The Vice and the backlash

Patricio N. Abinales
The Vice and his team will have to look for another issue against Poe that will have the same distracting effectiveness as the citizenship issue

You have to hand it to the propaganda team working for Vice President Jejomar Binay’s campaign.  They have managed to deftly shift the public conversation away from the corruption allegedly committed by the Vice, his family and cronies. And their campaign has survived the 24-hour news cycle and become a big trending thread on social media.

It began with a carefully timed “exposé” by United Nationalist Alliance interim president and Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco who claimed that Senator Grace Poe cannot run for the presidency because she is 6 months short of the constitutional requirement of a 10-year residency in country. This was followed by a legal opinion of UNA’s interim secretary-general JV Bautista who, like a Philadelphia lawyer, vituperated that Poe is a “foundling”, and hence, ineligible for the highest office of the land.

That none of this is true is not the issue; the goal was to plant doubt in the citizen’s mind about the senator’s sincerity to serve. This appears to be a second foray since the earlier charge of Poe lacking any politico-administrative experience failed to stick.

True enough, people took notice. The major media outlets and many on social media turned their guns away from the Vice’s alleged corruption to the senator. As of this writing (June 9, 6:03 pm) Google had registered 199,000 hits on Senator Poe’s citizenship and 292,000 on her being adopted – totaled at 491,000. The hits on the Vice’s corruption stories pale in comparison: 405,000.

Poe’s citizenship has now moved from her private sphere to the same stage as Binay’s corruption stories, and those running the propaganda campaign will want it to stay there. For as these continue to fester, the issue will gradually taint Poe and place her in the same Hall of Shame as the Vice. Walang pagkakaiba pala. Perhaps slightly evil than, but evil nevertheless.

But can this last? Here the Vice’s propaganda team might take a few steps back and reconsider its strategy. For the backlash in defense of Poe has become more palpable of late. This initially came as a response to the questioning by the UNA spokesperson of Poe’s experience, with Poe supporters noting that the Vice may possess the administrative talents, but foremost of these are his alleged patrimonial plunder skills (We hear echoes of the dictator Marcos’ puny attempt to tar Cory Aquino with a similar charge).

You can only run with the issue up to a certain point; after that, popular disinterest will sink in. And as more evidence emerged attesting to the falsity of the allegations, the Vice’s allies began to feel the heat. The Vice’s allies have since then backtracked. Tiangco apologized but not out of remorse for making that canker but because his patron ordered him to (no word from the secretary-general). But alongside the apology was the sudden surge of the tsismis that Poe is the love child of the dictator (Google hits as of this writing: 135,000).

The Vice has also shared his own boyhood story, as if this could mitigate the anger. Poe supporters have cynically called this a corny attempt at siphoning off some of the public sympathy for the senator. But that appears not to have gained traction (only 44,700 hits on Google).

Thus, what we have here now is a bunch of machos suddenly issuing apologies and trying to soften the blow. Their earlier wrongs do not a good public image make.

Another controversial issue

Public attention on Senator Poe’s citizenship and lack of experience will not last. Once she is offstage, the Vice will be back to standing on the platform alone. And already the media is beginning to bring attention back to his vices. This will be to his disadvantage, and his supporters will have to come up with another controversial issue soon or else his standing will continue to slip.

But the ammunition against Poe has dwindled considerably. Any future attack of the above kind will only bring out more coarseness and popular alienation. The Vice and his team will have to look for another issue against Poe that will have the same distracting effectiveness as the citizenship issue. It must also enable the Vice to claim some moral high ground or recover the social capital that was wasted by the attacks. 

Alas the political landscape yields no such issue that could slow down Senator Poe’s march to national recognition. The absence limits the Vice’s options: there is nothing left but the party machine to propel him to the presidency.

But even here there is no guarantee. Rodrigo Duterte’s* nationwide pulong-pulong appears to be winning over local officials and bringing more constituents to his side. His charisma appears to even reach Americans of Filipino lineage who now suddenly are interested again in the politics of the country they left behind. How much Duterte will take away from the patronage network is something worth watching. –

*Erratum: Rodrigo Duterte did run for Congress as representative of the first district of Davao City in 1988 and won. There is no evidence, however, that he made his presence felt in the House of Representatives in the same way he did and continues to do in Davao.



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