Senator Grace Poe’s battle for legitimacy as #Halalan2016 presidential candidate has assumed blockbuster status courtesy of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). That doesn’t mean her woes are over. It certainly shouldn’t make her supporters complacent.
Poe may eventually bag that final Supreme Court victory, but she and her fans must now fight a tactical battle to stave off confusion and discouragement among voters.
As survey firms have noted, a segment of voters seem to think she is no longer a contender for #Halalan2016. That is exactly what her rivals want and plenty of funds are being expended these days in a grassroots whispering campaign.
READ: Misinformation affecting Poe campaign: Pulse Asia
How Poe works around the cash and perks the administration dangles on behalf of its candidate, how she and her backers counter black propaganda beyond press releases and advertising, will be the real gauge of her leadership skills.
The OSG’s support for the Senate ElectoralTribunal (SET) decision declaring Poe a natural-born Filipino affects more than the petition of Rizalito David, who has challenged that ruling at the Supreme Court.
Solicitor General Florin T. Hilbay has already informed the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that his office cannot back what it considers a flawed ruling.
READ: Comelec en banc disqualifies Poe
Comelec Chair Andy Bautista says the Sol-Gen’s notice, received Monday, means the poll agency is on its own in what could be a bruising high court battle. Bautista can’t be the Comelec’s champion; he is part of the dissenting minority.
The Comelec en banc upheld the first and second division rulings cancelling the certificate of candidacy (COC) of Poe. These moves disqualify her from the 2016 presidential race, but only if upheld by the Supreme Court.
The high court has issued two TROs, however, and has set oral arguments on Jan. 19. It ordered the Comelec and all private challengers of the senator’s candidacy to comment on her petition.
While there’s no telling how the Supreme Court will decide on Poe’s separate petition to overturn the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ruling disqualifying her as a candidate, her odds have just brightened.
The three justices that voted against her in the SET are inhibiting, at least on this particular petition.
We don’t know if they will recuse themselves in the Comelec cases, though one also involves the issue of Poe’s natural-born status.
The senator asked the high court to consolidate the SET and Comelec cases to “expedite” the process. Naturally, she wants Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion to inhibit.
Wanted: True believers
The OSG said the SET did not abuse its authority in ruling that Poe is a natural-born citizen and that she got back this same status when she reacquired citizenship in July 2006.
It’s now up to the Comelec and Poe’s detractors to convince the high court that she should be kicked out to the political wilderness. Aside from the issue of being natural-born (or not), there’s also a challenge on her residency qualification.
Those who support Poe believe, of course, that she meets all candidacy requirements. But they can’t afford to just sit back and wait for the SC decision – assuming it goes for their bet. They must start working for her now.
Poe’s problem is she lacks the kind of true believers that Duterte enjoys (online especially) and Binay has always commanded. (As Roxas’s camp learned in 2010, don’t let the vice president’s subdued social media presence fool you).
Duterte, like him or hate him, has charisma. His derring-do infects his supporters. They’re self-starters. They need reins, not marching orders. They’re savvy – and passionate. They don’t shirk from bad news. Heck, they thrive on bad news.
Binay’s decades of quiet patronage and genuine interpersonal skills have buoyed him through the toughest times. Those who – rightly – find him distasteful on issues of corruption shouldn’t play blind to his assets. I’ve asked many LGU officials about the vice president’s strengths.
One unforgettable answer: Even with his back against the wall, Binay never demanded payback, never acted like he was entitled their support. Other politicians think they are owed gratitude. Binay, says this governor – a Liberal Party governor – shows his gratitude. That counts even when it is all a show.
Of all the candidates, it is Roxas pursuing the most traditional of routes. The administration has fallen back on the Macapagal-Arroyo how-to-win-elections rule book, the final irony of tuwid na daan. I doubt if Poe’s supporters – including very many disaffected admirers of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III – will want that.
Do the hustle
At the moment, Poe lags in terms of finances. Tight isn’t exactly the right word – she has enough to stump around the country. She just doesn’t have the kind of infinity wells that Mar Roxas and Jejomar Binay seem to enjoy. The former benefits from the sudden surge in spending of the administration – talk about the principle of discretion that has underpinned its budgetary vision, including pork. The latter – god knows from which cesspool Binay’s funds come from.
Poe is no starry-eyed dreamer despite that Madonna mien and knows the taps won’t fully open until she wins at the Supreme Court. That’s why capitalists are capitalists; they’re all out for return on investment. Politicians, even those fawning over her, are also hedging at the moment. They’ll host her and stand beside her on stages. But they’re still waiting for the “downloads” before the real push.
The Makabayan bloc are among the most visible of Poe's supporters, especially in the provinces. Their graduating Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares is on her slate. But that's not going to be enough. Her believers among 'ordinary folk' should step in. They should take a page from the Duterte fan base's game manual. Because in this, Duterte's people are right: If you care enough for something or someone, you must do some investing in terms of time and money.
While waiting for the SC, her fans can spring for smaller tarps that proclaim: "Still in the running and she's my bet". You can phrase it anyway you want. There is no rule that says supporters can't hang tarps from homes and business establishments. You can say, "Natural born supports natural-born Pinoy." That's your opinion, not a violation of the sub judice rule. (Of course, the SC can always rule otherwise, but believers take risks, including risking having egg on their faces. It's not going to hurt that much.)
Her fans should also print their own pamphlets and distribute these around their neighborhood. They shouldn't wait for t-shirts; they should design and make their own shirts. They should put signs on their cars. They should wear armbands, anything that gets the conversation going.
On social media, they should band together and share each other's posts. There's no shortcut to getting social media traction. Duterte's followers share anything and everything about their idol. Yes, including critical articles and blogs (including mine). They then add to the conversation, either attacking critics's positions or adding anecdotes to bolster their candidate's image. Despite the bashing, I can't help but appreciate that kind of grit and passion. Trolls notwithstanding, there's an authenticity to the Duterte social media push that some candidates don't have. It's truly organic, for better or worse.
Poe has many real, authentic, articulate people backing her. But like their candidate, they're a bit reserved. They're well-behaved, like her, which is refreshing. But good manners should not translate to boredom. They must increase creativity in social media posts. I don't see much of the funny, snarky, and witty (if disturbing) posts that Duterte's people are doing.
They don't have to ape those who back Duterte. But they must start to speak up for their candidate. Fans among overseas workers must talk about their experience and relate this to why they back Poe. Students can talk of the time they heard her, asked her questions and got real answers instead of vague motherhood statements. Don't leave Poe's social media to so-called 'experts'. Do it yourself stuff works.
And while Duterte doesn't like his supporters raising funds, go ahead and do it for Poe. Raise it among yourselves and use it so that you don't depend too much on ward leaders during sorties. Think about it -- the more you assert your power and independence as believers, the more you're going to help your candidate resist the "dark side."