Ahead of ’22 elections, why campaigning candidates must ‘innovate’ amid COVID pandemic

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 10 2021 07:31 AM | Updated as of May 10 2021 07:51 AM

Police officers flash signages with health safety reminders along a crowded Ylaya Street in Divisoria, Manila on December 3, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA—At 75 years old, Tito Rene Aquino is buying thousands of face shields and sticking his name and pictures onto these as he prepares to vie for a seat in Parañaque's city council in the May 2022 elections.

Aquino, a retired teacher and a neophyte politician, said that besides face shields, he has been soliciting donations from his former students to purchase alcohol bottles and other paraphernalia he intends to give away. 

"Ang first stage ng iyong pagtakbo ay pagpapakilala," he told ABS-CBN News when asked why he has been handing out face shields and alcohol bottles with his name months before the filing of candidacies.

(The first stage of running for office is introducing yourself to the public.)

"Kapag ako ay hindi lumabas, naghintay ako [ng campaign rules] . . . talo ka na agad kasi 'yung mga re-electionist kilala na sila agad kahit hindi sila lumabas," Aquino said, noting that he expects campaign rules to be stricter later this year due to the pandemic.

(If I don't go around now, if I wait... I will lose because the re-electionists are already known even if they don't campaign.)

While Aquino has collected about P700,000 from his family, friends, and former students to fund his campaign, he has decided to temporarily halt visits in barangays after fresh cases of COVID-19 surged in Metro Manila.

Instead, Aquino's camp mounted an online raffle via Zoom to mark his birthday last month. 

"Lahat ng pinupuntahan namin sa bawat barangay, meron kaming form. Kukunin ang pangalan, address, contact number, Facebook name kaya lahat 'yun kasama [sa Zoom raffle]," he said.

(We collect forms in all the barangays we visited. We get their names, address, contact number, and Facebook name so that they can be included in the Zoom raffle.)

Aquino said he is expected to hand out cash, appliances, mobile phone load, and sacks of rice as prizes.

"Hindi ako puwede hulihin . . . As long as walang 'vote', hindi ka puwede kuwestiyunin," he said.

(I cannot be arrested for this. As long as I do not put the word "vote," it cannot be questioned.)

"Hindi puwedeng hindi ko gawin ito dahil lalong hindi ako makikilala [ng mga botante]," he said.

(If I don't do this, voters will not recall my name.)

Like Aquino, aspiring politicians who are vying for an elected post on May 9, 2022 need to be creative in campaigning during the COVID-19 pandemic, campaign strategist Gerardo Eusebio told ABS-CBN News in a separate interview.

Politicians and campaign strategists need to "innovate" during the pandemic as "the process in elections is highly social" despite the need to maintain physical distancing and other health protocols, he said.

"Social media cannot absorb all the happenings or the necessary ingredients for a good campaign," Eusebio said.

"We [Filipinos] love interacting with each other. I think it is in our political traditions, our political culture. We love the spectacle of elections much like how we like beauty contests."

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) earlier said that it is not inclined to ban face-to-face campaigns, but would release a list of guidelines to ensure that sorties would not become super-spreader events.

"There are no electoral laws penalizing the holding of a campaign during a pandemic," Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said in an earlier interview.

"Limiting the number of participants in campaign sorties, social distancing is required."

Travel restrictions may also affect the way candidates campaign, Eusebio said, noting that those who travel by air nowadays are usually required to take swab tests and undergo several days of quarantine.

"If you allow them to fly to areas with the staff and may mini- campaigns, even with social distancing, we’re afraid of super- spreader events," he said.

"This is now the time for innovation."

Campaigners are likely to go back to the the old practice of distributing visual materials saved on flash drives, the strategist said.

These videos — which likely contain a candidate's catchy advertisement, platforms, and other programs — may be played in projectors or televisions in open spaces, especially in the provinces, Eusebio said.

"Before the pandemic, we are very fond of religious festivals . . . What we do, we campaign strategists, we look for the date of these fiestas like, for instance, Traslacion, Sinulog, we keep track of that because we go there, we introduce and bring our candidate there for exposure," he said.

"These would certainly disappear now. It is actually now a challenge for candidates and campaign strategists to look for ways to reach the people effectively.

"Campaign paraphernalia will have to replace your actual visibility."

While candidates with fewer resources may be at a disadvantage in campaigning during the pandemic, parties with big political machineries should also be careful in going all out to win voters, Eusebio said.

It will be "counterproductive" if a candidate is perceived as an aggressive campaigner while the threat of COVID-19 still remains.

"It would actually picture a candidate na kumbaga pro-COVID ka (That perhaps you are pro-COVID) if you are still looking for the kind of traditional methods and traditional practices," he said.

"That would actually picture you as an unfeeling person because it causes death. COVID is lethal."

While campaigning in the time of the pandemic may be challenging, the limited number and duration of physical sorties may force Filipino voters to focus on a candidate's platforms, Eusebio said.

"The candidates would not just be physical figures dancing around . . . It would be more of national debates . . . That would also educate our people to be conscious of issues rather than personalities," he said.

"It's a blessing in disguise in the name of voter education, and that’s what we sorely miss."

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