At the height of the strongest typhoon to hit the country since 2013 when “Haiyan” struck the belly of the archipelago and killed about 7,000 people and left 200,000 households homeless, the government’s communications team did a shameless PR job to promote a politician.

At the height of the crisis, the administration’s propaganda  machinery had turned the crisis into an opportunity to boost the image of a certain senator at the expense of the entire government, which at that time was trying to save millions of lives, properties and crops. Nearly 20 million Filipinos were exposed to the wrath of Typhoon “Rolly” and hundreds of thousands were left homeless as its destructive winds battered the Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions.

Days before, another typhoon, “Quinta,” struck the same region , flooding several areas and disrupting power and communications services.

The PR blitz for the senator was a hard sell. 

One of these days, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) will be surprised to see the people reaching saturation point and finding it hard to swallow too much propaganda. It might backfire.

Journalists who monitor the daily “Laging Handa” news briefing of the PCOO have observed there is only one politician constantly mentioned in the news items and it is not the president.

It will be understandable if the PCOO reports on the activities and statements of the president because the office was mandated to be the official mouthpiece of the government and the president.

But it is too much and highly irregular if one senator gets reported every single day since the program started early this year. There were instances when the senator’s name was mentioned in four out of five news items. 

He was everywhere — in a fire scene, a disaster area, a health care issue and even in other areas beyond his work as a legislator.

President Rodrigo Duterte was hardly in the news but the senator would always be in the thick of the action. 

Every time the populist leader appeared on national television in a weekly meeting with select members of his Cabinet, you won’t miss him sitting close to the president.

He does not only appear on daily television and radio broadcasts of the government’s platform, he is also on the pages of the Philippine News Agency (PNA), the government-run news agency.

During the midterm election campaign in 2019, the first time he ran for public office, he was all over the legacy media. Sometimes, he appeared in the front pages twice or the same news story about him appeared in both the front page and inside pages of the broadsheets.

There was an overload of information about him that other senators and Cabinet officials were hardly reported in the news.

There is danger of over exposure but his media handlers perhaps believe the strategy will work as Duterte looks for a possible successor in 2022.

That formula worked for Duterte when he showed up in Leyte days after Yolanda almost erased the city on the map in November 2013.

Duterte’s caravan was his first high-profile appearance ahead of the 2016 balloting and he played his card well when he made it appear he was reluctant to run for president, avoiding criticism of his track record, like the spate of extrajudicial killings in Davao.

When his opponents started noticing his meteoric rise, it was too late in the game because by that time, there were only a few weeks left before the elections and his law and order platform had resonated with the electorate.

Duterte’s constant absence in the public eye because of his health conditions, and partly due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, has given the senator more media mileage as he was seen as the person closest to the president.

Since the outbreak, the president has been seen on national television once a week talking for an average of an hour about his favorite subject — drugs and the Communist New People’s Army.

But lately his television appearance has been shortened as he was not talking sense.

The senator was given more air time and left to do what the president was supposed to be doing in normal times.

But some political observers believe the senator’s overexposure could be a ploy to deflect attention from Duterte’s preferred successor in 2022 — his daughter.

The senator could be a Trojan horse to deceive potential rivals in the 2022 presidential derby. There are reports Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio has been preparing for a bid to succeed her father.

There are rumors she has been building a huge campaign war chest that her potential rivals could not match. Some of the people who helped her father win the 2016 presidency, like Boholano politician Leoncio Evasco Jr., are already working for her.

Some of her own allies have positioned themselves in government to help her, like Speaker Lord Alan Velasco of Marinduque and the Villars of the Nacionalista Party.

Sara is keeping her cards close to her chest and would probably bare her plans by the second quarter next year when would be-presidents would start announcing plans to seek the presidency.

When that time comes, the senator will quiet down and retreat to Davao together with his feudal lord. In the meantime, he has been enjoying the media attention and is tickled pink when he is mentioned as a potential successor to the president.