It was a speech made for TV, with the makings of a miting de avance a year ahead of schedule. Wild applause and cheers were heard as Vice President Jejomar Binay, a presumptive 2016 presidential candidate, walked to a podium to deliver a much anticipated address that was expected to refute corruption allegations against him.
But the 9-page long speech wasn't really about a defense against the plunder case filed against him in July and all the other issues that cropped up in the Senate probe that followed. The first 4 pages were about his life story, the next 3 pages responded to the allegations, and the remaining two pages enumerated his campaign promises.
"It is his preparation for being president. He sounded presidential today," said Binay spokesperson Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla, making no effort to deny the purpose of the speech.
The Vice President took his time to speak about himself, his humble beginnings, how his mother died because they couldn't afford cure for her cancer, his perseverance to rise from poverty, his sacrifices as a human rights lawyer, and his proclaimed successes as Makati City Mayor before becoming Vice President of the republic.
"When I was 9 years old, my mother became afflicted with cancer. Since we had no money to spend, she died as we watched helplessly. I became an orphan. I was brought up by an uncle, my father’s brother. I spent each day with the househelp. I looked after the pigs, went to market, did the laundry, ironed my clothers, and cleaned house and yard, while studying and dreaming of the future," Binay said in a speech at a conference room at the Philippine Inaternational Convention Center (PICC).
Conspicuously seen in the front row was a group of senior citizens with disabilities, seated beside the Vice's President's family and close allies.
The PICC event is once again a reminder of Binay's political savvy. Live for 21 minutes on otherwise expensive TV airtime, the speech was not meant to silence his critics. It was a message for poor Filipinos, who make up the majority of voters, to tell them that he is one of them. The goal is to make them root for him against critics he called "anak mayaman" (born rich) who are supposedly anti-poor and whose predisposition is to look down on the poor.
Binay reduced the issue to a battle between the rich and the poor, a strategy we've seen to work many times in past elections.
"This is a fight for all Filipinos sleeping in push carts; for children going to class without notebooks and books and on an empty stomach; for peons and carpenters without homes; for farmers without their own land to farm; for those who, day in and day out, must fall in line to ride the MRT and LRT, braving the traffic and the flood, and going home at night with fear in their hearts because of the rampant criminality," he said. You can start imagining his political advertisements.
This was Binay's campaign message in the 2010 elections, the same message that his critics have been trying to destroy. In his speech at the PICC, the runaway winner in the presidential polls was fighting more to keep his winning message than refute the allegations – going on the offense rather than turning defensive.
Is it premature campaigning? "There’s no such thing as premature campaigning. Ang bagong hanay ng pulitika ngayon ay araw-araw dapat nagko-communicate ka. So there’s no such thing as premature campaigning. It’s the message. It’s listening. It’s more of listening than anything else. Umiikot siya, nakikinig," said Remulla. (The new style of politics now requires you to communicate every day...He does the rounds, listening.)
"Ang life work niya ay para sa mahirap talaga. Hindi naman ito tungkol sa mayayaman o kung sino ang guwapo. Ang life work niya ay tungkol sa mahihirap," he added. (His life work is really for the poor. This is not about the rich or the good-looking. His life work is about the poor.)
Binay's camp would later make it clear it wasn't President Benigno Aquino III he was referring to when he attacked the rich politicians. So was it Liberal Party presumptive candidate Secretary Manuel Roxas II? Remulla just smiled.
When he was pressed to name the "anak mayaman," he said: "Basta ang tinutukoy niya lang ang malakas magkastigo sa kanya ay hindi nakakaramdam ng buhay ng mahirap." (All he's saying is that those who strongly criticize him have not felt how it is to be poor.)
Binay ended his speech upholding Makati City as a role model in public service, far from the picture that his critics are painting in the plunder complaint and in the Senate hearing.
"When I became mayor of Makati, I came upon a city deeply in debt, almost bankrupt... By the grace of God, we triumphed. Makati now has become a model of service to the people. In Makati, all citizens receive care and attention from a government that listens to them and understands their plight," Binay said.
Then and now, this is his campaign promise. "My people, here is my solemn promise to you: if I poured my time and knowledge to make sure that everyone in Makati partakes in its prosperity, so have I continued to do the same as your elected Vice President of the country."
He said he wants food on the table of every Filipino family, diploma hanging on their walls, and jobs for the people. He promised to look after the welfare of the Overseas Filipino Workers, work to make sure Filipinos will have their own houses, and fight against criminality and price hikes.
Binay said the testimony of his critics will not stand up in court because they're recycled lies based on hearsay. But neither will the speech that was supposed to be his defense, but is actually a repetition of what his spokespersons already said. After the speech, Binay left the venue and let his spokespersons answer lingering questions.
And while the Vice-President's critics were getting their airtime to rebut his speech and swap soundbites with the spokespersons, Binay was already preparing for a trip to northern Luzon to check the areas devastated by Typhoon Luis (Kalmaegi). In his spokesperson's words, he will listen to the people.
And he's one step ahead. – Rappler.com
Carmela Fonbuena is a co-author of books on political advertising in the Philippines. Spin and Sell and Selling Candidates were published by Newsbreak after the 2004 and 2007 elections, respectively.