Like clockwork, those who were not affected by typhoon Odette got busy preparing and celebrating Christmas. As expected, traffic was tremendous amidst the still ongoing pandemic; many were busy getting something for their friends and family or for themselves. Thanks especially to the lowering of infection rates and therefore the lowering of alert level in the country and the localization of lockdowns. It remains promising so far with the recent reports of the Department of Health (DOH) on the country’s state of COVID-19 infection.
All these are reflected by the good news of 7.1% GDP growth reported by the country’s economic agency, in contrast to last years distressing 9.4% contraction. It's still below the country’s projected growth for the year made before the pandemic struck, but it's an encouraging indication of recovery. Hopefully, the country does not go the same way as other country’s that despite earlier gains handling the pandemic, even proudly announcing triumph over the deadly virus, had to close borders again because of a fourth wave. Hopefully, the rate is sustained so we can say that we have better prospects for economic recovery.
Yes, COVID-19 infections are dropping; the government response may have been proven effective with the promising numbers, but reports of taking advantage of the pandemic, of corruption and even mismanagement, especially coming from fellow government officials only serve to buttress doubt for some that the good numbers can be sustained. To a certain extent, this may be good in reminding or convincing the public that the pandemic remains and that we should continue to be careful, remain wary that anytime, things can change.
This uncertainty is exemplified rather poignantly with the onslaught of typhoon Odette cancelling out whatever gains many were supposed to enjoy given the good numbers of lessening virus infection. Many could not appreciate the good news of the reopening of economy as a good many lost so much in a snap. The latest report counted about 2.6 million individuals or 678,043 families were affected in Regions IV-B or MIMAROPA, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII and XIII known as CARAGA. 4,750 barangays were all affected by the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.
About 662,000 people were displaced, and around 418,371 spent Christmas in evacuation centers; 177 died, 275 were injured and 38 reported missing. While many went about their usual Christmas celebrations, many wished they at least had their own roofs over their head and could be with their family to celebrate the season. What made all these worst is that instead of focusing on the need for immediate relief, it was made to be a political issue for some. It would have been best to just act and do what should and can be done, but no, it was made to be an issue of who responded first and how much aid were given.
Somehow, this is expected given that we will be voting for a new administration come May 2022. Anything and everything are expected to be political. Whoever is directing the campaign, on the other hand, could have taken note that the public, the voters, actually take note of this supposedly frivolous issues. This can only turn off likely supporters and even lead some to animadvert.
No doubt, there is every reason for every campaign to be aggressive, especially if it’s the campaign of a trailing candidate. There must be an effort first though to keenly understand why one is trailing. It may rightly be because of one’s campaign, and likely one that is substantive. It should not be taken to mean that it’s just a question of being always seen. In fact, this is proven to be a mistake of some candidates preventing them from continuing their supposed candidacies. Overexposure best describes it; that instead of eliciting appreciation and therefore political support, it only generates irritation, even revulsion.
The campaign is only as good as the core message of a candidate. The team running the campaign, the manager and the strategists may all be experienced and therefore adept, but if the substantive part, the core message is not consistent with what the public is looking for, the numbers will not change. It is not just about resources, the number of advertisements, tarpaulins all over, definitely not only about having a troll army and using so much propaganda, even fake news; or all-in-all the amount of money that the campaign has as its disposal. These are all but accoutrements to the more important factor, the apotheosis of the candidate itself, which is the message. There is so much we can learn from previous elections where a David won over a Goliath. Look back at what happened in 1998, 2010 and the most recent 2016 presidential election. A candidate may top everyone in terms of resources, but always loses in the end.
Conversely, even if the core message of the candidate is true, if it is considered by the public as untrue or unreal when compared to another candidate’s ostensibly more credible core message, it will just the same render the campaign ineffectual. The core message must be consistent with the persona of the candidate; this is the only way for it to be considered by the public to be authentic. In the end, the core message of the other candidate must be impaired. Either the core message is disproved, or one’s own core messaged is improved to be more convincing.
Again, we can only go back and make sense of the previous presidential elections. Doing periodic surveys is one thing, but learning how campaigns were ran in previous elections, how winning candidates established their advantage over the others remain fundamental. The surveys provide us the current situation, but why it is such and how it can be reversed can be understood only by looking at previous elections, especially establishing the pattern of voting behavior.
And there is a pattern of how voters chose their candidates. The choice of winning candidates has been evidently a “protest vote”, a protest against the “status quo”, the situation that is deemed unfavorable by many, thus not necessarily referring to the current administration. Those that managed to translate that objection to the status quo to a message of change always won the election.
Erap was popular, a former movie actor, but his message was that of going against the perception that transactional politics defined government then, thanks especially to the image of his opponent, the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Jose De Venecia. This despite what many eventually realized were many accomplishments of the administration then. Former President Noynoy Aquino railed against what many believed to be a rigged election in 2004 that promoted the image of an unscrupulous government. He wasn’t expected to run for president then, but with the death of democracy icon, his mother, former President Cory Aquino, the attention of the public turned to him. An unlikely candidate with pedigree perfectly matched what many was looking for then--change.
Digong Duterte was not known to many before 2016. He had the potential though, being the local chief executive of a popular city, Davao. It would require an opportunity to introduce a candidate like him to the national consciousness, which was provided fittingly by the presidential debates, where he emerged as “the different” candidate. Then-outgoing President Noynoy Aquino undoubtedly remained popular, but the public sentiment simply wanted more change. This desire for change was only bolstered by a series of blunders towards the end of his term.
This image of being different from many of our political leaders remains with the now outgoing President Duterte. For more than five years now, we have seen, hated and appreciated his taunts, expletives and the way problems and issues were addressed, including simple concerns as having decent public facilities and services. The leadership has been undoubtedly different, even crass, but however we see the person and/or the administration, many simply remain appreciative. Of course, just like previous outgoing presidents, his popularity would not necessarily translate to the public supporting his chosen successor.
This is exactly how it is playing out yet again. The President wanted his long-time aide, now Senator Bong Go, to take his place but the public simply wasn't responding. This despite the long preparation that had been laid out and put into action at least as early as 2019. Former Senator Bongbong Marcos is not the President’s chosen successor. He may have the President’s daughter Sara Duterte as running mate but this does not mean that it makes Marcos the administration candidate. Even the other candidates know this which makes some of them still want to try and get the President’s endorsement now that his chosen is no longer in the running.
The campaign period has yet to start officially, not until 8 February. Although it has actually started for many candidates, even earlier than the filing of certificates of candidacy, the official start remains significant. The official start is a proclamation that “all bets are off”, a pivotal juncture as it heralds the focus is now really on the campaign, including that opportunity to be measured with the other candidates in a debate. More than anything, from now until the last day of campaign, 7 May, there’s still 4 whole months to try and change the direction of this campaign, and that can only be through an objective assessment not only of one’s campaign, especially the campaign organization and therefore management, but more importantly the core message. An adjustment can still be made to reflect the more authentic character of the candidate as one offers to be the preferred candidate, in place of the one currently leading. This is of course easier said than done, especially if one is rigidly convinced his/her ongoing campaign is in the right track.
How will one’s message be an effective message of change? How will one’s candidacy be seen as the choice for a protest vote? The images are all already there, consistent at least with the axiom “the medium is the message”. What if a compelling substance of a message, an issue or set of issues is introduced? It can potentially change the whole messaging entirely, including one’s image. So far, we have yet to hear from any of the candidates a substantive message. There may have been efforts to this end, but it has not been resonating. Perhaps, the supposedly substantive message is nothing more than the usual hollow promises.
There are issues that remain unresolved which had taken much interest before as these really are far-reaching issues. Just looking back this year will already reveal such kind of issues that candidates can take on. One is the still unresolved issue of the PDAF scandal identified with Janet Napoles. The courts have already decided on some cases declaring previous officials guilty, but it remains unresolved in its entirety. The media covered it only for some time in February but we have not heard about it since.
Another is the perennial issue of peace with the communists that spawned so many issues--from the undoing of the University of the Philippines 1989 agreement with the Department of National Defense restricting military and police access and operations inside the university, to the red-tagging of popular personalities and defunding of the government program to “End Local Communist Armed Conflict” or ELCAC.
To my mind, another issue that has not been addressed publicly recently is the continuing oblivion to, or simply ignorance of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao or BARMM, most notably its nature and significance as a regional government. So much has been raised against BARMM and its officials, from purported ineptitude to abuse of resources to bypassing of government agencies. Not one candidate has mentioned it as an important issue for the new government in 2022. Not one has made sense of any and all of the issues related to BARMM.
Any and all of these issues and more may be considered by the candidates, not necessarily to change their core message but to strengthen what has been espoused from the very start. These important issues will surely catch the attention of the public and could potentially invigorate their campaign. This is something to wait and see from the different campaigns after the holidays.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.