The “ground war” shifted to a higher gear as the 90-day campaign period for the presidency reached the halfway mark on March 25.
Presidential candidates have been mobilizing their armies to fan out to cities, towns and villages to convert the undecideds to vote for them, as campaigning moved from big political rallies into house-to-house campaigns.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, candidates did house-to-house and motorcades in the morning to cover large towns and cities before holding the “miting de avance” at night.
Things have changed. There were occasions candidates skipped rallies and huge crowds because of the pandemic restrictions imposed by the Commission on Elections.
Campaigns at the time of the pandemic are sometimes done online or virtually. Social distancing is observed and the number of people in an event is limited from 30 percent to 70 percent of capacity. Face mask is a must.
But as the pandemic situation improves and with fewer coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases reported, candidates have started to wade into the crowd of supporters, pumping palms, hugging the elderly and touching ordinary people.
In Philippine political culture, seeing and going down to the people in public markets, town plazas and even on street corners are important to convert support to actual votes on May 9.
Voters would normally remember who was the last candidate they saw in their neighborhood. For them, it is important to see and touch their candidates.
There are only a few die-hard supporters who will fight for their own candidates but a big majority of Filipinos could still be undecided and are waiting for candidates to visit them.
Visibility is important in the remaining last month of the presidential campaigns. A legion of political officers at the grassroots level is needed to help candidates organize, plan and execute door-to-door campaigning.
While the “ground war” has intensified, the candidates also continued to bombard voters with “air war” tactics through advertisements in traditional and social media. Propaganda is also waged largely on social media platforms and through instant messaging apps like Viber, Whatsapp, Messenger, and Telegram.
Tiktok has become the primary battleground as it has become very popular among younger voters while Facebook remained popular among the much older people.
Market votes are generated through the “air war” as candidates’ popularity soar, but actual votes are won in the ground war, especially on D-day when voters troop to the polling precincts to cast their ballots.
As both “air war” and “ground war” intensify, presidential candidates have to watch out for the next phase of the political warfare – junking.
On March 24, Partido para sa Demokratikong Reporma or Partido Reporma abandoned a presidential candidate, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, and shifted support to Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo.
Pantaleon Alvarez, Davao del Norte first district congressman and Partido Reporma president, said the decision to withdraw support from Lacson was reached after local officials from Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur decided to support a candidate with the best chances of winning.
Lacson countered that he was abandoned when he could not provide local allies with P800 million in funds as the 45-day local campaign kicked off on March 25.
Lacson is not alone. It is a warning to other national candidates that local allies and ward leaders might shift support if they could not provide much needed campaign funds.
The money usually goes to recruiting an army of ward leaders in every barangay to convince voters to support a candidate. It will also go to the legion of poll watchers who will guard the ballot during and after the elections.
Sometimes, local candidates need support from national candidates to fund their campaign, especially if these people are up against the incumbents or more powerful and monied candidates.
Local candidates normally buy loyalties to win elections. It has become more expensive to buy votes in small towns, at P5,000 to P10,000 in the last 2019 elections.
Alan German, a campaign strategist, said candidates for national positions like a senator would need nearly P500 million while local candidates have to shell out P80 million to P100 million to secure a seat.
If the magic number to win a seat in the Senate is about 17 million to 18 million votes, a candidate must spend P24 per person to make it to the top 12 candidates, he said. Local candidates must have P480 to win, multiplied by the number of votes needed to secure a seat.
At the halfway mark of the national campaigns, donors and financiers have probably made up their minds on the candidates they will back all the way to the May 2022 elections.
They will turn the faucet off on some candidates and pour resources on the likely winner of the elections. Candidates whose survey ratings did not move up might face a dry tap but frontrunners will enjoy a continuous flow of resources.
This was what could have happened to Lacson. He’s not alone.
Even if the Zamora brothers are behind Senator Pacquiao, he has no qualms throwing away his riches to run a campaign. The others, including Marcos Jr., depend on donors and financiers despite rumors he’s spending the money his father had looted from the country.
There were speculations he was talking to allies and the Chinese business community to spend for his campaign, and promising rewards if he wins on May 9.
There were wild rumors Marcos Jr. has been promising P10 million to P50 million each to dozens of city and town mayors and P5 million each to hundreds of barangay captains if they will make him win in their areas. He has also promised to postpone the barangay elections to later in the year to extend the terms of barangay officials.
If Marcos fails to deliver on his promise as local campaigning begins, these local officials can shift support. Marcos may face a situation similar to Lacson.
In contrast, Robredo has no problem in grassroots support. Her army of volunteers does not ask for money to go to rallies and put up posters, stickers, and tarpaulins. They spend their own money for mobilization to convert voters to support Robredo.
For instance, local volunteers held a motorcade around northern Iloilo two weeks ago and Leody de Guzman and Walden Bello were cheered when they passed by.
Robredo was elsewhere but the volunteers did not stop campaigning for her.
Supporters for other candidates are like jukeboxes. They do not move unless money is provided.
In the final stretch of the campaign, do we expect more candidates’ tents to fold up? Do we see an exciting rematch between Robredo and Marcos Jr.? It will be a classic battle between money and machinery on one side, and volunteerism and grassroots-driven campaigns on the other.
It will be a fight between the old, traditional political families and the middle class people who want a new brand of politics.