Manila, Philippines- Many Filipinos are really sick and tired of being poor in pocket, in spirit and in association. Presidential aspirants spouting off promises to end poverty should think twice about using campaign lines that patronize Filipino misery. To a growing number of voters, such a campaign is insulting and debasing, to say the least.
Beyond sympathy for the poor or association with poverty, provincial voters now look for substance from their candidates.
“Think twice," says U.P. Visayas Political Science Professor Joseph Loot, who believes promises to ease poverty and coming up with concrete solutions to eradicate poverty are like night and day and provincial voters know the difference.
“Our candidates just keep filibustering on poverty but they are not acting on it,” says Loot. “None of the presidential or vice presidential candidates have really addressed it."
Although we have not fully matured as an electorate, it now takes more than a promise to end poverty to get the votes. Poverty as a campaign thrust may even be a futile advertising exercise because voters already know that many of today’s presidential aspirants do not have a track record of alleviating poverty while they were senators or congressmen. “We’re basically looking at the same dogs wearing different collars,” says Loot.
Candidates have to come up with a better campaign line, especially those seeking re-election or aspiring for the presidency. Whatever it is-- it should be refreshing and unique, if they are to spark renewed interest among the provincial electorate.
In General Santos City, Mindanao State University Professor and Political Analyst Richard Pernia notes that people are now wary of such “familiar” dogs sporting new collars. The top 5 presidential contenders have served the government now or in the past, and have provided voters samples of the kind of performance to expect if one of them wins.
“Voters in this part of the country are thinking voters. Those who have not performed in their past positions are likely headed for defeat,” warns Pernia.
Voters here are also impatient. “The people of Mindanao want farm infrastructure, jobs, health, education and peace right away,” says Pernia in describing the region’s voters’ psyche, which has been embittered by years of government neglect and a war that had dragged on for decades.
The same sentiment resonates in Cagayan De Oro City. While it is not part of war-torn Mindanao, it has suffered just as much because economic opportunities have been driven away by the unstable peace and order situation of its neighbors.
Attorney Raul Villanueva, Xavier University College of Law Dean, thinks the region needs more jobs through a stable economy. An improved peace and order situation in Mindanao will also attract investors that can help improve the economy.
“There has to be a stronger campaign against corruption, protection of the environment, and investments,” Villanueva said. “These must be part of a candidate’s platform to improve the economy and generate jobs,” he added.
While many voters now take the poverty propaganda with slight reservations, such a traditional political strategy may still work in some regions where people look for charisma and humility in their future leaders, as much as they seek out their platforms.
For many Bicolano voters, one of their own would have been the ideal leader. But with the withdrawal of Senator Chiz Escudero’s bid for the presidency, they are left with any one of the top 5 presidential aspirants--- as long as he speaks the “familiar language of poverty in a humble tone."
In Bicol-- which is among the country’s poorest regions--- poverty could be the bridge between candidate and voter. Bicolano Political Analyst Ramon Beleno III believes, for one, Bicolanos are not likely to support candidates perceived to be “elitist”.
“Bicolanos are believed to favor candidates who have a pro-poor image, for as a whole, Bicol remains a poor region,” Beleno explains. “Locals look for a candidate who sympathizes with the less-fortunate,” he added.
But Beleno warns candidates not to overuse “associations with poverty” to gain charisma or project humble beginnings and aspirations. “The sincerity of the candidate is still a powerful factor in getting the Bicolano vote,” he says.
Discerning who is sincere and who is not can be a problem as Filipinos generally tend to favor a candidate perceived to be the humble underdog. Negros Occidental political observer Attorney Andy Hagad thinks voters should realize that there’s more to finding the country’s next leader than just putting another modest guy in Malacanang.
“As Filipinos we are more partial to humble persons. We like humble people more than the braggadocio and I think this has to change,” Hagad says.
Ilocano voters on the other hand have a way of spotting sincerity and humility. According to socio-political analyst Herdy Yumul of the Mariano Marcos State University, the Ilocano voter is not easily swayed by empty promises. A candidate’s words as well as his sincerity and humility are reinforced by a good reputation in truthfulness. Someone who has a track record for corruption, lying and abuses may likely get thumbed down.
“Mahalaga na ang isang kandidato ay may integridad. Hindi siya dapat corrupt (it is important that a candidate has integrity. He should not be corrupt,” says Yumul.
The country’s future depends on the kind of leaders Filipinos will vote for. That’s why a lot of voters in the provinces now take the May 2010 election as a colossal mission of choosing a leader whose greater qualifications are competence, reliable performance and integrity--- traits that can drown out another irrelevant pitch for the poverty line.