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The Philippine Star : Movement

News & Interviews
30 December 2021

By Alex Magno | The Philippine Star

I suppose the sheer logical acrobatics required to spin down the survey results is proportional to the desperation of some campaign groups.

In the days following the release of the Pulse Asia and OCTA December surveys, the chatter in social media (especially from Leni partisans) has been directed at shooting down the surveys. Both the Pulse Asia and OCTA surveys gave Bongbong Marcos more than a simple majority of the preference vote. Furthermore, the OCTA poll shows that the Marcos voters particularly are unlikely to change their vote as we move towards elections.

Leni supporters appear keener to shoot the messengers. They dismiss the surveys as the work of paid hacks intending to condition the minds of voters. Some denounce commentators for discussing the survey results. Others want surveys banned.

This last demand is not going to happen. The legitimacy of conducting surveys is a settled matter in our jurisprudence. It is protected by the freedoms of information and speech.

I have participated in several national campaigns over the years. Surveys are an indispensable tool for properly calibrating campaign strategy. Without them, the strategists will be completely blind.

Surveys reflect the disposition of our voters at any stage in the unfolding electoral process. A disdain for the surveys reflects a disdain for what our voters are saying.

Much has been said about the “echo chamber” afflicting the Leni campaign. Convinced of their moral superiority, Leni campaigners are reluctant to listen to the man on the street and quick to ostracize those who represent a different view. Leni partisans called for a boycott of Tunying’s Café and the Gonzaga sisters. Fortunately, their boycott efforts are as ineffectual as their main campaign effort.

One of my friends, who volunteers for the Leni “lugaw” stunts, flew into a rage when I commented that the stuff I sampled in one of their stalls was watery. She accused me of not caring about our people’s nutrition. But the reverse was exactly my point: while attempting to win the favor of our voters, they treat the masses with contempt. Watery “lugaw” is not the way to liberate our people from malnutrition.

A day before they released their December survey, I had a brief phone conversation with OCTA’s Ranjit Rye. He expressed some concern over how the results will be received by our colleagues in UP Diliman. I reminded him that since Barangay UP supported Salonga in 1992, the community always got the presidential elections wrong. The ivory tower was never in touch with the currents of public sentiment.

Ranjit paused and reflected on their survey numbers. The overwhelming preference for Bongbong Marcos could not entirely be the result of superior campaign strategy – although that, too, deserves credit. There is a real movement out there that the Marcos campaign either consciously plumbed or stumbled into.

I agreed with him completely. The immense lead the candidate currently enjoys clearly indicates a strong undercurrent in public sentiment. I confessed having yet to fully understand what that strong undercurrent is telling us, the analysts.

Recall that in 1998, the masses overwhelmingly supported the candidacy of Joseph Estrada despite what church leaders and the other brokers of elite opinion told them. In 2004, the masses turned out strongly for FPJ and in 2016 for Rodrigo Duterte. All of these instances reflect a strong rejection of the “disente” politicians preferred by the elites.

The undercurrent is not a recent phenomenon. It has been moving just under the surface of our formal political discourse – or even in plain sight but unseen by the sanctimonious elite politicians.

Leni Robredo’s campaign loves calling itself a “movement.” But they use the term in a very different sense, mainly as a euphemism of organizational and messaging chaos.

True, the campaign relies on the energy (and resources) of “volunteers.” By definition, these “volunteers” must be relatively well off. They do not have to hold down full-time jobs and must have enough money to spare so they can host “lugaw” stalls benefitting street urchins (including me).

But there is also a subtext here. It reinforces the patron-client relationship that cannot be concealed by the altruism of benefactors. It is precisely the superior-inferior relationship this conveys that the undercurrent of popular sentiment chaffs at.

This is the reason why there was such a strong grassroots reaction to Leni making an appearance in calamity-devastated communities with Kris Aquino in tow. This is a variant of what we call “poverty porn.” We might call it “calamity porn:” exploiting the misery of the victims for political gain, bringing only token relief in exchange. It borders on the abusive.

Leni Robredo tried to rationalize the yawning gap between her preference ratings and Bongbong Marcos’ by saying her rival started campaigning early. That is simply not true.

Until Sara Duterte abandoned her presidential campaign, Marcos seemed pretty content running for vice president again even in tandem with his much younger political partner. In contrast, the network of anti-Duterte partisans has been trying to bring down administration support for years. Leni’s presidential bid is simply the culmination of the long anti-Duterte effort.

Her mistake is to cast her candidacy in both the anti-Duterte and anti-Marcos frameworks. That trapped her campaign into looking at the past rather than offering a positive vision of the future. It made hers a campaign of hate and negativism instead of hope and unity.

If there ever was a rulebook for campaign strategists, the first commandment should be: Never war against those who are not candidates.