Liberal Party exec: Pangilinan not solely to blame for Otso Diretso loss

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 22) — A top official of the Liberal Party said Wednesday that Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, who resigned as the political party’s president, should not be blamed the loss of the opposition's senatorial candidates in the 2019 midterm elections.

“I think it’s a shared responsibility of the whole group. We know that we were up against a wall . We knew that if we ever went to different towns and provinces, there would be no welcoming party there,” LP Vice President for External Affairs Erin Tañada told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

In his resignation letter on Tuesday, Pangilinan held himself “primarily accountable” for the loss of Otso Diretso, the opposition coalition led by the LP. The party's Secretary General Quezon City 6th District Rep. Kit Belmonte also quit for the same reason, but Vice President Leni Robredo, chairman of the former ruling party, rejected both resignations.

Apart from taking full responsibility for the worst turnout for the opposition since 1947, Pangilinan may have also resigned in anticipation of his re-election bid in 2022, Tanada said.

“He has not yet decided, but I would assume that he would be running and it would be hard to manage a party in a presidential election and run also at the same time,” he explained.

LP Vice Chairman Senator Franklin Drilon said the party will hold a caucus after the proclamation of the winning senators to discuss Pangilinan’s resignation. LP stalwarts dissuaded Pangilinan from stepping down, but Tañada said it was also an option for the party to elect Robredo as its president.

Cards stacked against opposition

All Otso Diretso bets, including Tañada, failed to clinch a Senate seat, in a crushing blow to the opposition unseen since 1947 when the administration swept the election. The coalition's highest-ranking candidate in the senatorial race was outgoing Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, who placed 14th.

Tañada said they expected that the cards would be stacked against the opposition, as normally happens in any election. However, he said the odds against the Otso Diretso candidates went up when President Rodrigo Duterte scared off local officials from endorsing opposition bets.

“[Duterte] used fear, waved a bunch of papers proclaiming a narcolist ... that caused even mayors to shudder. And so traditional friends, who you can call and approach, especially with friends of mine who I’ve had the courtesy of being part of three Congresses would say, ‘Erin, you can come but don’t expect me to welcome you in that district or in that town, baka mapagalitan eh [I may get scolded,]” he revealed.

The administration had repeatedly denied using its powers against the opposition. However, Malacanang released a matrix tagging certain opposition figures, including Otso Diretso bets Aquino and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, as part of a plot to discredit Duterte.

The Palace also said that the victory of mostly administration-backed candidates was a sign that voters did not want an “obstructionist Senate.”

Nine of the 12 incoming senators were endorsed by Duterte or his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara, raising concern about the independence of the chamber. Some of the incoming senators, however, have assured that they would remain independent.

The election results expands the Senate majority bloc in the Senate to 20 members as the minority bloc shrinks to four — with Senators Aquino and Antonio Trillanes IV stepping down next month. De Lima remains detained in Camp Crame over drug charges, leaving the minority bloc with only three votes on the floor.

Despite this, Tañada said the remaining senators in the minority bloc — Drilon, Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros — would take up the cudgels in questioning bills that they would deem to be “anti-poor” and “anti-people.”

LP not crumbling

The LP also had a dismal showing in the House of Representatives where the party only got 18 seats. Tañada said this may even shrink further if the elected congressmen switch alliances.

Despite the massive defeat, Tañada said the party would not fall apart.

“We will not crumble. As a matter of fact, we faced the dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s. The Liberal Party did not crumble. We will continue. Again, there are always setbacks in life,” he said.