Debates as electoral runway
The Marcos Jr. campaign has begun referring to its standard-bearer as “Apo” to complete the son’s identification with Marcos Sr.
Apo Dayunyor has declared that if he wins, he will not allow International Criminal Court probers into the country, a promise obviously directed at Tatay Digong, who continues to withhold his electoral endorsement for any candidate.
It comes at the heels of the PDP-Laban Cusi wing’s eloquent slight against Apo Dayunyor, endorsing his proposed spare tire, Sara Duterte, but not him as presidential candidate. It is as if the PDP-Laban Cusi wing still wistfully considers Sara as its presidential bet.
This Apo Dayunyor’s promise to President Duterte is a threat to the Filipino nation which depends on international law, a credible international organization, and world opinion for its national security and prestige. The pronouncements of individuals running for public office cannot be taken in isolation; they are pieces in a mosaic that complete the big picture of the candidate’s character and competence.
This is why presidential debates are a critical ingredient for a sound May election. Every debate is a test of knowledge and character—of the speakers, the moderators, and media sponsors.
Part of the debate process is the long trail of follow-on and post-event pocket debates among viewers and the supporters of the candidates on the ground and in cyberspace. These pocket forensics are mechanisms for enticing and engaging the unconcerned and uncommitted voters (the “istambay” and the “salimpusa”) in the discussion of the candidates’ competencies and qualifications in relation to the issues and problems faced by the citizenry.
These often televised or broadcasted events, no matter how imperfect as impartial and substantive encounters, generate new knowledge and insights for candidates and voters alike. The downstream flow of discussions will meander in unexpected ways, beyond the control of scheming political factions.
Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in her book, “The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion—Our Social Skin,” presented the dynamics where a public (like the electorate) fear isolation and will be groping to belong to the majority sentiment which they sense with their “social skin.”
Within a territorial region, there will be a majority public sentiment and a minority sentiment. While pro-Marcos might be the majority sentiment in the Ilocos region, there is a minority sentiment within the majority sentiment for Vice President Leni Robredo.
The main signals to watch out for in the next hundred days are the tensile strength and velocity of the contending forces, whether partisans are able and willing to go out on a limb to articulate and defend their ideas even in the face of an overwhelming majority. My favorite indicator is the number of homeowners who put tarpaulins of their favorite candidate on their front gate.
The spiral of silence is broken if the minority is stronger and more intense in visibly and vigorously demonstrating their sentiment until it gains predominance. Thus, Apo Dayunyor heralds and encourages the minority support he has among majority-defiant mayors in Camarines Sur. But such posturing boomerangs on the Marcos camp when there is loud denial and pushback, as in erstwhile Sara Duterte supporter Rolando Andaya Jr. belying the Apo Dayunyor claim.
Debates provoke intense discussion flows among voters that radiate outward and vertically. If Apo Dayunyor refuses to give out more critical information like his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth, relying instead on static artifacts from past imagined glory, he loses out. It is like a champion refusing to defend his crown.
The debates we have seen can be considered entry debates; succeeding debates need to have different, deeper, and more creative formats for revealing candidate information and insights. There will be a premium on the elaboration of motherhood statements, generic plans and platforms. These will have to move not only toward more operational ideas and mechanisms, but also go beyond actions and outputs toward long-term outcomes and impact on society.
It is interesting that most of the presidential candidates have strengthened the expectation that the debates will be fair. Hopefully, there will be more debates where candidates cooperate fully in sharing themselves and their thoughts, while moderators strive to be even-handed and skilled facilitators.
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