By Kezo Andre Javier

Cartoon by Ace Vincent Lorico

As he officially kicked off the 90-day campaign period for the May 2022 elections, presidential aspirant former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. could not have emphasized his desire for unity more. He spent most, if not all, of his 20-minute speech talking about nothing but unity. Well, he did manage to form a really strong coalition, the “UniTeam”, which is composed of the most prominent political parties in the country including his Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP), Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), Lakas-CMD, and Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). But even if their political machinery and influence looks like a force to be reckoned with, we must always remember that unity for the country must not come from them but rather people coming together. 

Marcos Jr. has been very clear with his message of unity from the beginning. His idea of unity is to stabilize the political playing field which he believes will lead to national unity. However, the former senator’s vision of unity is exclusive to them. Even if there is a hint of unity among Filipinos, his priority is to unite politicians first and it does not help to see what kind of political figures he is uniting.

First of all, the presidential candidate himself is a convict. The Court of Appeals (CA) ruled with finality that Marcos Jr. is guilty of failing to file his income tax return (ITR) during his term as vice governor and governor of Ilocos Norte. Even if the CA decision removed the jail sentence, he was still fined P36,000 for the charges which he failed to comply with until now. Moreover, their family had also amassed around P300 billion from the government, ill-gotten wealth that the Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG) has recovered or is continuing to recover. This is way more than just a whiff of corruption and no amount of “unity” messages can hide the truth from the people.

His running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, is the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte whose administration has been marred by extrajudicial killings in his bloody war on drugs. Meanwhile, PMP’s lead figure, former President Joseph Estrada, was ousted after EDSA II and convicted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan. And behind the scenes is former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Lakas-CMD whose presidency was tarnished by graft and corruption including the infamous Hello Garci scandal which casted doubts on the legitimacy of her 2004 win. With all of these people running the “UniTeam,” not to mention the other personalities with the same questionable backgrounds, the Filipinos already have an idea on how these people abused power when given their chances and how they will rule us if they win again. Indeed, birds of the same feather flock together.

Continuing with his campaign, Marcos Jr. has always projected his image as a “unifying” president. When his fiercest rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, hit him for being a liar and absent during difficult times, he just shrugged it off because as his spokesperson Atty. Vic Rodriguez said, Marcos Jr. “will not engage in negative and hateful campaigning”. Although he may not personally badmouth his fellow candidates, it seems there is no need to do so as his supporters do the dirty work for him.

A Rappler analysis revealed that there is an evident push to create a network of Marcos supporters on Twitter which is composed of accounts that were mostly created around October 2021 – the time the late dictator’s son filed his candidacy for president. While they promote the candidacy of the former senator, they also engage primarily in attacking his critics and rivals including Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and VP Robredo. Although Marcos Jr. himself denied his association with such troll farms, it cannot dispel the doubts of the people. Why else would anyone create multiple fake accounts and form inorganic clout to target one candidate and benefit another? Even if these fake networks are not really associated with him, the least he can do is put an effort to stop this disinformation drive. And the fact that he does not do anything already says a lot about what the truth is. Clearly, you cannot unify if you are causing the division yourself.

On the side of the opposition, presidential candidate VP Robredo tried to form a united ticket to face the pro-administration candidate for the 2022 polls. She engaged in multiple “unity talks” with various presidential aspirants including Senator Panfilo Lacson, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, and Senator Manny Pacquiao. Ultimately, these talks failed and all of them filed their respective presidential candidacies. Each one has their reasons for the failure to unite but most notable was Robredo’s. “The focus now is not to unite the principals, but the people,” she said as she launched her bid for the country’s top post in October. This proved to be true immediately after her announcement and the movement just got stronger as time passed by.

From the start, Robredo and her running mate Senator Kiko Pangilinan stressed their hope for a people’s campaign and their supporters did not fail them. Right after the announcement of her candidacy, supporters were quick to form volunteer networks to help in the mobilization of the campaign. Her run mounted an actual people’s campaign where supporters voluntarily devoted their time, energy, and resources. Feeding programs touted as “palugaw” sprouted all over the country and people themselves created their campaign networks without waiting for Robredo’s main campaign team. Even her campaign color of pink came from the supporters themselves. And just a few months into her bid, the fruits of the people’s campaign were already out. Robredo jumped from eight percent in the September 2021 SWS Presidential Survey to 20 percent in December 2021, indicating a huge influx of support since her formal announcement of her candidacy.

Going beyond the political game, Robredo also ran as an independent despite being the chairman of the Liberal Party. She said that her camp hopes this move will show their openness for unity and alliances with different sectors. And earlier this year, the Makabayan coalition formally endorsed the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem for the elections despite the progressives not supporting the liberals in the past. At this point, it looks like everything that the Robredo campaign hoped for is coming to life and her people’s campaign surely brings their ticket a fighting chance come May 2022.

Philippine politics has long been a dirty game that traditional politicians have played and mocked. In the absence of a strong party system, it has been a practice for most of them to enter into alliances with other politicians for the sake of convenience, either to have stronger machinery or unopposed election runs. But in all of these instances, the people will be the lone losers because no one will benefit from these unifications other than the politicians who have already been in power for a long time. It is high time for us to realize that no amount of unity from politicians can overpower a united Filipino people – one who will rally behind a vision for good governance and a brighter future for the nation.