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Manila Standard : The narrative

News & Interviews
26 July 2021

By Lito Banayo | Manila Standard

"It should be real, authentic, and admirable."

My good friend, advertising guru Greg Garcia, once prefaced his storyboard presentation to a client by what he ascribed to as an Indian proverb:

“Tell me the facts, and I will learn.

Tell me the truth and I will believe.

But tell me a story and it will live forever in my heart.”

In political messaging, this proverb matters much. As some of us say, “it is all about the narrative”.

Today, the President will deliver his last State of the Nation address to a people who, statistical measurements say, are for the first time in many years, sad, stressed and fearful.

Filipinos are generally a “happy” people. Even in the worst of times, they can manage a smile and think positive. They have always been optimists, partly because of a belief in an Almighty that would soon shower them with blessings.

But these days, statisticians tell us that people have become quite pessimistic. Probably because COVID-19 have wreaked too much havoc on their lives—family members lost in an instant with no time to properly grieve because the incinerator has beaten them to the draw; jobs lost and livelihoods shuttered due to on and off lockdowns and the lack of mobility; the number of infections rising, almost without end.

What truths would the president express in his last SONA that would make people believe?

He can enumerate the facts about Build, Build, Build, but likely people will ask if these are sustainable given the paucity of resources and the huge size of our national debt. The facts about crime and corruption being successfully lessened will make people listen, but will they believe? The facts about our 12-year streak of economic growth, having been ravaged by two years of the pandemic, everyone already knows. Is there reason to believe things will get better during the last ten months of the administration?

All ears will be glued to the President’s last message to Congress and the people. It is akin to the holy pontiff delivering an “urbi et orbi” message, to the Citta Vaticana and to the faithful world.

We will listen to the facts. The truth, if indeed these are, we should believe. But a little over eight months from now, when people go to the polling precincts and cast their vote, once more with hope in their hearts that their decision will make their lives better, it is the story of the winner that will live in their hearts.

Those like this writer who believed the narrative of “tapang at malasakit” and voted for Rodrigo Roa Duterte in May of 2016 will next time around look for someone whose narrative will resonate in our hearts.

It will not be the facts enumerated today; nor even the truths we will either believe or dispute. It will be the narrative of the candidate, his or her life story, and how he or she can build upon it to better people’s lives—that is what will the voter give the candidate a “yes!” come Election Day 2022.

That narrative has to be real, authentic, and admirable.

In 2016, it was the story of a man who transformed his city from a “wild,wild west” (although it is in the southeast of Mindanao) into one where peace and order reigned, contributing thus to its progress. It was about a man who used his courage to favor the under-privileged. “Tapang at Malasakit”. Someone who stood out against the competition, whose courage and compassion brought with it the promise that “change is coming.”

In 2010, it was the story of a man whose parents were legendary figures of history and who vowed a “Daang Matuwid” where “Pag walang korap, walang mahirap”, and vowed to transform the nation from a nine-year reign of greed.

What shall be the narrative in 2022?

The leading candidate is a lady whose narrative rests on the laurels of her father, on the old Tagalog saying that “kung ano ang puno, siya rin ang bunga.” Heredity. She may try as best as she could to differentiate herself from the father, but in truth, her numbers are what they are because of the father. So it shall likely be until May 2022.

There is a pugilist, a world champion, who was born to poverty, but whose strength, determination and agility pushed him towards being the single most well-known Filipino in present-day earth. Will the narrative of poor to untold wealth, one already used before by an authentic poor boy from Lubao, wash this time with an electorate who saw how someone “para sa mahirap” eventually fell from power?

There is a decorated police officer who more than two decades ago cleaned up the cesspool that was the PNP and instilled discipline into its ranks. Will that truth be remembered?

Then there is another son of a legendary but controversial figure, one who ruled an entire generation but failed to lift the nation from poverty, even if some old timers give him credit for infrastructure—the indebtedness (and corruption) for which the succeeding generation had to pay with hard-earned taxes.

There is the widow of a celebrated mayor who died in a plane crash, and was catapulted to the national consciousness by her grace and simplicity, but has been “demonized” by an army of trolls faithful to the present brand which disdains any competition.

There is another who rose from the poverty of Manila’s slums, scavenged to put food on their table, was lured into the cinematic arts, thence worked his way to a collegiate degree and beyond, all the time serving three full terms as councilor, another nine years as vice-mayor, and now mayor of the nation’s capital. What he has achieved for his decaying city in less than three years, two of which were under pandemic conditions, can be a marvelous narrative as well.

These are the ones most likely to throw their hats into the presidential ring. There may be more; there may be less.

We should know who they are in a hundred days and four, unless the substitution gimmick which sold in 2015, will be up for vending to the electorate once more.