As the period for the filing of candidacies ended last October 8, it became clear that the effort to unify the opposition ahead of the 2022 presidential elections has not succeeded. Despite having several meetings, Vice President Leni Robredo, Senator Manny Pacquiao, Senator Panfilo Lacson, and Manila Mayor Francisco ‘Isko Moreno’ Domagoso all decided to go ahead with their respective presidential bids.

The field of presidential candidates will not be finalized until November 15 – the deadline for political parties to put forward substitute candidates. This means that there is still a glimmer of hope for the opposition to be unified. However, our nation’s recent political history shows that attempts to forge “unity tickets” during post-1986 presidential elections has never materialized.

Calls for unification usually involve candidates that appeal to the same voting base. This situation has repeatedly played out in the last three decades: There’s a presidential candidate with more government experience but with lower survey ratings on one side, and another candidate with less government experience but with higher ratings on the other.

The 1992 presidential elections is the closest presidential elections in history since the winner, Fidel Ramos, won over his nearest opponent Miriam Defensor-Santiago by less than 900,000 votes. Ramos only received 5.3 million votes, and his margin of victory was so small that he wouldn’t be president had Santiago teamed-up with then-Senate President Jovito Salonga or if there was an alliance between business magnate Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco and former First Lady Imelda Marcos.

A less-complicated dynamic played out during the 2004 presidential elections. Then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was running for her own six-year term. She had four challengers, and the strongest among them was veteran action star Fernando Poe, Jr. Nevertheless, Poe could not really solidify his hold on the opposition vote which at that time was largely represented by supporters of ousted President Joseph Estrada because of Senator Panfilo ‘Ping’ Lacson. The campaign season began with Poe maintaining a significant lead over Arroyo, but she was able to gradually catch-up and eventually take the lead.

Leni Robredo and Isko Moreno
Vice President Leni Robredo and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso (Credits: VP Robredo’s Facebook page)

Despite several meetings, no one budged between Poe and Lacson. After all, why would Poe give way to someone who has much lower ratings compared to him? Arroyo gained two other lucky breaks when former Senator Raul Roco took a two-week break from campaigning to seek medical treatment for prostate cancer and when she secured the endorsement of the influential religious group Iglesia ni Cristo (INC). It is not hard to imagine INC endorsing Poe or Lacson if they were able to join forces – thus sealing their win.

In 2015, then-President Benigno Aquino III tried to persuade Senator Grace Poe, FPJ’s adopted daughter, to be the running-mate of then-Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. Roxas, it must be recalled, decided against running for president during the 2010 elections to give way to Aquino. He understandably wouldn’t give way to someone again.

As for Poe, she must have scoffed at the idea of running as #2 to someone who is polling lower than her – the mindset that her late father had twelve years before. Just three days before Election Day 2016, Roxas issued a televised appeal to Poe for them to have a last-minute deal but it was swiftly rejected. Both of them lost badly to then-Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. In an ironic twist of fate, Roxas received more votes than Poe.

What is the “secret sauce” to making a “unity ticket” happen? The tandem of Corazon ‘Cory’ Aquino and Salvador “Doy” Laurel for the 1986 snap elections provides us with a roadmap. Laurel announced his decision to run against Marcos circa June 1985 – months before the late dictator called for a snap election. When Marcos finally did, Aquino also declared herself as a presidential candidate after a successful effort to get one million signature from her supporters.

The two camps eventually agreed to join forces with Aquino running for president and Laurel running instead for vice president under the party United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO). After she took office, Aquino also made Laurel her foreign affairs secretary. The “unity ticket” happened because there was an agreement for the two sides to be on the same ticket with the one sliding down to the VP slot getting a high-profile cabinet portfolio if they win. Although their alliance ended in less than two years, the opposition was able to achieve its primary goal in the 1986 elections which was to drive Marcos out of power.

One can just imagine what would have happened if Robredo offered Domagoso the VP slot in her ticket, with him being appointed as Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government if they both win. But of course, it seems everything is water under the bridge now.

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