Manila Standard : Why Marcos up in surveys? Let pundits explain

14 February 2022

By Rey E. Requejo | Manila Standard

If recent surveys prove accurate, presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos may emerge as the first majority president since the country adopted a multi-party system under the 1987 Constitution.

In a December 2021 survey conducted by the Pulse Asia, Marcos got a 53 percent voter preference, while his rival Vice President Leni Robredo got a rating of 20 percent.

The survey was conducted with 2,400 respondents between Dec. 1 and Dec. 6, 2021, or nearly two months after Marcos filed his certificate of candidacy for president.

Ana Maria Tabunda, Pulse Asia executive director, told ABS-CBN in a story posted on its news website Sunday that the survey firm has not seen such a big lead post-1986, raising question how Marcos became popular among Filipino voters, despite being out of public office since 2016.

In the same ABS-CBN story, political analyst Tony La Viña, a former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said Marcos is leading because his campaign has projected him well to voters.

“Of course, there is a combination of factors. But, for me, this is not about even Marcos [historical] revisionism winning, is it? It’s the failure of the other campaigns to articulate a better future under them than under Marcos,” he said.

“This is not about whether they offer a better future or not. It’s about the people perceiving them to offer a better future,” La Viña added.

Other sources quoted in the ABS-CBN article written by Mico Abarro were Narvacan, Ilocos Sur Mayor Luis “Chavit” Singson; Steve Michael Medina Moore Jr., marketing expert and admissions external relations head at De La Salle College of Saint Benilde; Dr. Francis Lawrence De Jesus, chairman of the University of Santo Tomas’ Department of Marketing Management; and Jayeel Cornelio, director of the Ateneo De Manila University’s Development Studies Program.

La Viña said Marcos has succeeded in gaining the reputation of being a man who can change the country, just like Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in 2010, Joseph Estrada in 1998, and actor Fernando Poe Jr. when he nearly beat President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004.

“All those successful presidential candidates, basically they came in and said: ‘We will change the Philippines for the better’,” La Viña said.

“And Bongbong Marcos has done a good job, whether it’s true or not, of being perceived like that,” added the analyst — who is also a Manila Standard opinion columnist.

La Viña also pointed to Marcos’s “Solid North” followers are bolstered by those of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“This is not rocket science. It’s really just a combination of two groups of voters. Marcos voters and Duterte voters are together in one vote right now,” he said. “If you remove at least half of Duterte’s supporters from Marcos, Marcos will be left with 25 (percent plus) 12, (equals) 37-38 (percent).”

Nonetheless, La Viña said part of Marcos’s success has been the whitewashing of the Marcos family’s past.

“Through social media, through revisionism of the Marcos legacy, through just constant positive news about him in circles. In limited circles, micro-targeted groups of people have really bypassed the anti-Marcos ecosystem. The anti-Marcos ecosystem did not see this coming,” he told ABS-CBN.

He said the core of this problem is that people choose what they like to follow on social media, which allows the pro-Marcos community to grow even bigger.

La Viña also said the country’s electoral politics is too personality-oriented.

“Generally, it’s just too subjective. So if you ask me, the reason why we’re at this stage is because our politics is so personal. It is personality-based, it’s so family-based. It’s so subjective, it’s very difficult to use objective criteria to make a decision,” he said.

La Viña said voters should instead be asking questions such as: “Is this good for the country?” “Is their platform good?” “Do they have good ideas?”, all of which are not easy to answer.

“And so until then, our politics, you will always have a Marcos, a Duterte. I mean even, you know, even for example President [Noynoy] Aquino, he won not because of himself, but because of his mother [Cory] who had just died,” La Viña said.

Narvacan, Ilocos Sur Mayor Luis “Chavit” Singson, who supports Marcos, attributed Marcos’s popularity to his nearly 30-year political career, and the repeated attacks on his family’s reputation after they were ousted in February 1986, which he said worked in his favor.

“He became an underdog and that was the effect. No one believes in their slanders, for a long time,” Singson told ABS-CBN News.

The more criticism and rumors are leveled against Marcos, the more his popularity seems to grow, Singson said.

“Aside from underdog, BBM [Bongbong Marcos] is well-qualified. Well-experienced, he has been vice governor, governor, congressman, senator, so he has a lot of exposure and experience,” Singson added.

The Narvacan mayor noted that Marcos has avoided engaging in politicking, especially when it comes to retaliating against critics.

“It’s just what he says, he says very little. He says more about unity, togetherness, unity for our country, so that we can recover
more easily from pandemic. It’s so difficult. You know that politics is mudslinging, so it’s good for him to be the majority president,” Singson said.

Another aspect to Marcos’s popularity is his approachability, Singson said, even as he described him as being “hands-on” when it comes to helping address local issues and attributing that trait to his political experience.

Steve Michael Medina Moore Jr., marketing expert and admissions external relations head at De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, said the Marcos camp succeeded in fostering the former senator’s good trait of being an approachable politician.

Moore said Marcos’ vlogs have played a part in endearing him to Filipinos as a “normal guy” who enjoys the same things they do.

The approachability Singson cited as one of Marcos’ qualities may have been fostered in part by the candidate’s massive online presence, specifically through his vlogs on YouTube, Moore said.

As of Jan. 31, the Bongbong Marcos YouTube channel had about 1.8 million subscribers and it has had a total 83,197,298 views since it was created on Nov. 11, 2009.

“If you look at his vlogs, if you can watch, there are times when he doesn’t talk about anything. He does not discuss about his platforms. Sometimes, he’s talking about the usual things that a normal person does, the ones we see in vlogs,” Moore said.

“There’s no politics involved, OK? It’s just light. It’s very normal, it’s very light and somehow we can relate to that. That someone like him, a Bongbong Marcos, known in politics, known throughout the Philippines, is also normal and that is what they do,” he added.

Moore cited as an example a vlog he watched where Marcos talked with his son, Sandro.

“They’re talking about the food that they’re eating, and these are the usual content that influencers also do. You feel like he doesn’t want to talk about politics; he’s just a normal guy like us, isn’t he?” he said.

Moore said part of the appeal of his common-folk vlogs is because Filipinos have grown tired of what they normally see in advertisements by other politicians.

He added that all that the public usually hears about Marcos are the accusations leveled against his family, such as their supposed ill-gotten wealth, but nothing much about the man himself.

He noted that since the public had no idea of Marcos’ own personal side, former senator’s team appeared to have used this to their advantage. The Marcos camp was feeding the public the perception that he was the “ideal” candidate, while still maintaining a level of mystery that his rivals do not have.

Despite Marcos’ past and the criticisms leveled against him now, Moore said that based on how the former senator has been performing in surveys, his team has successfully “repackaged” him in the eyes of the public.

He also cited Marcos’ decision to be “low key” in his presidential campaign relative to the others.

Besides refusing to engage in negative campaigning, Moore said that Marcos’s advertising has been minimal compared to other candidates.

Though he also espouses content similar to his rivals, such as talking about changing the country or making the country grow, those ads have been relatively few and far between.

Other candidates advertise much more, Moore said.

A report the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism showed that Robredo spent P14.1 million on Facebook between Aug. 4, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021. Marcos, meanwhile, did not record any ad spending on Facebook during that period.

“I think he’s also exploring other platforms. Similar to vlogs. The vlog is very powerful. If you look at Bongbong’s engagements he is high and consistent. Please take note that he’s been doing this before he announced his presidency. That’s been a long time,” Moore said.

Dr. Francis Lawrence De Jesus, chairman of the University of Santo Tomas’ Department of Marketing Management, said Marcos’s lead in early election surveys shows that whatever the former senator’s team is doing, it’s bringing him results.

He added that this could be the hallmark of a well thought-out plan that was laid out long before anyone else planned to run in the elections.

“His current political marketing path has been clearly defined, well thought of, and has been in the works before everyone else. I don’t
have the data to support that, but that’s how the outcomes are looking,” De Jesus said.

Jayeel Cornelio, director of Ateneo De Manila University’s Development Studies Program, said Marcos has packaged himself to Filipinos not only as a man who can bring great change to the country, but as a messiah.

“He is a messiah, because the original messiah was murdered, was crucified. And now you’ve got a new messiah who’s coming back to life and he’s going to complete everything that the first messiah failed to do,” Cornelio said.

The sociologist said these fits into a Christian narrative familiar to Filipinos, which is also helped by Marcos’s association with his father’s era.

“In a nutshell, he is going to bring us back to ‘the good old days’ that his father once led the Philippines in, the golden age,” Cornelio said when asked what Filipinos see in the younger Marcos.

Cornelio emphasized that the so-called “golden age” Marcos promises is a fantasy that is not historically valid. But fantasies need not be historically accurate, they only need to offer people hope.

“This is the most opportune time really to deliver a message of hope.

Precisely because of the pandemic,” Cornelio said.

“Second, his message of national unity, national healing. This has been their message for so many years even when he was running for vice president, and even when he was still rising to stardom, so to speak,” he added.

That “national healing” is to move on from the alleged abuses committed during the martial law era and the political rift between the Marcoses and the Aquinos. Cornelio said Filipinos have grown tired of the dichotomy, which he said began in the latter term of Aquino III.

Asked what the younger Marcos’ popularity means for Philippine society, Cornelio said it shows that the country needs hope that people have become so tired of divisions in society and the fighting among the elite that they would fall for anybody who promises unity.

“It might be meaningless for us because we’re looking for content and substance, but it matters to a lot of people for whom that fantasy works. And the fantasy of the glorious past can only work if you are disappointed with the present,” he said.

Cornelio said because of this thirst for hope, Marcos’s supporters can’t be blamed for rallying behind the presidential candidate.

“Do I penalize people for believing in Bongbong Marcos? No, because they’re believing in hope,” he said, adding that it was up to Marcos’ rivals to offer Filipinos a more compelling vision of the future.

La Viña said the disqualification cases filed against Marcos may even strengthen his campaign.

He said the real threat to Marcos is President Rodrigo Duterte, especially if the outgoing chief executive decides to actively campaign against Marcos.

Singson agreed but said that even with Duterte’s possible active opposition, Marcos could still win the elections—although perhaps not through a majority.

La Viña added that Marcos could still win even if Duterte opposes him, but the victory would be a close one.

For Moore, Marcos’ camp has to avoid communication lapses such as the time he did not appear at a Comelec hearing in one of his disqualification cases.

“Even though you’re leading, if you can widen your lead, widen your popularity, why not? And it has something to do with the communications team. So you try to avoid those simple boo-boos,” Moore said.

Another factor to consider is that people’s needs tend to change.

Moore brought up as an example a possible scenario where the COVID-19 pandemic gets worse before the elections.

De Jesus said voter preferences can still change in the next three months. He said people can be affected by incidents such as Marcos skipping an interview with GMA broadcast journalist Jessica Soho, whom Marcos alleged was biased against his family.