Philippine arts

Part 1: Progressives in disarray: Risa Hontiveros’ loss

Patricio N. Abinales
Part 1: Progressives in disarray: Risa Hontiveros’ loss
The success and failure of Hontiveros’ campaign hinged mainly on whether local political forces were receptive to Akbayan’s entreaties to add them to their 'sample ballots'

Some friends have been critical of the essay Leloy Claudio and I wrote asking Filipino progressives to field their candidates for local positions and stop pretending that these can win national seats in the May 2016 elections.

Our invocation of the historical failures of the past was of no interest to our critics; a member of a local leftist fringe even hectored to say that all that was needed was heart and the belief in the Left’s historic role to galvanize a national campaign that could – maybe – make Walden Bello our next President. Optimism of the will but sans the pessimism of the intellect.

If history is not enough evidence then perhaps more current evidence can make them take heed. Here is one.

About 6 months back, I found included in the stack of computer-generated mail inviting me to get yet one more credit card, the latest issues of my favorite magazines and the monthly bills, this nondescript package from the Philippines (with no return address).

Inside were these dot matrix print-outs of 3 internal documents of the Akbayan Party, that included the minutes of the party’s June 23, 2013 “execom assessment.” The agenda of that meeting was to find out why Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Akbayan’sSenate candidate, lost in the recently concluded national elections.

The document is an amazing read because it is fardel of contradictions: certitude over the superiority of one’s politics, on the one hand, tohubohu and maundering when it came to concrete practice.

Hontiveros’ variable performance surprised the committee. She topped the votes in totally insignificant Siquijor, got into the top 12 in Batangas and Cebu, but “bumaba ang boto karamihan sa NCR, Albay, Laguna, atbp.” (Most of the votes were lower in NCR, Albay, Laguna, and others.)

The reason was the tightness of the race. As one discussant admitted, “Sa akin kung sa perspective na, why hindi si Risa nakapasok sa magic 12? Dahil masikip at madaming reelectionist (In my perspective [sic], why did Risa fail to enter the Magic 12? It was because the pool was very constricted, and there were so many re-electionists.)”

Everyone liked the way a professional advertising term had “packaged” Hontiveros as a mother of the community, and an advocate of women’s rights, But this portrait had a limitation, brought about by problems “finding the right formula,” and the hasty implementation once this was finally thought out.

Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel. File photo by Adrian Portugal/Rappler

One discussant explained why the campaign never became entrenched in the local areas this way: “Magde-deliver sila kung may campaign kitty na ibibigay. Ilang araw bago tayo pumunta sa area, yung ibang kandidato nagbibigay na ng pera.” (The [governors and mayors] said they would deliver our kitty but because we took our time to go to their areas, the other candidates were already ahead of us, doling out a lot of money in the area.).

Once the election teams reached the ground, they were scandalized by the manner of running campaigns there.

One Execcom member complained, “May nakausap tayong 49 governors, walang pinag-uusapang messaging doon. Ang requirements sa ground ay sorties, entertainment….. Iba ang appreciation ng mga taong ito sa ground.” (We spoke to 49 governors, but the talk was not about messaging. What they wanted were sorties, entertainment…the people on the ground had a different appreciation [of the campaign]).

One discussant quipped that even Juan Ponce Enrile and Koko Pimentel sang Imagine just to connect with voters for, as he said, “Yung mga tao naghahanap ng emotional attachment.” (The people were looking for emotional attachment.)

All this should not have surprised Akbayan because one would assume that the party was now familiar with the circus-like nature of political campaigning. This was old hat, but why was it new to them?

But leftwing habits are resilient, and so the discussions veered back to the issue of political education. Two positions evolved here. The first one contended that all that should have been done was to make the medium work for the message. Hence, the problem was not the timing and frequency of the commercials for Hontiveros; it was whether how much these advertisements made potential voters “aware” of the platform and talent of the Party’s bet.

A member reminded his fellow covenors: “Tandaan natin mga kasama, wala kasing separate na awareness muna bago conversion lalo na sa campaign ads.” (Comrades, we should remember that there is no separate awareness first before [political] conversion, especially when it comes to campaign ads). Another suggested that the ads were not “compelling” enough to get people’s attention.

The other position was more concerned with local united front politics. It noted that local politicians supported Risa only after some negotiating.

Yung assistance sa local candidate ay factor talaga.” (The assistance for the local candidate is definitely a factor). She was part of the Magic 12 in Bohol’s districts 1 and 3 because Akbayan leaders’ negotiations with local power holders were successful, but in district 2, the rival electoral coalition had the edge.

One discussant admitted that “may epekto din yung message pero yung negotiation pa din ang nagde-deliver.” (The message has an effect [on voters] but in the end it is still negotiation that delivers). 

In short, the success and failure of Hontiveros’ campaign hinged mainly on whether local political forces were receptive to Akbayan’s entreaties to add them to their “sample ballots.” Where they did not, she lost, and where they agreed to do so – after some negotiation – she got in.

Here is an instance of local power dictating the outcome of national aspirations.

Then there was name recognition. –


Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW.




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