This is my column today.
The elections are still a good 12 months away. Although not everyone is aware of the specific details about when candidates are allowed to conduct their respective campaigns (90 days prior to the elections for national positions and 45 days for local positions), it is safe to assume that everyone knows that candidates are not supposed to do any campaigning now; that it is against the law to do so.
Unfortunately, the laws in this county are not absolute; they are open to interpretation and that there are as many interpretations of the law as there are lawyers. And since the rich and powerful have better access to more and better lawyers, they get entitled to a more liberal interpretation of the law, something the poor cannot afford. The thought is disconcerting but not as appalling as the theory that our laws are mere suggestions—one can abide by them or not at all.
Most of the people who are gunning for public offices are rich and come from families who have been in power for so long. Small wonder, really, that they have no compunctions about breaking election laws this early. They leave it up to their lawyers and their public relations handlers to do the media spin.
There are at least seven people who have already signified their intention to run for president in 2010 and, ironically enough, to take the oath to “uphold and abide by the laws of the Republic of the Philippines.”
Of these, four already have serious nationwide campaigns ongoing. Senators Mar Roxas, Manny Villar and Ping Lacson and Makati Mayor Jojo Binay have regular television advertisements that extol their supposed qualities and accomplishments.
Senator Dick Gordon does not have television spots yet, but he launched a nationwide movement and came out with full-page advertisements last week. Metro Manila Development Authority chair Bayani Fernando has been combing the nooks and crannies of this country, attending fiestas, wakes, baptisms and whatever other event that can bring together at least 20 voters, in addition to plastering the country with tarpaulin banners of his mug. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro has announced his bid via a poorly conceptualized and done-in-bad-taste cameo appearance during the recent Pacquiao-Hatton match.
Vice President Noli de Castro, Senators Loren Legarda and Chiz Escudero as well as former President Joseph Estrada are also reportedly preparing to launch their own respective candidacies and campaigns. Our television network executives must now be grinning from ear to ear.
The candidates who have jumped the gun and are already campaigning this early have justified what they are doing as “advocacy campaign.” But we know, and they know that we know, and we know that they know that we know, that this is just a cop-out (palusot). So what are we to do, then? Make mincemeat of their early efforts, of course. Not that it requires major effort anyway.
Manny Villar is staking his presidential bid on the baloney that he is the champion of the poor. He claims to have risen to his current high perch on society on the strength of “sipag at tiyaga” and is now prescribing the same values to everyone. He conveniently glosses over the role his wife and her family’s fortune played in his supposed phenomenal success.
Villar’s advocacy is insulting. Sipag at tiyaga are values that millions of Filipinos in this country live by on an everyday basis including the millions of overseas Filipino workers that Villar claims to be closest to his heart. There are millions of farmers, fishermen, garbage collectors and multitudes of minimum wage earners in various factories and sweatshops in this country who invest blood, sweat and tears into their work every day with very little results. They know sipag at tiyaga like the back of their hands. Telling them that sipag at tiyaga is all it will take to make it is patronizing. Sipag at tiyaga are just not enough— they bring minimum wage; they perpetuate subservience to landlords, feudal masters, and capitalists. What we need is more abilidad, which incidentally is what Villar has always had if we are to believe the rumor mill.
Lacson, on the other hand, is making capital of his supposed record as the nemesis of corrupt people in this country. His presidential campaign in 2004 showed a parade of Asian leaders whom he showcased as his role models, including Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand. Well, we all know what happened to the Thai leader and how he was banished from the kingdom due to large-scale corruption. The poor choice of role model does not seem to faze the senator; he was once associated with Erap Estrada. If there is a message that Lacson’s campaign is conveying to voters clearly, it is this: Obstinacy. He is still coming across as an uncompromising, intolerant, exacting paternal figure.
Mar Roxas has ditched the highly successful Mister Palengke campaign that catapulted him to the top spot in the 2007 senatorial elections in favor of a “champion of the masses” campaign, now being epitomized by that really funny television ”padyakitos” ad. The ad shows the senator huffing and puffing while driving a tricycle with just two little kids as passengers and looks like he is going to have a heart attack from sheer exhaustion.
The whole concept however stumbles big time on a simple character test—What kind of a person boards a tricycle driven by a little boy with a body size barely a fifth of one’s own? But then again, his approval rating was supposed to have skyrocketed after that ad which means either of three things: I am not the target audience of that ad, Filipinos are not very logical people, or the whole romance angle with Korina Sanchez has left most of us deaf and blind.
Binay’s campaign on the other hand is infuriating because it holds up Makati City as a perfect place to live in. Binay conveniently glossed over the fact that Makati is what it is now because it happens to be the business and commercial district of the whole country. Makati cannot hold itself comparable to other cities and towns in this country, which would be lucky if they are able to collect even half of 1 percent of the taxes Makati rakes in; doing so is plain showing off. He is not being nice, which is ironic because his slogan is Be Nice (Binay’s). I know it’s cheesy, but what can we do? There really is no accounting for taste.
What’s more, Binay is conveniently glossing over the fact that he does not have the support of the business district and that he has been at odds with the group for quite some time now.
The game of one-upmanship that our candidates have engaged on this early only reinforces our worst fear: Only the rich and the shameless can win in 2010.