'Kailangan magmilagro’ Otso Diretso plays catch-up on campaign trail

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition slate Otso Diretso has no choice but to play catch-up on the campaign trail to administration slates PDP-Laban and Hugpong ng Pagbabago, and the reasons are not a secret: they have limited resources and local support that's severely handicapped.

As of Friday, April 5, as slate, Otso Diretso has gone to only 18 places since the start of the campaign period on February 12. These slate outings also rarely see the 8 all together. The only time they were complete was on February 13, when all 8 of them – including Mar Roxas – officially kicked off their campaign from the Robredo bailiwick in Camarines Sur.

Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HnP) is out-hustling them by a mile. The Sara Duterte-led slate has gone to 40 places all over the Philippines within the same time frame. They’re almost always complete, and if not, only a few are missing. PDP-Laban, on the other hand, has gone to only 13 places so far, but most of the candidates are also with HnP.

PDP-Laban sorties have the added advantage of having President Rodrigo Duterte with them.

With combined 53 sorties, PDP-Laban and HnP are definitely leaving Otso Diretso behind on the trail.

“Kailangan magmilagro. But the upside to that is tinitiyak namin na bawa't piso ay nagagamit sa maayos na paraan at hindi nawawaldas at hindi nasasayang,” said Otso Diretso’s campaign manager Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan in a Rappler Talk interview.

(There has to be a miracle. But the upside to that is we’re trying to make sure that every peso is used efficiently and not wasted.)

Comparing Otso Diretso to admin bets

The difference between the sorties of Otso Diretso and administration bets is visually striking.

HnP and PDP-Laban sorties look typical – held in large venues, jampacked, and with candidates flanked by local leaders. It’s everything that an Otso Diretso sortie isn't.

Pangilinan said local leaders who want to support them are being intimidated and harassed.

"Just here in Manila, some local officials were summoned and told, if you support Otso Diretso, better watch your back. And not only that. In Cebu, we had to make last-minute changes in plans because the locals were afraid to be associated with us for fear of a backlash or retaliation from the administration," Pangilinan said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Candidates have had to resort to solo trips or sorties by pairs or by threes.

There are also, of course, unity issues.

In HnP,  Senator Aquilino Pimentel III has on several occasions shared the stage with Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos despite one irreconcilable issue. Koko's father, former senator Nene Pimentel, fought against martial law. PDP-Laban was also founded by Nene during martial law.

In Otso Diretso, Mar Roxas and Bam Aquino – the slate’s most popular candidates – went to Bacolod on March 12 but held separate sorties.

The unity issue is one that Otso Diretso doesn’t really want to dwell on, but it’s something very noticeable despite efforts to dismiss them.

Strategies

Pangilinan claims that Otso Diretso’s television ads have been more strategic than their opponents’.

An internal survey, Pangilinan said, shows that their ads have reached more.

“Our ads are being viewed by more people than theirs are. Which means they are properly placed and carefully selected. The same with social media. We have minimal budget and it's not regular. Kumbaga sa tindahan, hindi kami open 24 hours. (If we were a store, we’re not open 24 hours.) But the times that we are open, we make sure that it’s well-directed,” said Pangilinan.

However, these have not translated to results if pre-election surveys are any indication.

Aquino, for example, has been bumped off the magic 12 in the February survey of Pulse Asia. While his awareness rating remained the same from January, his "voting for" rate dropped by 8 points.

The biggest gainers seem to be human rights lawyer Chel Diokno and election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, although they remain way below the ranks.

The awareness rate for Diokno, for example, jumped 15 points from December as he joined the so-called "Page 1" of the Pulse Asia survey.

“My performance in the TV debates has also been a plus as it shows that i can get my message across persuasively and with some amount of wit and humor,” said Diokno, whose self-proclaimed "Woke Lolo" tag has been a hit among millennials on social media.

Macalintal’s awareness rate also jumped 15 points from December. Like Diokno, he employs humor during the sorties. He likes to tell voters to reserve their 12th slot for him, and appeals to young people to vote for him if only for the sake of their grandparents. 

Pangilinan sees this as an achievement.

“Nakita natin yung trajectory ng ating mga kandidato. True enough, dumodoble. In fact, may triple. May times 5 ang pag-angat ng approval at awareness. Naniniwala tayo na pagdating ng araw ng halalan, mas marami pa sa ating kababayan (ang susuporta),” he said. 

(We saw the trajectory of our candidates. True enough, their rates have doubled. Some have tripled. Others have jumped 5 times in their approval and awareness ratings. I believe that come voting day, more Filipinos will support them.)

If based on "voting for" rates, however, Erin Tañada, Gary Alejano, and Florin Hilbay dropped this February.

Pulse Asia research director Ana Maria Tabunda said that despite low rankings, she can look at the rate improvements – particularly the awareness rates for Diokno and Gutoc – as a win.

Wala silang talo, panalo sila. (They have nothing to lose, this is a win for them.) The reason they ran, they have no illusion they will win. They’re there to raise the issues and I’m looking at this because I’m using this as an indicator that some people are listening,” Tabunda told Rappler.

Pangilinan still thinks debates can help Otso Diretso, because it’s where the candidates can truly showcase their qualifications. But administration bets, even reelectionists, have been refusing media-organized debates. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has also denied Otso Diretso’s request to organize a debate that their opponents cannot refuse.

Without debates, Otso Diretso has to think of more ways to secure more slots in the Magic 12 come D-Day, but time is ticking with about 37 days left before elections. They have to work double time.

– with reports from Mara Cepeda, Pia Ranada, Camille Elemia and Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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