[OPINION] The Lugaw Contract 1

[OPINION] The Lugaw Contract

Dean Dela Paz

Posted at Jan 20 2022 09:08 PM

(Disclaimer: The opinion expressed here is the author's and does not reflect the position of ABS-CBN Corp.)

It is a study in contrasts. And maybe for lawyers and businessmen, a case involving contracts and obligations. Certainly for psychologists, sociologists and professionals of disciplines brought to fore by the expediencies of enticing the CDE electorate, the contrasting approaches to earning voter loyalty make for an interesting study.

The underlying psychology is important where subjects belong to the greater electorate that determines political leadership. Local government candidates have the advantage of intimate proximity where such factors as political dynasties, neighborhood businesses and the control of the local police come into play. But the strategies to win over at the national level are different. Allow us a comparative analysis.

To accentuate contrasts, note the different strategies and underlying attitudes highlighted by responses to an unforeseen event such as Typhoon Odette.

The typhoon could not have been part of any predetermined campaign - even one custom-designed by a million dollar PR and analytics firm. Their single-minded focus on winning may not have included unprogrammed calls for donations for a candidate for whom money is not a principal concern. On the other hand, for an office such as the vice president’s, accustomed to augmenting and stepping up where other agencies fail, in times of calamities, altruism and concern are automatic.

Fortunately for the typhoon’s victims, nearly all national candidates responded.

One relied on long-nurtured transactional relationships with local political kingpins and dynasties. The other, on volunteerism. In the post-calamity aftermath those distinctive competences remain operational through to election day.

As relief efforts in some parts continue, the presidential campaign however looms in the background. The palette and paraphernalia are ever present. The aptly hued t-shirts, caps, posters, stickers, and wrist bands serve as reminders.

In campaigning, more than merely distributing reminders and mnemonics, candidates seek a binding contract with the electorate. Again, allow us to examine the contrasts.

Distributing relief goods, pop-up medical clinics and lugawan (rice porridge) feeding programs are indirect attempts to establish a binding social contract with calamity victims and the less fortunate, each meant to create a mutually beneficial obligation.

A more binding quid pro quo to instill longer term obligations is likewise established when doles are handed out as vote-buying strategies in the guise of grocery money, ayuda or as outright bribes.

For a candidate with unlimited resources whose principal message is that he will fulfill a mythical legacy of prosperity, cash and promises of more cash are totally in character, albeit patently illegal. The campaign turns transactional and becomes a bilateral exchange of value where one promises cash or virtual cash equivalents, thus purchasing loyalty timed for a financial closure come May.

A transactional relationship is likewise being established where the currency is neither current cash nor future cash. While less binding as the terms, expectations and even values exchanged remain undefined, it is debatable that exchanges of value are attempted under feeding programs, relief goods distribution, medical clinics and COVID 19 home treatment packs as these substitute for cash.

The difference between the outright cash payout model and the lugawan etc. model lies with the perception of the electorate, especially where these are from the CDE constituencies. Cash doles are clearly commercial. The other might be seen as charity. One has clear peso values. The other can depend on the perceived value of a P15 bowl of rice porridge in which case the value of the desired reaction from the voter is uncertain, thus effectively guising a transactional exchange.

Now between a P1,000 hand-out and a P15 bowl of lugaw, which might underlie a more compelling and binding social contract?

As these reflect attitudes towards constituencies where one indicates respect, concern, and empathy and the other, a distinctly utilitarian outlook, even denigration, hopefully the electorate discerns the difference beyond peso values. One recognizes a need and might effectively be perceived as a caring and caressing gesture. The other, effectively an insulting slap.

(Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.