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Hidden campaign lessons

By: Manuel L. Quezon III - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | May 04,2022 - 08:00 AM

The legend goes that the Castilian knight and warlord El Cid, having died in the middle of a siege, ended up with his corpse strapped onto his famed warhorse Babieca upon orders of his widow, Jimena, to inspire the troops. Whatever the legend, the reality was that in the end, his dynasty was defeated. In a similar manner, history may record that the President, though politically dead, injected life into the Marcos campaign, which is not the ending he would have wanted. The necromancer who made this astonishing electoral transfusion—of political capital—possible was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It is entirely possible, without her intervention, that a Duterte-Marcos rivalry would have led to each canceling the other out, handing the election to the opposition that refused to die. Instead, she brokered a coalition.

This is why, practically on the eve of elections, the President announced he wouldn’t be making an announcement: He wouldn’t, he said, be endorsing anyone for the presidency. Not, it must be said, for lack of trying; it’s just his own constituency ran ahead of him, imbuing his daughter’s running for veep as an endorsement of Marcos Jr. for the presidency, rendering the President’s actual preferences in the matter moot and academic. This, in a nutshell, is the Duterte era ending in a flash, disguising the whimper at its heart: in demonstrating the vast residual powers of the presidency but failing to turn his popularity into a movement he can control, the President amassed political capital his daughter spent in a way he never intended. The President tried one trial balloon after another, to gauge if he could still, somehow, ditch Marcos. The troops, like colonialists of old, responded to the desires of the old king with that convoluted but clever cop-out: “Obedezco pero no cumplo” (I obey but I do not comply).

This election can be said to be one in which the presidential campaigns went out of control. Behind the scenes in the increasingly mammoth rallies of Leni Robredo, the many, many artists who flocked to, and volunteered for her, had to shrug off too many instances of mis- and uncoordination in the management of sorties (often verging beyond the rude, what with these unpaid artists being told on the spot they would no longer perform, at times even with dismissive judgments from organizers obviously suffering from old-style delusions that these were “merely” artists). So, too, did a rebirth of civic engagement and civil society make up for the many shortcomings of the official campaign: This was one campaign where the public took control of the campaign to save it from itself. On the other hand, Manila Mayor Isko Domagoso and Sen. Ping Lacson both found large chunks of their campaign coalitions abandoning them, leaving them lashing out at the world.

The year 2022 is also the first post-media election. Media, being a shadow of its former self, in terms of income and audience, means much more could happen in the dark, so to speak. Consider the lack of publicly shared surveys: too many surveys took place because commissioned but not disclosed because of no media partner capable of sponsoring disclosures.

Still, if you were a prudent old-school news desk, as of today, you’d have two stories being prepared. The first is that this was the most boring because unchanging electoral contest in living memory. The second, that this election was a stunning upset that repudiates conventional wisdom. The first conventional story would be that volatility in the campaign only existed up to the point Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo brokered the Marcos-Duterte alliance, with Inday Sara giving Marcos Jr. the boost to break the glass electoral ceiling the Marcoses hadn’t broken in 30 years of colossal effort.

The second, unconventional story, is that something got broken in all the traditional surveys, and that enough internet penetration existed to usher in a new, real-time, incredibly plentiful (in terms of data points) approach. One familiar elsewhere.

There is, of course, a third possibility (other than the Marcos landslide or Robredo landslide ones): an election that turned out to be very close. That would leave us truly in a kind of twilight zone the morning after. Whichever one ends up proven—or disproven—by the actual election, there is much that will be overlooked and lost in the stampede that follows on an old, old principle, that victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @mlq3

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