A Robredo-Pacquiao tandem in the making?

With the one-week period set by the Commission on Elections for the filing of candidacy for the May 2022 presidential elections just a month away, political coalitions are beginning to take shape.

So far, two presidential tandems have emerged. The first to declare was the tandem of Sen. Panfilo Lacson for president and Senate President Tito Sotto for vice president. The two have been making the rounds, initially to feel the pulse of the people on a possible run, and now apparently to consult with the people on what they want for the next administration.

The PDP-Laban wing of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, on the other hand, made known the plans of President Rodrigo Duterte when it passed a resolution urging the President to run for vice president, and later, when the group endorsed the tandem of Duterte and his right hand man, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go as the party’s candidates for vice president and president, respectively.

Although Sen. Koko Pimentel, the son of the illustrious PDP-Laban founder, the late Sen. Nene Pimentel, said later that the party, which was officially recognized by the Comelec as the legitimate PDP-Laban, is planning on fielding Sen. Manny Pacquiao as its official presidential candidate, I think he and Pacquiao know that the Cusi faction endorsement of the Go-Duterte team basically doused cold water on a separate PDP-Laban team.

The Pimentel-Pacquiao faction made known it’s not giving up on the party when it ousted Duterte as chairman and replaced him with Pimentel.

On the other hand, I see a better prospect for the original PDP-Laban party of the Pimentels to survive and thrive, and for Pacquiao’s presidential ambitions to be kept alive, if they would coalesce with opposition groups and challenge the Duterte camp, with Pacquiao running for vice president. After all, Pacquiao is still very young at 42 and could use one term as vice president to better prepare him for the presidency.

An opportunity for Pacquiao and the PDP-Laban Pimentel wing to follow this path has presented itself with the recent news that the popular boxing legend was ready to meet with Vice President Leni Robredo when he comes back from Los Angeles, where Pacquiao is nursing his wounds, physically and emotionally, from his sorry loss to Cuban champion Yordenis Ugas.

Pacquiao said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ Pinky Webb in LA that he was willing to discuss an alliance with political groups that share his goals for the country.

Pacquiao said his “22-round” agenda includes putting corrupt officials behind bars, fixing the economy, and providing housing for informal settlers in Metro Manila, adding that his only interest is helping the poor, which, based on his actions since he rose to prominence, is easily believable.

Pacquiao also denied the Cusi group was reaching out to him. There could be truth that the Cusi group was reaching out to get him back to the fold, knowing his popularity with the masses, but the senator is more likely to reject any such attempt after the President badmouthed him twice for questioning the administration’s policy towards China and after saying that corruption under the present administration is more prevalent than in the previous administration.

Duterte criticized Pacquiao for his “shallow” knowledge of foreign policy and admonished him to “study first” before weighing in on the China issue.

On the corruption remark, Duterte dared Pacquiao to name names and vowed to campaign against him if he didn’t. Pacquiao said he would as soon as he comes back from his fight, but added that the President could start investigating the Department of Health, which was then and until now saddled with corruption allegations.

“Nagkasugatan na,” as Filipinos would say on the possibility of reconciliation between the two former allies, now protagonists. It would do well for Pacquiao and Pimentel to stay their course and part ways with the controversial President and his allies. After all, PDP-Laban was founded to stand against dictatorship and fight for good governance, and not to support authoritarians. Their unholy alliance with Duterte for years cast a big shadow on these ideals. The PDP-Laban founders – the late former Senators Nene Pimentel, Ninoy Aquino and Lorenzo Tanada – must have been turning on their graves in the last five years.

Although the Lacson-Sotto and Go-Duterte tandems have made known their plans to run in 2022, nothing is for certain until certificates of candidacy have been filed. It is not far-fetched to speculate that either of these teams would decide to forego of their bids and support a more winnable team.

A Robredo-Pacquiao team-up would definitely be a blockbuster, and would give the reportedly poll-leading Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio and anyone she partners with a run for their money. A Robredo team-up with popular Manila Mayor Isko Moreno would also be a powerhouse, but Pacquiao could probably bring in more votes from the Duterte base than Moreno would.

A battle between a Robredo-Pacquiao team and a possible tandem of Sara Duterte and Bongbong Marcos would be a great match-up, where the delineation between the contending tickets would be very clear – one side representing the hard-fist and pro-China policies of the Duterte administration, and the other, the democratic and good governance goals of the opposition.

This, of course, depends on whether Robredo and Pacquiao reach a deal and the opposition groups rally behind them, on one hand, and Duterte-Carpio settle for Marcos instead of acquiescing to her father’s demand that she take in Go for vice president.

The chances of Sara running with Bong Go appears slim at this point, after she publicly admonished her father’s attempt to drag her into the PDP-Laban fray, adding that she was not interested in running with either her father or Go. Former Davao del Norte Gov. Anthony del Rosario, secretary general of Sara’s Hugpong ng Pagbabao (HnP) party, also said that even if Sara decided to forego a presidential run in 2022, the party was not keen in supporting a Go-Duterte tandem.

Although nothing is certain even as the filing deadline nears, these recent political intramurals have made the 2022 presidential elections – the 17th direct presidential election since 1935, and the sixth under the 1987 Constitution – even more interesting and even more critical for the country.

As they say in Filipino, “abangan ang susunod na kabanata.”