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MANILA, Philippines – There is no contest between one who sells hope and one who only promises status quo.
This is what the story of Manila’s mayoral race has shown, with former President Joseph Estrada – once convicted for plunder and defeated when he ran for president a second time – frustrating Alfredo Lim’s re-election bid. Estrada’s political resurrection is now complete.
Estrada surged past Lim in commissioned pre-election surveys and maintained his lead by changing strategies in the middle of the campaign. From peddling motherhood statements of hope at the beginning, he went on to back these up with a concrete platform of government.
Lim, for his part, only promised a status quo. Manileños found hardly palatable given the current socio-economic conditions in the country’s capital, two political analysts agreed.
Allen Surla, associate professor at the political science department of De La Salle University (DLSU) political science, pointed out that Estrada peddled “dreams” that resonated well with Manila voters. “Estrada’s charm is unique. He knows how to tickle the minds of the public. He was able tap into the dreams of Manila residents,” he said.
Louie Montemar, who lectures also at DLSU, said Lim’s political downfall was just a matter of time. He failed to connect to the public in the past 6 years that he was mayor, and faced a rival who knew how to relate with people. (Lim was also mayor from 1992 to 1998 before he ran and won as senator in 2004, with an endorsement from Estrada.)
“Apart from the obvious charisma of Estrada, Lim failed to convince the people that he was still the better alternative. In most ways, Estrada and Lim were on the same calculus, but performance-wise, Lim had been weighed and found wanting,” Montemar said. (Editor's note: We earlier attributed these quotes to another DLSU professor. We regret the error)
Hoodlum and law enforcer
As in previous elections he took part in, Lim nurtured an image of a no-nonsense law enforcer, someone who instills discipline and implements the law no matter how harsh it is. In this year’s local race, he sought to remind his constituents that he remains the tough cop that has been his trademark and ticket to City Hall.
He ordered a clampdown on bingo socials that have been a regular fixture of political meetings, and one police crackdown led to the arrest of his erstwhile ally, Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, Estrada’s running mate. Lim justified the police operation as part of the campaign to stop illegal gambling in the city.
He sought to reinforce this tough image by labeling Estrada as a convicted felon, an interloper, and someone whose real life aped the stories of those hoodlums he had portrayed in movies. Lim sought to highlight this contrast by timing the showing of his bio-flick, Alfredo S. Lim: The Untold Story, close to the local campaign.
But the 83-year-old mayor had nothing else to offer except that iron-fisted rule that Manileños had grown tired of, former Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza observed.
“Every election has different issues. The issue right now in Manila is employment, the delivery of basic services and the filth and decay of the capital city. He came short as far as performance is concerned,” Atienza said.
Atienza, who was Manila mayor from 1998 to 2007. He lost to Lim in the 2010 mayoral race.
Atienza concurred with the political analysts that Estrada’s built-in advantage was his being able to relate with the public, and the public with him. “He is a saleable product and all you have to do is to have an effective marketing,” Atienza said.
Already a tough product to sell, Lim courted more trouble when he implemented “anti-masa” policies that did not sit well with the poor communities in Manila, Cuarteros said.
“Remember he rounded up of all the kuligligs (slang for motorized pedicabs) in Manila. These are poor people whose source of income have been affected by his policies,” Montemar said. “I heard that employees of City Hall are also complaining that they’re getting their salaries late.”
In contrast, the masses found a potential respite of these “anti-masa” policies in Estrada. “They see hope in him. Juxtaposed with the bland campaign of Lim, Estrada’s promises sounded sweeter,” Surla said.
As if Estrada was coated with Teflon, Lim’s personal attacks against him – always emphasizing that he was a convicted plunderer – did not stick.
“Filipinos are not angry with Estrada. Compared with [Gloria] Arroyo or [Ferdinand] Marcos, his perceived sins against the people is not as huge as the two,” Surla said.
Lim also dug his grave deeper by campaigning not on his own strength but by capitalizing on the weakness of his rival. But his rival’s weakness has been proven to be his strength in more ways than one.
The failed Noynoy factor
A source from the Estrada camp said that, early on, Estrada had a huge 70%, against Lim’s 30%, in earlier commissioned pre-election surveys. This rating went down when the local race began, and the two engaged in mudslinging.
Montemar said some voters were turned off with Estrada when he engaged Lim in a verbal negative campaigning. “He’s already got stature, he’s a former president. By engaging Lim in mudslinging, he lowered his level to Lim. I think he lost considerable gain from that.”
But Estrada was able to arrest that slide by presenting concrete programs to revive Manila from its slow decay. Estrada said urban renewal would be the focal point of his governance if he gets elected.
Lim still had an ace up his sleeves: the endorsement of President Benigno Aquino III and his full backing. “The President threw his full support behind Lim, a Liberal party mate, in terms of resources. I learned that the Conditional Cash Transfer program for the poor amounting to P600 million was released through Lim.”
As far as political alignment, Lim was initially thought to have an edge over Estrada – of the 6 incumbent district representatives, 5 were allied with Lim. Only 5th district Rep. Amado Bagatsing was on Estrada’s side.
But Surla pointed out that a candidate would only need such political alliances to deliver the votes if he is a weak candidate. “In the case of Estrada, who remained popular with the poor, it is the candidates that needed his help. It was the other way around for him.”
Unlike in the provinces, where local political leaders could provide an effective vote-delivery system, Manila is different, said Montemar. “Manila is a melting pot. The mindset of a Manila resident is not as defined as someone who is a resident of a provincial city.”
Whatever advantage that Lim enjoyed with the congressional political alliances was neutralized by Estrada’s running mate, Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, who has strong links with the barangay officials.
Out of the 905 barangay chiefs, about 600 were reportedly supportive of Moreno. The re-electionist vice mayor led his challenger, Lou Veloso, by a mile.
Atienza said the barangay vote network system cannot be underestimated. “The barangay chairmen and barangay councilors helped me win in previous elections.”
So what’s in store for Manila under Estrada?
Estrada might have been a bad President and an even more negligent senator, but he had proven himself as a capable mayor of San Juan. “As a mayor, he has proven himself and that counts a lot when measured against another candidate,” Atienza said. – Rappler.com
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