MANILA, Philippines - "Under-the-radar" campaigning and a crucial endorsement by Sen. Francis Escudero a month before the polls helped Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay negate the popularity of vice-presidential frontrunners Mar Roxas and Loren Legarda to sprint ahead in the race, a political strategist said early Wednesday morning.
Campaign strategist Malou Tiquia, who helped steer Roxas to a successful senatorial campaign in 2007, said Binay and his running mate, former President Joseph Estrada, took advantage of their "underdog" status to wage a low-key campaign that helped strengthen their support base for the May election.
"What afforded them the chance to do the sprint was media wasn't paying attention. There wasn't much attention on the two. There were not as many stories about Erap especially the fact that he was convicted of plunder but still allowed to run," Tiquia said in an ANC interview.
The political strategist noted the Makati mayor had initially entertained ideas of running for president early last year before the death of former president Cory Aquino last August launched the presidential bid of her son, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.
Plans by the Liberal Party (LP) to form its own slate for the May election blocked opposition parties from forming a coalition. In the end, Binay decided to team up with Estrada for what Tiquia described as a showdown between "the real opposition" and other groups who only fought the administration in the 2007 election.
Tiquia said Estrada and Binay escaped most of the propaganda war being waged by the LP camp of Aquino and the Nacionalista Party of Sen. Manny Villar throughout most of the campaign period. She said even the media failed to focus on corruption allegations against Estrada, who was already convicted of plunder; and Binay, who has served as mayor of Makati for several terms since 1986.
Instead of a full-blown media war at the start of the campaign, Tiquia said the Estrada-Binay tandem took a non-traditional approach by holding off on their spending until a month before the polls.
While other candidates flooded the media with ads to increase awareness and establish trust ratings, the unlikely duo went the traditional route and barnstormed areas where they knew they were weakest.
"It was really stealth. From the start, they played it coy, let's not engage. This was a slow burn but essentially they had a base, which was the opposition. They went to Leyte because they knew they were weak there. They didn't go to Mindanao because they were strong there. They concentrated in the Visayas," Tiquia said.
She added: "The places they visited actually gave them the votes they are getting right now."
She also revealed that Estrada and Binay relied heavily on surveys and even adjusted their campaigns according to what the surveys were telling them.
"These are two people whose campaigns were dictated by internal surveys. They had an internal survey in the first week of April that essentially mirrored the results of the April 22-25 Pulse Asia survey. This was a weekly tracking done for the team. They were conscientious about what the surveys were telling them," she said.
Tiquia said the low-key campaign eventually paved the way for Binay's masterstroke: a campaign ad by Sen. Escudero endorsing his vice-presidential bid.
Tiquia said that before the Escudero ad came out, Binay was already slowly gaining in the ratings through his carefully placed campaign ads.
"As early as February, he already had an ad talking about his accomplishments. In the 24th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution, he also made an ad claiming his share in the EDSA Revolution. In March, he did the ads on 'Gaganda ang buhay kay Binay' and how he came from an ordinary family," she said.
She added: "[Binay] has been in the public eye since 1986 so that's a lot of time planting seeds and harvesting it at the right time."
A check on Binay's ratings in the recent Social Weather Stations surveys seems to bear this out. The PDP-Laban bet increased his ratings from 10% in December to 37% in May 2-3, just seven days before the official vote.
Tiquia said the end-game strategy employed by Binay and Estrada was not done in the 2004 and 2007 national campaigns.
"This was the Chiz endorsement ad, which was really meant for the end game. It contrasted Binay with the number 1 (which is Mar). Yes, they were below the radar but when they were strong enough, they started attacking number 2 and number 1. In the end, they were overtaking the others," she said.
Failure to adjust
The political strategist also said she was puzzled by how Roxas ran his campaign for the vice-presidential race. She said that instead of a carefully laid out campaign plan from the start until the end of the campaign period, Roxas seemed to rely too much on the goodwill he generated when he slipped down to the VP race and allowed Aquino to become the LP standard-bearer.
"They were blindsided by Binay...Even the way the ads were done was not the way he did it in 2004," she said.
Tiquia said Roxas did not seem to react when he started slipping in the ratings, from a high 40-43% at the start of the campaign.
She said that when the Escudero ad came out, Roxas's camp only came out with ad showing Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin endorsing Roxas. The problem with the ad, Tiquia said, was that Locsin is "known (only) in Metro Manila...and not nationwide."
She said this led to the situation where Binay had statistically tied Roxas in the vice-presidential race a week before the elections.
Will Roxas lose?
According to the last Commission on Elections tally at 4:16 p.m. of May 11, Binay is leading the vice-presidential race with 12,921, 315 votes while Roxas trailed with 12,072,145 votes. Loren Legarda and Bayani Fernando, who have both conceded in the VP race, got 1,607,753 and 899,8444 votes, respectively.
An SWS exit poll, however, said Roxas could still win the race if command votes from the Iglesia ni Cristo religious sect boost the LP bet's votes. The INC earlier endorsed both Aquino and Roxas.
Tiquia said traditionally, the INC endorsement could give an additional 1 million votes for a candidate. She added, however, that the endorsement of Davao Pastor Apollo Quiboloy for Roxas has yet to show if it would translate to more votes.
"There is value to the endorsement of a religious group but whether there is a gain in votes is another thing," she said.
Tiquia dismissed rumors that supporters of Roxas would be able to pad votes for the LP bet by rigging the precinct count optical scan machines being used in the country's first ever nationwide automated polls.
She added that if Roxas does lose, she said the senator could still be an asset to Aquino especially if the latter wins the presidency. She said that as a former trade secretary, Roxas could be part of Aquino's economic team that would "shore up Team Philippines."
"Assuming that he loses, I hope [Roxas] will be active in the party and as an adviser. Wait for the 1-year ban and then wait for an appointment," she said.