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The Manila Times : A powerful narrative

News & Interviews
9 December 2021

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

MANY people have been triggered once again by a public statement I made on television when I said that former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. bears a powerful narrative. They are once again accusing me of being a closet Marcos supporter. They seem to conflate a mere acknowledgement of what I believe to be true with my support. Many people seem not to know the difference between stating that something is colored red from actually liking the color red.

This is actually the bane of personalistic politics now regressing into irrational idolatry. This happens when people are no longer able to say freely what is objectively observable about a candidate simply because it can be misconstrued as an expression of support. Conversely, there is that tendency to ignore facts and realities and instead, inflate the positives or the negatives, even if conjured and biased, if only to paint a particular candidate favorably or in a bad light.

When I declared that Marcos Jr. carries with him a powerful and winnable narrative, it is not out of admiration, but simply an objective description of what frames his candidacy. It does not have any bearing on how I feel about his candidacy.

Marcos Jr. has a compelling narrative because he rides on what I label as the Count of Monte Cristo or Crisostomo Ibarra story line. Other candidates like Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso and Sen. Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao bear the typical rags to riches and fame story line with them being diminished because of their class origins; or Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo channels the already used Cory template of a saintly widow being attacked for her gender.

In contrast, Marcos Jr. tells the story of an heir of an elite family that was defamed by the political and intellectual class including most of mainstream media. He effectively turns around the culpability of his father and his suspected complicity and replaces it with the image of a dutiful son protecting the name of his father and the honor of his family. He has transformed every attack on his family's record, his probity and integrity, which includes his misrepresentation of his academic credentials as another form of bullying by his enemies from the elite classes. He rides on the lingering anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism that have intensified during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The recent spate of disqualification cases, at least six as of today, only heightens the optics of persecution. One can very easily see how this can actually resonate with a people awed by narratives of persecuted underdogs. If one has any doubt about the power of this narrative, one should reflect on how Marcos Jr. is now being perceived as the underdog despite being the clear frontrunner, if one uses the results of surveys, both scientific and otherwise.

It also clearly helps that Marcos Jr. has faced all criticisms with a calm demeanor, refusing to be confrontational. Unlike Moreno who lashed out at his critics, and Robredo who seems to be specializing on being passive aggressive, Marcos Jr. is undeniably a portrait of quiet calm and composure, projecting a dignified image. This has always been a trademark of the Marcos brand, where in the face of unimaginable ridicule, insult and attacks, the Marcoses have never retaliated in open verbal confrontation with anyone. This is a trait that is easy to spin to the advantage of the Marcoses, and Marcos Jr.

More importantly, Marcos Jr.'s image as a persecuted victim is enhanced by the narrative of a supposedly stolen vice presidency emanating from allegations of electoral fraud during the 2016 elections. The story line is that he was denied victory twice by Smartmatic during the elections and by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal that ruled against his protest and ignored the allegations of fraud in ARMM.

Marcos Jr.'s narrative is powerful because he symbolizes not only revenge but also redemption. It is about a scion of a discredited family avenging what his family has suffered at the hands of the political and intellectual elites and an anti-Marcos media which drove them out of power and continue to smear them. It doesn't matter if their claims are warranted by what actually transpired. This is not what is paramount in the spinning of political mythologies. What matters is how they resonate with people lost in their political idolatry around the Marcos brand.

There is no doubt. The more his political enemies demean Marcos Jr., the more his narrative shines. Every attack feeds into his image as a persecuted heir of a family whose name remains endearing to a significant number of people. And his support is growing. It helps that his chief adversary is Robredo, who is the face of the political class that is perceived as having been instrumental in the ouster of the Marcoses, as well as the representation of the alleged fraud that denied him the vice presidency in 2016. Robredo becomes a very convenient and appropriate contrapuntal to frame the Marcos Jr. narrative of being a victim of persecution by the intellectual and political elites.

It also helps that current survey results validate the belief among his loyal followers that indeed Marcos Jr. may have been the victim of electoral fraud. Not cognizant of the political dynamics which may have led to the decline of Robredo's popularity, it is easy for Marcos loyalists to conclude that the current level of support that Marcos Jr. and Robredo are getting clearly indicates that there is no other way where the latter could have prevailed except through fraud.

Fortunately, May 9, 2022 is still a half year away. Many things can still happen. He still has to face his several disqualification cases. I am not supporting Marcos Jr., but I know when to accept reality. Barring any dramatic shifts in the political landscape, and judging from the pulse on the ground, it is undeniable that this is an election where his chances are brighter than those of other candidates.