[OPINION] Alternative candidates (and what we can do to help them)

Jayeel Cornelio

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[OPINION] Alternative candidates (and what we can do to help them)
Alternative candidates love to talk about change. But harping on change can only backfire. A popular and highly trusted administration will not be replaced.


Here’s the hard truth: Alternative candidates like Samira Gutoc, Florin Hilbay, Chel Diokno, Neri Colmenares and Romy Macalintal might be viral on social media. They might even do well in widely televised debates.

But people still don’t know who they are.

If I were to rely on my social media sphere (read: echo chamber), it is mostly the youth who get excited by these alternative candidates. To them, these candidates represent positive change. They are idealistic, passionate, and progressive.

Pulse Asia must therefore be a party pooper.

According to its most recent survey, the usual suspects occupy the top slots. The surnames are unsurprising (some might even say uninspiring): Poe, Villar, Go, Angara, Lapid, Cayetano, and Dela Rosa.

What’s going on?

Alternative candidates are nowhere to be found in the so-called Magic 12. There are two ways to analyze the situation.

On the one hand, we can appreciate what hard work does when it comes to campaigning. Colmenares, for example, is inching his way up.

The same can be said about Bong Go, who used to be nowhere. Now he is in the top 3. He literally goes around the country to visit fire victims, give donations, and deliver speeches. Say what you want about his ubiquitous posters but they are effective.

In spite of his rhetoric, Bong Go of course is not an alternative candidate because he simply echoes the interests of the administration.

On the other hand, the survey reveals a very important pattern. Those who have made it to the top have public awareness of at least 87%. This is the proportion of Filipino adults who have heard, read, or seen anything about these candidates.

Contrast this to that of the alternatives. Colmenares has only 62%, Diokno 39%, Macalintal 32%, Gutoc 19%, and Hilbay 13%. How can they make the cut if the general public does not even know them to begin with?

But here a caveat is called for. To win the elections is not just about popularity as many portray it to be.

Translating popularity into votes is another matter altogether. Freddie Aguilar is an example. 89% of Filipinos know him, but only 7.3% will vote for him.

Juan Ponce Enrile, who wants you to be happy, is known among 97%. But only 25% are voting for him.

What can we do?

This bit is very telling: Pulse Asia reports that only 37% of likely voters have a complete senatorial slate.

This means that slots are still up for grabs. This also means that now is not the time for alternative candidates and their supporters to lose hope.

To be sure, the way the campaign works favors those who already have the institutional and financial resources. Television, radio, and print ads remain influential but also expensive.

But there’s only so much that traditional media can do.

Hard work lies in groundwork. Alternative candidates and their supporters need to be visible – and make sense – around the country. In their local sorties and meetings, they need to show what makes them worthwhile alternatives.

Why? Because people are no longer beholden to traditional names. Here I offer a counterintuitive observation. If people still relied on traditional politics, then the survey’s topnotchers would not even make an effort to talk about their achievements.

And yet even Imee Marcos cannot escape this fact. She has mastered the art of transcending attacks on her integrity by appealing to her achievements. She presents herself as a woman of solution. And she is up there.

At the same time, groundwork is an opportunity to deepen the quality of our fragile democracy. Relying on celebrity and revelry assumes that voters are still unthinking.

But certain issues matter to people. Inflation, wages, and employment are important. And so too are environmental destruction, the loss of livelihood, and the water crisis especially in most affected areas around the country.

All these concerns are policy-related. But this is how alternative candidates are put to test: Do they really care about the issues that matter to people? And can they talk about them well?

No, it’s not about change

Alternative candidates love to talk about change. But harping on change can only backfire. A popular and highly trusted administration will not be replaced.

In this light, alternative candidates and their supporters need to ask the most fundamental question. What exactly do they offer?

Many who are disillusioned by the survey results blame the voters themselves. They readily accuse them of stupidity.

That is one big mistake.

Their energy must be put elsewhere. Every conversation in every opportunity must convince people that they can place their trust in alternative candidates.

This is a long shot. But if we are really convinced that our government needs better leaders, we better get out of our echo chambers. – Rappler.com


Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is Associate Professor and the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. His current research is on young people’s aspirations in post-conflict Marawi. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

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