She is hoping the people will carry her on their shoulders to Malacañang, taking risks in the spirit of volunteerism. It is a political experiment after joining the election fray late in the game.
In public statements, the vice president said she only decided to run for president in the week during the filing of certificates of candidacy after two months of efforts failed to unite political forces challenging the administration.
In the end, Senators Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso pursued their ambitions to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte after June 2022.
Robredo has to hastily put together her campaign team after surprising both allies and rivals when she announced her decision to run.
But by the time she decided to seek the presidency, many of her political allies in the Liberal Party (LP) had jumped ship to other political groups. Only a handful remained.
Big business and wealthy campaign contributors have made commitments to other candidates although they could shift support depending on candidates’ movements in various pre-election surveys months and weeks before D-day.
In Philippine elections, money is everything.
Before the pandemic, campaign funds were spent on mobilization during political rallies, including an army of campaign workers and on mobility, as candidates moved around the country for sorties. Campaign staff also travelled with candidates. People behind political rallies travelled in advance to coordinate with local leaders.
Wealthy supporters lent aircraft and vehicles for candidates to cover more areas during the three-month campaign period as voters wanted to see candidates in person, pressing palms and kissing babies.
Candidates also spent money on political ads in radio, television and newspapers, not only in national networks but also in local stations to target specific voters.
Political strategists say a presidential candidate needs as much as P5 billion to run an effective campaign. The cost during election day and during the canvassing of votes could also be enormous.
An army of poll watchers and a battery of election lawyers are also needed but with costs. The lawyers are also needed if election results are to be contested.
Money also buys loyalty of local political leaders, including well-entrenched political families in the provinces. But there are other deals made, which include more than cash, like positions and concessions.
During the pandemic, the costs will be minimal because campaigning will be done through the air war — radio and television — and through the cyber war, to reach voters through mobile phones, tablets, and computers.
The air war is important to help candidates become popular and establish name recall — the so-called market votes — which are easily measured through public opinion polls.
Popularity however is not enough to win elections, so candidates have to wage a ground war to translate support gained in the air war to actual votes on election day, and to protect these votes.
But deeper pockets will also be needed for the ground war to hire an army of loyal poll watchers and campaign workers and make sure supporters cast their ballots on D-day — the so-called command votes.
Political scientists say the decision to mobilize either the market votes (air war) or command votes (ground war) relies largely on a myriad of factors that include political opportunity, personal attributes and resources available to individual candidates or parties.
The pandemic has brought a new dimension to the political battlefield — the emergence of cyber warfare as the cost of political advertising has become expensive for many candidates.
Social media has become a new battleground as most people are imprisoned in their homes during the lockdowns due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). The Internet and social media platforms have become more cost-effective alternatives.
The Duterte administration party will have a tremendous advantage over its challengers. It controls resources to wage both air and ground wars during the campaign.
The challengers will have to rely on social media to even the playing field. Still, huge funds will be needed to mobilize supporters to attack opponents and deodorize their own campaigns.
The Duterte administration has another potent weapon — patronage. It has huge pork barrel funds to gain the support of local politicians who depend on government subsidies for public works and social development projects in towns and cities.
In a political system where a president is not allowed to run for reelection, it is easy for local politicians to switch parties and join a winning presidential candidate and stick with the leader until the next presidential elections to enjoy a share of government resources.
The government can also play a squeeze game on wealthy individuals and big business, particularly in heavily regulated industries such as utilities, oil-and-gas, mines and construction, to slow down on support for candidates challenging the administration.
The Duterte administration has a long history of threatening businesses supporting its political foes. For instance, it has closed down what used to be the country’s largest broadcast network, ABS-CBN.
Lawmakers were influenced by Duterte, who did not forget what the broadcast network did during the 2016 election campaign when it bumped off his political ad and used an ad attacking him.
Even if Duterte is seen as a lame-duck leader, he remains a powerful political figure who can influence the outcome of the May 2022 elections.
Local officials are waiting for the release of internal revenue allotments (IRA), the government’s budget subsidy, before shifting loyalties to the most likely winner in the May elections.
Robredo is at a disadvantage. She joined the race when most candidates had left the starting lines. She has to do a lot of catching up in organizing her campaign team, recruit loyal campaign workers and raise funds for both the air and ground war. She could not rely on net war because it is important to translate into actual votes what support she had gained from air and net warfare.
She is relying on volunteers who will give time, effort and money to help her win the elections. She has also started raising funds from the public and a team of auditors have volunteered to ensure transparency — that every peso donated is put to good use.
The spirit of volunteerism is alive in the country. It is often seen during disasters and emergencies. Sen. Richard Gordon knew this when he mobilized volunteers after the Americans left Subic Naval Base in 1992.
However, it remains to be seen if Robredo’s volunteer army will succeed against the more organized, well-funded, and deeply entrenched patronage system in the country. It is also interesting to find out if her political experiment will work.