Otso Diretso begins tough challenge of campaigning as underdogs

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The moment of truth has begun for the opposition senatorial slate as they begin Day One of what would certainly prove a difficult 90-day campaign period for the underdogs.

The slate, which has had to change its name from the tongue-twisting “Oposisyon Koalisyon” to the sharper-sounding “Otso Diretso,” kicked off its campaign on Tuesday, February 12 in Caloocan City.

Caloocan City is a strange place to begin. Although it has 719,447 registered voters in 2019, Mayor Oscar Malapitan is an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte. And it shows.

While their opponents, the Sara Duterte-led Hugpong ng Pagbabago, is welcomed by large mass of crowds in the Arroyo bailiwick of San Fernando, Pampanga, Otso Diretso had to make do with a handful of Muslim supporters for Samira Gutoc, the slate’s most trending candidate as of late.

But with membership of the Liberal Party (LP) dwindling, Otso Diretso has to settle for second, or even third best. LP’s Edgar Erice, Representative of the 2nd District of Caloocan, still has influence over the city, said slate coordinators in the quiet Tuesday morning that kicked off their campaign.

Settling

OTSO DIRETSO. Mindanaoan candidate Samira Gutoc kicks off the Otso Diretso campaign with a prayer rally in Caloocan City on February 12, 2019. Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler

OTSO DIRETSO. Mindanaoan candidate Samira Gutoc kicks off the Otso Diretso campaign with a prayer rally in Caloocan City on February 12, 2019.

Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler

Gutoc was the only candidate during the morning festivities, with 6 others – Gary Alejano, Bam Aquino, Chel Diokno, Florin Hilbay, Romulo Macalintal, and Erin Tañada – following in the noon press conference.

The slate’s most prominent candidate, Mar Roxas, chose a solo trip for the kickoff, campaigning in his hometown in Capiz.

Gutoc thanked Malapitan in her speech, though the mayor was not there. Gutoc said Malapitan sent his assistant to coordinate her prayer rally in front of city hall.

The civil reception is the best that Otso Diretso could hope for, as Gutoc said some local officials wouldn’t even let them speak on their turf.

“May mga ilan na hindi kami makabisita dahil syempre administration, and I am opposition, pero nakakahanap kami ng mga eskwelahan, ng mga palengke, sana po pagbigyan kami at huwag kaming pagbawalan ng mga nandoon,” Gutoc said cheerfully on Tuesday.

(There are some places we cannot even visit because of course, they are administration turfs, and I am opposition, but we've managed to find schools, markets, and I hope they could let us speak there and not bar our events.)

Unity 

Roxas was also not present during the launch of the then-called Oposisyon Koalisyon in Marikina in October.

Roxas’ absence was so prominent that vocal opposition supporter Mae “Juana Change” Paner told the party to tell Roxas to make more of an effort to join the slate in its activities.

Reelectionist Senator Bam Aquino said during the press conference that the Caloocan event is just a “pre-launch,” with the main event happening in Robredo turf Naga City on Wednesday, February 14, and where all 8 candidates would be present.

Naiintindihan naman natin na si Secretary Roxas ay nagkaroon ng event sa Capiz, but we’re hoping that by tomorrow kumpleto na ‘yung buong 8…. Mas okay naman na ang 8 kesa 13 'di ba?” Aquino said, taking a swipe at Hugpong’s 13-member slate for the 12 vacant positions.

(We understand that Secretary Roxas has an event in Cadiz, but we’re hoping that by tomorrow we will be complete. Eight is better than 13 right?)

LP President Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said having solo events is “just the way” that campaigns work.

“We will have several opportunities for him to join us again, at mangyayari talaga, kahit ako noon, may mga panahong hindi ako nakakasama sa slate (and that really happens, even during my campaign, there were times I couldn’t join the slate) that’s how it is,” said Pangilinan.

At one point, Romulo Macalintal quipped, “Bakit ba si Mar Roxas ang hinahanap ninyo eh nandito naman kami (Why are you looking for Mar Roxas when we’re all here)?"

Slow pace

The mood picked up late afternoon when the more popular Aquino took to the streets to start their Persuasion campaign focusing this time on voter awareness of the candidates.

In the campaign, the candidates – or their volunteers – would go house-to-house to ask common Filipinos prepared questions that would pin down on the issues close to the voters’ hearts, or whether they know the candidates at all.

Often, the voters admit they do not know most of the candidates on the slate.

Awareness is still low at this point that Gutoc said there’s a possibility she might not even be able to campaign in Mindanao, where she is already known as a long-time peace worker. She said they might consider focusing on her visibility especially in Luzon.

“Isa kasi sa strategy para makilala ako sa Luzon is to go as much as possible, makilala ako sa Lingayen gulf, Calabarzon area, Pampanga, Pangasinan, kaya kung bibigyan ako ng tsansa ng media, at ng mga LGUs kahit iniiwasan nyo po kami, sana makasalita kami sa inyong mga townhall, sana po,” said Gutoc.

(One of our strategies for me to be known in Luzon is to go there as much as possible, like in Lingayen Gulf, Calabarzon Area, Pampanga, Pangasinan, so if the media can give me a chance, and Local Government Units, although you're trying to avoid us, I hope we can speak in your townhalls.)

Gutoc is coming off a trending performance at GMA News’ senatorial debate, where her clapback at fellow Mindanaoan, former police chief General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, was applauded by millennials on social media.

Of the 8 candidates, Gutoc is one with the more traction, with her aggressive style of campaigning, and strong statements on issues she advocates for like peace in Mindanao and displacement due to war.

Put in another slate with more influence, Gutoc has the potential to rise through the surveys, but she said this is the best time to be an opposition. Gutoc was part of the Duterte adminstration through the Bangsamoro Transition Commission but she resigned because of the president’s rape jokes.

“I would not have traded this for anything, I’ve always felt na manindigan sa prinsipyo, hindi ‘yung kumakapit ka, nag resign ako sa Bangsamoro Transition Commission, alam nila na hindi personalan, kaya hindi siguro ako binabanatan ni President kasi alam nyang isang batang nag-aral ay may paninndigan din,” Gutoc said.

(I would not have traded this for anything, I've always felt to stand by my principles, and not to cling on to power. I resigned from the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, they know this is not personal, and maybe that's why the President has not hit me yet, because he knows I'm just a young woman who studied and who has principles.) 

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, a legacy candidate like Aquino, Roxas, and Erin Tañada, said that what distinguishes the slate is the candidates’ track record, principled stand, and proven ability.

“Sa kabila, politics of convenience. Kami politics of principles (In the other camp, it's  politics of convenience. Ours is politics of principles),” said Aquino.

But will their chest-beating narrative translate to votes? They have 90 days to make it happen. – Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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