On June 12, various political forces seeking to prevent Rodrigo Duterte to extend control beyond his term, through his proxy, got together to begin a long process of selecting a common candidate for next year’s presidential elections.
1Sambayan was hoping to introduce a different way of choosing a candidate from the traditional political party convention, by involving the public through an online poll.
For a month, people will choose who among the list of nominees should be worthy of support in the May 2022 elections and could defeat Duterte’s chosen successor.
1Sambayan is not rushing to declare its candidate. It will sort out the results for about a month and announce who won in the online polling by September, a month before the deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy imposed by the Commision on Elections.
The group unveiled six nominees — Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, Sen. Grace Poe, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, tele-evangelist Eduardo Villanueva, lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno and Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto, who the group wants to run for vice president.
Four other names who are said to be interested in seeking a higher political position are not on the list — Senators Nancy Binay, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and Emmanuel “Pacman” Pacquiao, and Manila City Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso.
But it appeared the selection process ended in a disaster.
Laughter in the halls of Malacañan Palace could be reverberated throughout the capital.
Only hours after unveiling the list of nominees, the people on the list issued statements one after the other, saying they were not interested in running for public office in May 2022.
Only two were left — the vice president who has repeatedly announced she would make a decision in September, and a former senator who has been offering himself as the group’s candidate and standard bearer.
The presidential election next year is different from past political exercises because no politicians have declared their candidacies.
Not even the president’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, has announced her intention to succeed her father even though the “Run, Sara run” tarpaulins are all over the country and she has started taking potshots at her potential rival, Robredo.
Probably, the politicians have learned valuable lessons from the experiences of would-be presidents who had prematurely announced in public their intentions to run for president.
Both former senator Manuel Villar and former vice president Jejomar Binay found themselves targets of adverse and black propaganda, which destroyed their images after they were linked to corruption.
Corruption is an emotional and a big issue in any election. In fact, the president’s rating remained high because most people did not see him as a corrupt public servant. But they failed to see him as an enabler of corruption or the president who failed to deliver his campaign promise to end corruption in the government.
It would appear the politicians were avoiding what happened to Villar in 2010 and Binay 2016. Both were early frontrunners in pre-election polls, only to lose in the final count on D-day.
Are they taking a leaf from the playbook used by Duterte in 2016 — a reluctant candidate forced to run at the last minute as a substitute candidate for PDP-Laban?
It was an effective strategy as the ruling party at that time had focused all energies and resources to demolish Binay first and Grace Poe next.
By the time the Liberal Party noticed a rising Duterte, it was too late. If the campaign period in 2016 was longer than 90 days, the LP could have also succeeded in destroying Duterte who was vulnerable because of his human rights record.
But Duterte’s strategy will no longer work. Politicians have to re-invent themselves this time.They also have to face a new element in the elections — troll farms.
There were no troll operations before the 2016 elections. In fact, the Philippine elections became the laboratory for disinformation operations, with keyboard warriors influencing public opinion and eventually the election results.
The Duterte administration has perfected the art and science of disinformation, destroying not only the political opposition but the credibility of the traditional media.
The results of the 2019 midterm elections, shutting out the political opposition, was a testament to the power of the troll army. Of course, the administration has a built-in advantage in terms of resources, machinery and patronage.
Next year’s polls will not be different as the pandemic has crippled the political opposition’s efforts to get funding, organize themselves, and campaign physically.
The administration has a well-funded and well-oiled machinery to run an effective campaign. It also dominates both traditional and social media.
For instance, Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go gets undue advantage in media mileage as state-media platforms devote a lot of space and air time to promoting him, more than the president’s daughter.
The government has a two-pronged approach to building up the administration’s candidates image. The state media freshens the image of Sara and Bong and the troll operations destroy their rivals.
The keyboard warriors’ operations have also evolved from known personalities serving as social media influencers to micro and nano influencers. And it keeps on evolving.
But the political opposition is fighting back with its own troll operations.
As the pandemic keeps people in their homes, glued to televisions, laptops, tablets and mobile phones, the political battle has shifted to social media.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has reported that politicians have started buying Facebook advertisements ahead of the official campaign period in January 2022.
The social media war has added to the chaos and confusion in the elections next year, further polarizing the nation and heating up the political situation.
Of course, troll operations will not help catapult a candidate to the presidency. The old formula of money, machinery and muscle still matters.
The coronavirus pandemic has placed the political forces opposed to the Dutertes at a bigger disadvantage in terms of resources and machinery.
But the advantage could lull the Duterte administration into complacency by thinking the opposition is weak while the ruling party is too invincible and unsinkable.
With millions without jobs and thousands getting hungry against the backdrop of the pandemic response and the bad economy, it will be a tough challenge for the administration to convince the people to keep them in office for another six years. It is still anybody’s ballgame.