2019 for the opposition: The uphill climb that fell flat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 28) – 2019 has not been easy for those who did not take on the same side as President Rodrigo Duterte.

From straight senatorial electoral losses to a Cabinet post taken back after days, members of the political opposition who want dissent and drive for change still struggled to power through the administration this year.

The uphill battle in the midterm polls

Eight candidates took on the challenge to go against Duterte-backed bets for the senatorial elections. Otso Diretso was comprised of recognizable names in public service, but half were inexperienced in the field of politics. The opposition fielded Interior Secretary Mar Roxas; Sen. Bam Aquino; Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano; former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay; De La Salle University Law Dean Chel Diokno; Marawi civic leader Samira Gutoc; former House Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada; and veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal during the May national polls.

No less than Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, the Liberal Party (LP) chair, stood by her candidates who were a mix of neophyte and familiar faces, with promising track records and a solid stand on the country’s pressing issues.

None from the eight-man coalition wore yellow during the campaign period – veering away from the contentious “dilawan” tag. No one danced on stage to merely entertain potential voters during local and regional visits. Despite limited resources, their attempt to gain significant traction – especially among the youth voters  was visible, mostly through their active participation in televised town hall debates and online engagement.

Opposition candidates worked doubly hard to get to the “Magic 12” through a door-to-door and volunteer-driven persuasion campaign in some localities  even with Roxas and Aquino only topping the pollster surveys for consecutive months.

READ: Official campaign period for senatorial bets, party-list groups kicks off

However, the tough race ended with Aquino ranking 14th and Roxas gaining the 16th spot in the May 13 elections. The resounding loss cost the opposition zero victory in the senatorial circle for the first time in decades.

Nine of the winning administration candidates were endorsed by presidential daughter Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio through her regional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

READ: Duterte's Senate bets dominate 2019 midterm elections 

The remaining opposition in the upper chamber are Senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, and Senator Leila de Lima, who remains detained due to alleged drug charges.

In the House of Representatives alone, the remaining members of the Liberal Party were divided whether they will join the supermajority bloc comprising of allies of President Rodrigo Duterte or join the minority bloc before the start of the 18th Congress.

LP stalwart Edgar Erice of Caloocan earlier said that most of their party’s House members had to consider joining the supermajority  a decision made “out of practicality,” rather than losing congressional allocations for their constituents. He, however, stressed that they will maintain their core principles in the 18th Congress, which includes fighting against extrajudicial killings, death penalty, lowering of criminal liability, and charter change, among other issues.

READ: Liberal Party solons split in 18th Congress

Of the 18 LP congressmen, only Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman remained an “independent opposition.”

Other party members who became part of the 28-man House minority have installed Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. as their minority leader, even as the lawmaker was among those who voted for Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano as the Speaker.

READ: Manila lawmaker is new House minority leader  

The House is currently dominated by members of the ruling party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) which started the 18th Congress with 84 members.

No less than Cayetano, one of Duterte’s closest allies, had urged his colleagues to join the “Diehard Duterte Supermajority” in order to fulfill the President’s legislative agenda.

Sedition threats and matrices

Opposition figures, including Robredo, were slapped with sedition and inciting to sedition complaints days before Duterte held his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Robredo and 35 other individuals, including seven of the Otso Diretso candidates – Roxas not included  opposition Senators De Lima and Hontiveros faced complaints for allegedly inciting the public to rebel against the Duterte administration. They were accused of having a hand in the release of “Ang Totoong Narcolist” videos, which linked Duterte and his family to the drug trade.

READ: PNP-CIDG files complaint vs. Robredo, opposition figures over viral narco list videos

Peter Joemel Advincula alias “Bikoy”, the man claiming to be the hooded figure in the set of videos, was a respondent and a witness in the complaint.

Prior to this, Bikoy himself was named by the government as the starting point of a supposed matrix of figures – including journalists and a lawyers’ group  which Malacañang itself claimed were responsible for an ongoing ouster plot against Duterte.

READ: Palace tags journalists, lawyers in alleged ouster plot vs. Duterte; PNP, AFP deny destabilization plan

Opposition figures filed their counter-affidavits to deny the sedition and other charges, claiming that the administration is using government agencies to “harbor lies” and “bully its critics.”

READ: Sedition complaint vs. Robredo, 30 others up for resolution

Robredo’s short-lived role in the drug war

Towards the end of the year, Robredo took on the challenge to be the co-chair of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs despite the advice of her allies.

Despite her public disagreements with Duterte's policies, she was offered to play a major role in the drug war after saying the administration should reassess its lapses, specifically the growing number of drug addicts despite the campaign going on full swing since 2016.

Upon her appointment in November as the co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee Against Illegal Drugs, she quickly went to work. She met with United Nations and United States officials, several national and local government bodies, and members of the private sector and religious groups.

What she deemed as part of the leg work to put an end to the alleged extrajudicial killings in the guise of a drug war, spelled doom for her Cabinet post.

READ: TIMELINE: VP Robredo's short stint as anti-drug body co-chair

Duterte sacked her 19 days into the job. He claimed that Robredo’s connivance with the US delegation was a “misstep” as she could possibly be putting the state's security at risk considering she is an opposition leader.

READ: Duterte changed mind on Robredo Cabinet post due to ‘missteps’ – Panelo

This was the second time that the Vice President was offered, then removed, from a Cabinet post as she has been at odds with Duterte on many issues since they both took office. She previously led the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council from July to December 2016 but resigned after the President ordered her to “desist from attending all Cabinet meetings.”

Fighting it out

Despite her removal from the anti-drug czar post, the Vice President is still vouching for alternative options to combat illegal drugs through community-based rehabilitation programs.

This will be piloted in the Bicol Region, one of the areas gripped by a "big" drug problem – including her hometown of Naga City.

READ: Hometown Naga City a ‘transshipment point’ for drugs, Robredo says

Robredo will also release her report and recommendations for a better anti-drug campaign by late December or January next year.

"Kung sa tingin nila matatapos ito dito, hindi nila ako kilala. Nagsisimula pa lamang ako," Robredo said.

[Translation: If they think it will end here, they don't know who I am. I've only just begun.]

CNN Philippines' Lara Tan contributed to this report.