

The best-case scenario for the Dutertes should there be a miracle and the opposition hopefuls unite and coalesce behind one candidate, is to convince Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., with a 13 percent voting base, into its fold. A 41 percent base, while not ideal under a united opposition scenario, is better than 28 percent. After all, the two families are natural allies. It was Mr. Duterte who decreed the burial of the ousted dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. And Marcos Jr., while ambitious, is pragmatic enough to realize the limits of his presidential ambitions. He was not even Number 2 in the Pulse Asia survey.

When natural allies competed, as in the 1992 political brawl between Mrs. Marcos and Danding Cojuangco, nothing was gained.

The non-Duterte forces should be guided by "United we win, divided we fall." There will be no victory in sight unless egos and ambitions are subsumed for the bigger agenda of competing with the Dutertes and winning over them. What happened in 1992, when a noncharismatic former general managed to eke out a minority win on the spread-out votes of the many competitors, we must repeat this, is instructive.

Political science and history say the only way to win is total and unconditional unity.

Will the divergent opposition forces do the impossible and unite? I have no idea, but they should remember this: The race is not to divide but to bind people for a great national purpose and total unity. Political science has a term for this - common political project.