Otso Diretso senatorial hopefuls take a selfie during their thanksgiving concert in U.P., May 8, 2019. Photograph by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Culture Spotlight

More money and a little song and dance could've boosted Otso chances, says this veteran PR

People aren’t looking for a solution, they’re looking for a distraction, says Alan German, persuasion expert and veteran kingmaker, PR of three Otso Diretso candidates. Also, he explains why Villar shot up to Number 1 and why Mar should take a break from running for office
Audrey Carpio | May 16 2019

Days after the election and there’s very little hope any of the candidates from the organized opposition can still break into the top 12. Supporters have gone through the gamut of emotions, raging like a mad Daenerys laying waste on King’s Landing. After much self-analysis and the help of charts, they arrived at the hard truth that their world was really just an echo chamber representing a paltry six percent of the voting population. We paid another visit to the office of political strategist/PR guy Alan German, who handled three of the candidates from Otso Diretso and a few local ones. He looked quite depressed and in need of a drink.

 

More on Halalan 2019:

 

Are you surprised with the outcome of the election?

Yes, I’m very surprised. This is the first time in 80 years that no opposition candidates made it in a midterm election. The last time it happened was pre-Commonwealth—that long ago. Traditionally, two or three make it during the midterms only because there’s that balance. If you want to talk about statistical outliers—I’m not implying there was any cheating, that’s not my expertise—but if you’re asking me if this follows the trend of Philippine elections, absolutely not. So, yes, it’s very surprising. [A day after this interview, we asked why he doesn't consider Nancy Binay, who made it to the Top 12, as opposition. German's reply: "She is part of the United Nationalist Alliance which is not part of the administration coalition. Add that to her frequent anti-administration positions, she is therefore leaning more towards opposition."]

German: "I hate the term bobotante, it’s meanspirited and terribly elitist. People just vote with different priorities." Photograph by Jar Concengco

 

There were several anomalies during the transmission of the results.

It’s not my expertise, but if you want to raise questions, there was that whole 7-hour lag that happened. It was at .4 percent for 7 hours then bam, it jumped to 90 percent. There’s NAMFREL not being given access to data, there was NP being named the minority party, SD card errors, machine malfunctions and untransmitted ERs. The elections went painlessly, that much I can be thankful for—no teachers were hurt, not much violence. I’m just wondering about the homogeneity of the results. That’s the biggest question mark. Across all demographic and geographical areas, the results are the same. I think some people will file a protest. Definitely at the local level, they are lined up.

 

At least on the local level, there were some upsets, some toppling of dynasties.

That’s something campaign managers and strategists like myself should be cognizant of and highlight, underscore, and emphasize. It’s showing a shift in priorities. Increasingly the D class, 80 percent of the voters, are ascribing their hopes, fears, dreams, and aspirations to the LGU. They will have a distaste for political dynasties at the LGU level. Again, I go back to malapit sa bituka thing. Maybe the nationals are too abstract already. The senate feels too disconnected, they don’t know how it impacts their life. But at the LGU, they feel it. I think this is a phenomenon we should study more carefully. I hate the term bobotante, it’s meanspirited and terribly elitist. People just vote with different priorities.

 

So the referendum has fallen overwhelmingly in favor of Duterte.

Senatorial candidate Bong Go during the PDP-Laban campaign sortie held at the Marikina Hotel and Convention Center on March 20, 2019. Photograph by George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Clearly, they love him. The Duterte magic seems to be working and in high gear. But what is the nature of that magic? That needs to be studied. Is it based on admiration or fear? I think it’s fear. What they did was genius. Like what they did in the US, once you are labeled a threat to national security, your rights go out the window. They can detain you, they can go to your house and shoot you. In the Philippines, it’s drugs. Once they link drugs to you, they can do anything, throw you in jail, kill you. I think it was very calculated and meticulously planned. If you’re linked to drugs, you’re screwed. Next, they bring out a narcolist of local government leaders who are suspected narco pols. The last thing you want to do is be on that list. Then the President comes up with his list of candidates. And if you don’t support the President’s candidates, you might end up on the narcolist. It’s brilliant.

 

Where did it go wrong for Otso Diretso?

Otso should have gotten more money. They should have started their fundraising earlier. Secondly, and this hurts me at a DNA level, they shouldn’t have taken the high road so much. They tried to make it issues-based. The D class is 80 percent of voters. Take a jeepney driver. He’s out on the road working eight hours, comes home to a little house, has to feed his family, he’s hungry and tired. The last thing he wants to hear about are these issues. If it’s a choice between listening to a guy go on about how he’s going to solve all your problems, or watching a politician dance on stage and crack jokes—and those HNP jokes are funny—I’d go for the entertainment. I think the campaign messaging missed its mark. We have to come to accept that people right now aren’t looking for a solution, they’re looking for a distraction. Maybe in the future it will be issues-driven. But this is where we are at now.

 

Chel Diokno said they were just happy to have shone a light in the darkness. Do you think this has paved the way for the next election? Have they planted a seed?

I’m hoping it picks up, but right now the machinery only got stronger. Right now, Senator Bam still has a chance to make it, but if not it’s a 12-0 shutout. In terms of planting a seed, you’re preaching to a choir. You didn’t convert anybody. The seeds were planted in people who were woke anyway. With apologies to Atty Chel, the people got more woke, their fire just got stronger, but there weren’t any people who were set on fire. Though I’m hoping there were a few.

 

Bong Go is number 3. How did we get to this point?

Duterte made it clear to the LGUs that his non-negotiables were Bong Go, Francis Tolentino and Bato. It was really the LGUs that made the difference. They were inundated with Bong Go stuff. Every local rally would mention Bong Go’s name. I watched Avengers Endgame and the loot bag was all Bong Go stuff.

 

What did Cynthia Villar do to be number 1?

Senator Cynthia Villar files her certficate of candidacy for the 2019 senatorial race on Monday, October 16, 2018. Photograph by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Her funds were quite formidable. She’s married to the richest man in the Philippines. Second, she was straight down the middle. The only bit of controversy that she had was the UNLI-rice issue. The president loves her, and her business establishments are nothing to sneeze at. You go to their malls, you go to Coffee Project, they give away her collats. Her picture is everywhere in their housing developments. And her messaging was on point. “Mrs. Hanapbuhay,” pasok ‘di ba?

 

Is Mar Roxas’ political career over?

I would say he shouldn’t run anymore. For a person of his caliber, it’s senator or bust. Clearly the country is not interested in his brand of service at this time. I think he should enjoy his life, he’s got two new adorable twins. After he lost in 2016, he became a rather engaging travel blogger, going around trying food, trekking up the mountains. But for Mar, it’s a real call to service. The country doesn’t deserve him.

Senatorial candidate Mar Roxas delivers his introductory remarks during the Harapan 2019 Senatorial Town Hall Debate at ABS-CBN on February 24, 2019. Photograph by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

 

How would you restrategize Otso Diretso?

They fought a good fight, they fought for the right things, but they didn’t fight in the right way. The magic formula is ATC. Awareness to Conversion. Otso Diretso had low awareness. Next time, I would ask for money. At the risk of sounding like a sellsword or a mercenary, it’s really just that. All we had was social media, we didn’t have air[time] support. No LGU would post the slate. Ads are half a million to start. Where is Gutoc, Ta ├▒ada, Macalintal going to get that kind of money?

Remember the four Ms: Man, Message, Machinery, Money. Man—there’s no problem there. These people are marketable, they’re great. Messaging, we need to tweak. If you keep on denying the masses what they want, they will keep on voting for the people you dislike. Things are not going to change anytime soon. If that’s what it takes, do the dance, get the celebs. Less head, more heart. Machinery—there’s nothing we can do about that. I would do things differently with a hell of a lot more money.