Thirty days. Depending on where one stands and what is at stake, this period may last a lifetime or be gone in a blink of an eye. This is how much time is left before Filipinos cast their votes for the May 2022 national elections.
For the survey frontrunners, like Marcos Jr.’s camp, 30 days is not enough to close the gap. They (falsely) believe that they are the runaway winners. This is what they project to the voting public, but we all know that this is not true. If they have not yet learned from the lesson of the past, until votes are cast in the precincts, anyone — even the frontrunners — may ultimately lose.
But for those who attempt to overcome the steep climb, 30 days is both a reality check and, more importantly, a leap of faith.
Vice President Leni Robredo has the biggest chance and momentum to thwart a Marcos Jr. presidency. Of course, this is only possible if these next 30 days will be put to good use.
How Robredo-Pangilinan turned the tide
In the March Pulse Asia survey, Robredo lifts her numbers to 24, gaining 9 total percentage points and gaining support nearly across all regions and all socio-economic classes. People’s Rallies continue to turn province upon province pink, most recent of which is yesterday in Pangasinan. House to house campaigning by volunteers converts. Endorsements have come in for VP Leni. The momentum, whether in the grassroots or in social media, is with her People’s Campaign. Some observers claim that Robredo’s increase is probably even more dramatic, and the decline of Marcos’ numbers sharper.
The best thing that the Robredo campaign has done so far are the massive rallies it has organized all over the country, including in cracking the Solid North, the Mindanao bailiwicks of Duterte, and last Saturday in Pampanga, which is supposed to be an Arroyo stronghold. These rallies are organic and volunteer-driven, unlike the Marcos-Duterte sorties which are machinery-driven and do not seem to be spontaneously organized. The nearest comparison to this significant phenomenon are the Duterte rallies in 2016, which started with intense activity in social media and led to similar big rallies before Duterte finally catching up in the surveys by mid-April. He kept that lead up to the end and won by a large margin in 2016.
There are important differences between 2016 and 2022. In 2016, there were four strong candidates – Binay and Poe, who alternated in leading the surveys for most of the campaign, Roxas who was only 5-10 points in surveys behind Binay and Poe most of that time, and Duterte who was, up to February, just five points behind Roxas and 10-15 points behind Binay and Poe. This time, Marcos started with a big lead of 40 points, and while I think that has been whittled down to around 20-30 points by this time, that is still a big lead for Robredo or even more for Moreno or Pacquiao to overtake.
Another big difference is also between 2016 and 2022 is that six years ago, Pulse Asia had weekly surveys commissioned by ABS-CBN that enabled the campaigns, political analysts, and the public to track the numbers of the candidates. We were able to see on a weekly basis how Duterte managed to overtake first Roxas then Binay and Poe. We also saw how Robredo slowly but surely increased her support positioning her to defeat Marcos and Escudero on election day. We don’t have that now which means we are all going to the final weeks of the campaign partially blind, mistakenly believing that Marcos has this in the bag or the Robredo rallies are enough to win the election, which of course is the only survey that matters.
Priority is to reduce Marcos lead
It should be said that there is always a possibility that the surveys this time are mistaken – that the random sampling methodologies used are faulty and outdated or that the results are distorted because of special circumstances of the pandemic or the hyper-partisan atmosphere. But any good political operative would not ignore the data and should be guided by it.
How then to reduce the lead of Marcos, which must be a priority of all the other campaigns?
The first obvious strategy is to have a common, even if uncoordinated, strategy to attack Marcos on three fronts:
First, his non-filing of income tax returns which is an individual responsibility of candidate Marcos and the nonpayment of estate taxes by the Marcos family, which is candidate Marcos’ responsibility as administrator and/or heir. Moreno’s attack against Marcos on this issue in the last Comelec debate was very effective.
Second, the other campaigns should relentlessly criticize the Marcos campaign for its serious error in not participating in the debates. Marcos and Duterte has insulted the voter by doing this and there is backlash that results from such arrogance.
Third, we need a refocus on the qualifications of Bongbong Marcos to be president. Does he have the basic competence and the work ethic to take on the job of head of state and chief executive of the government? Does he have a good vision for the country, or is this just a matter of protecting the Marcos family and the vindication of the father, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos? In this context, the human rights and corruption record of the Marcos family must be put back to the center of the campaign.
The one thing that should be avoided are distractions like the misogynistic and unfair attacks against Lisa Araneta Marcos. That usually backfires and does not help in the conversion of votes. Personally, driven by fairness to understand what is driving these attacks by a few Robredo partisans, I watched and listened to her and Bongbong’s interviews, and my judgement is that she has been caricatured and that a fair conclusion from the interviews is that the Marcos couple are actually good partners to each other and good parents to their children. That is not a reason of course for voting for Bongbong, but enough to tell me that attacking the wife and the Marcos children is not a good turn for a campaign whose purpose is to elect as president a female vice president who (and whose daughters) have been misogynistically attacked in the last six years.
Converting votes through conversations
While the big rallies are good and should be continued, culminating perhaps with a million (two million is doable)-people rally on the final day of the campaign, the most obvious task is to scale up the house to house campaign that Robredo volunteers have been doing. While 10,000 volunteers are good and a weekend dedicated to this is impressive, that is not enough to counter the well-funded and extensive 24/7 barangay operations of the Marcos campaign.
The Philippines has over 42,000 barangays. All of those barangays need to be covered and not just once but over a period of several days in the next 30 days. More than 100,000 volunteers are needed and the house to house campaign must be sustained through the next 30 days.
It’s interesting that almost everyone I know personally and professionally, from progressive and militant organizations to business and church leaders I give election briefings to, and of course my undergraduate, law, police, and military students, are for Robredo-Pangilinan. That is why it is perplexing to me that almost everyone I ask at random, other than these people I know, such as security guards, delivery persons, grocery people, baristas, etc. are for Marcos-Duterte. But in the course of conversations with these Marcos supporters, discounting the most rabid Marcos loyalists, I find that the Marcos support is shallow, not firm, ripe for conversion to other candidates.
The role of the Catholic Church here is important. While I am with those who would not want to see the pulpit – through Sunday sermons for example – used to endorse specific candidates, I strongly encourage bishops and parish priests, as well as religious and lay leaders, to participate in a house to house voter’s education program. While pastoral letters can be read during church services and priests can deliver homilies on principles that guide voting, a house to house voter’s education should include assessments of each candidate based on their records and platforms. If the bishop or the parish priest would like to write a letter endorsing a candidate, that would be fine as long as it is not read during church services.
The youth in particular should be targeted – and by fellow youth. Robredo increased her share of that demographic in the latest survey, but Marcos still has the majority of young voters intending to vote for him.
Robredo-Pangilinan has the momentum. With hard work and lot of prayer, we might just see a come-from-behind victory come May 9, 2022. – Rappler.com
Tony La Viña is the Associate Director for climate policy and International relations of Manila Observatory. He also teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.