The Manila Times : An imploding candidacy

26 April 2022

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

WHEN Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso aka Isko Moreno led a group of presidential candidates in a press conference at the Manila Peninsula Hotel, there was some reason that could be discerned beyond the drama. What he, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales did was to effectively call out the underhandedness of the campaign team of Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo or her supporters.

Beyond the filters of partisan noise, their message was to protect the integrity of the party system, and to respect the declared candidacies of everyone.

What he, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales did was to effectively call out the underhandedness of the campaign team of Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo or her supporters. Beyond the filters of partisan noise, their message was to protect the integrity of the party system and to respect the declared candidacies of everyone.

Critics of the event were quick to point out that the press conference had backfired. This was not entirely correct. Lacson came out of the press conference with a more amplified stature of being a voice of a reasoned, calm and collected campaign. Gonzales suddenly drew attention and earned respect from some people and a much-needed publicity boost. It was only Domagoso who appeared to suffer intense blowback, particularly from the Robredo partisans after he dared her to withdraw, a call from which Lacson and Gonzales have distanced themselves with the latter even issuing an apology.

Domagoso's problem is that he got stuck in the narrative of the press conference. Instead of moving on and evolving from it, he continued his harangue of Robredo. He appeared more determined as he doubled down on his call for her to withdraw from the race. He even increased the decibel of his tirades by painting Robredo as an arrogant bully reeking of self-entitled privilege. He was acting like a one-man wrecking crew, behaving like one of the Furies of Greek mythology hounding Robredo in the last weeks of the campaign. He has practically performed the role that former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. refused to play despite being at the receiving end of intense attacks not only from Robredo partisans but even from Robredo herself.

The well from where Domagoso draws his rage against Robredo may indeed be deep. He was targeted for taking down since the moment Robredo filed her certificate of candidacy. From someone who had a lot of promise, with a large voter base and a competitive chance, Domagoso ended up a single-digit third placer behind Robredo, overtaken by her. The bad blood between them was indeed undeniable.

What is odd is that instead of focusing his ire toward Robredo, Domagoso opted to train his guns at Marcos Jr., taking particular interest in what he spun as Marcos Jr.'s tax liability over his father's estate. Domagoso was obviously hoping that the strategy would peel away some soft Marcos Jr. voters who would move toward his column. He was inspired by his consistent showing in the surveys as the top second choice. But instead of this happening, it was his supporters who began lining up behind Robredo whose campaign was busy raiding and poaching the ranks of supporters of other candidates, including not only himself but also Lacson and Gonzales, both of whom were also being pressured by pro-Robredo personalities to withdraw.

It is perhaps this realization that made Domagoso refocus his attention away from Marcos Jr. and toward Robredo, the real agent of his electoral misfortune. Domagoso was even quoted as saying that Marcos Jr. has never asked him to withdraw, unlike Robredo. Finding a kindred spirit with Lacson and Gonzales, Domagoso spearheaded the holding of the press conference. But unlike Lacson and Gonzales, he had a different agenda beyond affirming and protecting his candidacy. It was to ruin Robredo the same way she and her enablers ruined him.

There is, however, a fundamental problem for Domagoso. At this late phase of the game, it behooves us to ask whether attacking Robredo would actually lead to a conversion of votes in his favor. It is valid to raise the question of where he is going to obtain his votes from. It is dubious for anyone to assume that soft Marcos Jr. voters, who are not that sizable anyway based on scientific surveys, would change their preferences and move toward him just because he is now attacking Robredo. And even if some voters of Lacson or even Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao would transfer to him, these may not be enough.

Domagoso is banking on the results of the survey conducted by Tangere which places him in second place. But this is just one in contrast to the many other surveys that place him at a distant third with single-digit numbers. And thus the odds may not be favorable to him. The talk on the grapevine is that he may have the backing of a group that traditionally votes as a solid block, but this still may not be enough, more so that there is no assurance that this group will deliver its usual solid vote because the majority of its members reportedly openly prefer another candidate.

The big problem for Domagoso may lie within his campaign, as there are people in his party who are reported to be unhappy with his recent actions. His vice presidential running mate, Dr. Willie Ong, has even openly disagreed with his call for Robredo to withdraw. He also openly drew the ire of the LGBTQI community when he issued a distasteful joke offering his son to them for free.

It is obvious that Domagoso has made so many wrong moves in his campaign. And it has intensified after the Manila Peninsula press conference. If there is anyone who appears to have benefited from his mistake, it is Marcos Jr. Not only is Domagoso doing the job of becoming Robredo's tormentor. There is even the chance that some of his voters who are turned off by his antics would move to Marcos Jr. who, according to the surveys, is the second choice of voters whose first choice is Domagoso. This would be a bitter irony, considering that this would be the reverse of what Domagoso is hoping for where it is he who should benefit from the conversion of the soft voters of Marcos Jr.