Unexpected allies, undeclared rivals: A recap of all the odd twists in Philippine elections (so far)

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The year is drawing to a close, but all the plot twists involving aspirants, allies, and even former contenders in the 2022 polls are far from over.

From a failed unification plan to a substitution chaos, CNN Philippines breaks down all the bizarre political episodes that have unfolded this year, ahead of the national elections.

The unification plan that fell through

A retired boxer, a former actor, a senator, and a sitting vice president were initially expected to unite against the son of a dictator for the country’s highest post. But the plan did not push through after all of them proceeded to file their own candidacies.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson was first to announce that he was running for president next year, in tandem with Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, a fellow veteran in the political arena. 

In August, he disclosed that he pitched to Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo a so-called “unification formula” against the administration bets in the upcoming polls. Robredo — who has not yet announced her candidacy at the time — rejected the plan that entailed demanding candidates to eventually withdraw from the race in support of one common bet who performs best in pre-election surveys.

Robredo herself bared that aside from Lacson, she also initiated talks with other probable aspirants including Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao — who retired from boxing to run for the much-coveted post — in an attempt to unite people with the “same principles.”

The Vice President had also reached out to Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, initially pushing him to run for president. But Robredo revealed later that the mayor’s stance favoring the Marcoses was one of her "non-negotiables," prompting her to run for the presidency herself.

In the end, the tandems of Ping Lacson-Tito Sotto, Manny Pacquiao-Lito Atienza, Isko Moreno-Willie Ong, and Leni Robredo-Kiko Pangilinan are expected to battle head-to-head next year along with Bongbong Marcos-Sara Duterte and Leody de Guzman-Walden Bello.

The opposition's dilemma

The upcoming elections entailed a new approach to reach out to potential voters. For the opposition, that meant distancing from what was once perceived as the “dilawan” branding of the Liberal Party to show inclusivity. But some people, including a few supporters, have questioned her alliances and somewhat contradictory stand on some issues.

Robredo donned pink as her new campaign color when she filed her candidacy as an independent on Oct. 8. She remained the head of opposition, with party president Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan as her running mate.

But weeks after, she and Pangilinan filled their senatorial slate with some politicians who never really identified with the opposition and were even part of the tickets of Pacquiao and Lacson. This included former Vice President Jejomar Binay, former Sen. Francis Escudero, Senators Joel Villanueva, Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Richard Gordon.

Also part of the lineup were former Sen. Antonio Trillanes, Senators Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima, former Rep. Teddy Baguilat, Atty. Alex Lacson, Atty. Chel Diokno, and Atty. Sonny Matula. Many questioned the non-inclusion of other progressive leaders including human rights activist Neri Colmenares and labor rights leader Elmer Labog.

More than a month after, Robredo was also criticized after she clarified that she was not after all against the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict — the government’s controversial anti-communist insurgency task force, noting that the "careless statements" and red-tagging attempts of certain members have only put the task force in a bad light.

However, some were alarmed by this “contradictory stand” and emphasized that the task force was created to attack those critical of the current administration in the first place.

A tale of two factions

Not all allies of the administration have also been chummy with each other. Earlier this year, the ruling PDP-Laban party was split into two factions: one led by Pacquiao and the other led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.

Pacquiao, PDP-Laban acting president, previously warned members against “unauthorized” political moves after some party officers led by Cusi pushed for party chair President Rodrigo Duterte to run for vice president in the 2022 polls. The rift only grew wider after Pacquiao accused the current administration of being plagued by corruption.

The two parties went on to field their own bets amid the pending decision of the Commission on Elections on which should be hailed as the legitimate group. Pacquiao filed his bid in tandem with BUHAY Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza under the PROMDI party to “solidify his base” as a candidate who represents “people from the province.”

The Cusi faction endorsed a tandem between Sen. Bong Go and Duterte, but Go repeatedly declined the offer to be fielded for the top post. Duterte’s most trusted aide filed his bid as vice president while the President announced that he was going to retire from politics.

On Oct. 8, just hours before the deadline of filing, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa surprised everyone when he presented his certificate of candidacy as PDP-Laban’s standard bearer in tandem with Go. Speculations quickly arose that he was only going to be a “placeholder” candidate, especially since he openly admitted that he was willing to step aside if Duterte’s daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte runs for the post.

Marcos-Duterte and Marcos vs Duterte?

The show is far from over, with the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos attempting to retake Malacañang. His vice president? No less than Duterte’s very own daughter. 

This was not Plan A, since former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. admitted that he initially wanted the President to be his own running mate. But even he was shocked that the President suddenly backed out from the vice-presidential race at the time.

The younger Duterte already dropped hints that she will seek a higher post after withdrawing from the senatorial race and resigning from Hugpong ng Pagbabago to join Lakas-CMD. This is the party of former president Gloria Arroyo, whom she helped become House Speaker in 2018.

Mayor Duterte then filed for VP as a substitute bet under her new party. A few days later, Marcos confirmed that the presidential daughter will run in tandem with him.

The President did not seem to take this well, since he said that he would not forge alliances with Marcos, whom he described as a “weak leader.” He initially made this remark against an unnamed presidential bet, but he also alleged that the said person with a strong family name and following was into cocaine.

Meanwhile, Marcos’ camp said he does not feel alluded to by the controversial claim. He and the other male presidential aspirants took a drug test to disprove the accusation.

Duterte, allies on shaky ground with no leading candidates

With Marcos and Mayor Duterte now emerging as the tandem to beat, the President has yet to announce his next move.

When Mayor Duterte filed her VP bid in November, President Duterte was still on the offensive, in hopes that he could endorse a tandem between his aide and his daughter.

Dela Rosa, who was supposed to be the standard-bearer, withdrew his bid. Go also withdrew as VP but filed his certificate of candidacy as a substitute bet for the top post under the Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan, an ally of the PDP-Laban Cusi faction. The President, on the other hand, settled for the Senate.

But on Dec. 14, a day before the Comelec was supposed to announce its final list of official candidates, Go withdrew from the presidential race, noting that he only wanted to run in compliance with the PDP-Laban’s order. Hours later, Duterte followed suit and withdrew his senatorial bid through a representative.

Now, President Duterte has yet to name the candidates that he will support. But his party — also left with no candidates to endorse — hopes that the other members will continue to “toe the line” pending his announcement.

What’s next?

Speculations arise that the President may take his pick among the “non-administration” bets like Moreno or Pacquiao. But he remains silent about his next move.

Meanwhile, Marcos’ candidacy is not entirely free from hurdles, since the poll body has to resolve the six remaining petitions challenging his bid. Four petitions seek to disqualify him from the race, while two other pleas are asking the poll body to cancel his COC for supposedly making false claims that he is eligible to run for office.

Comelec has also yet to announce its final list of candidates for the polls.

On May 9, 2022, Filipinos are expected to put an end to the long-standing political drama as they cast their votes and install a new set of leaders that they hope will pull the country out of the health crisis and ensure its economic recovery next year.