MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/25 May) – When Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas III announced he was dropping his bid for the presidency in favor of Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, observers thought he was assured of victory if he ran as vice president. Early surveys supported this view, as he enjoyed a wide margin against Sen. Loren Legarda, then a consistent second in preference polls. Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay was a clear underdog.
All roads seemed to point to a Roxas victory. Legarda, discredited beyond redemption for demolishing Sen. Manuel Villar over the C-5 controversy only to become his running mate, stood no chance of fulfilling what she failed to do in 2004. And everybody thought she was the only threat, if a distant one.
So assured was Roxas’ camp it showed no concern over his steady drop in his ratings, maybe because Legarda’s numbers were decreasing too. His handlers failed to see that Legarda’s loss was Binay’s gain. Nobody was even rattled when the surveys said that Roxas and Binay were now statistically tied. They simply underestimated the mayor who, they forgot, had carved an achiever’s image with his straightforward “Sa Makati” ads. Free education. Free hospitalization. What more could people ask for?
In contrast, Roxas put out ads that lacked not only visual artistry but also delivery of a crisp message. The supposed benefits of his legislative measures would take time for most viewers to process. Such lousy token ads reflected the overconfidence and complacency. He was thinking perhaps that his act of sacrifice (giving way to Aquino) and being the running mate of a popular presidential candidate was enough to pull him through. He just coasted along.
To their credit, Binay’s strategists also realized that this year’s elections, at least for the national positions, were all about using the right symbols. Symbols that would inspire. Symbols that would make the voters say the new government will be the exact opposite of the grossly corrupt and inept Arroyo administration.
Aquino was aware of this too. Thus he used to the hilt the legacy and memory of his parents. Add to that the image of someone who was only plunged into the fray by force of circumstance because he had no ambition of becoming president, and you’d find the other pretenders scavenging Heaven and Hell for their own symbols, no matter how trite, contrived or downright hilarious.
Convicted plunderer Joseph “Erap” Estrada rehashed his “Erap para sa mahirap” hypocrisy. Sen. Richard Gordon bragged about his sleepless nights with victims of calamities. Villar overdid his “sipag at tiyaga” theme. Former defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro showed off his legal prowess and aviation skills.
But nothing could beat the image of a beloved president and martyred martial law era opposition leader emblazoned in the backdrop, behind the son who, like his parents, has caught the eye of history. Powerful indeed was the image that Hacienda Luisita, symbol of a failed agrarian reform policy, and the massacre that took place there hardly became an issue [in the campaign].
Unfortunately for Roxas, he failed to appreciate the symbolic significance of the Aquino legacy. He relied too much on his nominal affiliation with Aquino but did not really take pains to gel with him and his campaign tack. He stuck to his old political self, unwilling to don yellow maybe because the color would remind him of an ambition marred by a momentous event that was the passing of President Corazon Aquino. In fact, his ads focused on his achievements as lawmaker and not on being Aquino’s partner.
On the other hand, Binay, perhaps much to the chagrin of Estrada, deliberately identified himself with the late president. The image of him dressed in yellow and flashing the Laban sign beside Cory conveyed the message that drowned out the eloquence of his rivals: I was one of Cory’s most loyal followers.
Shortly after that ad appeared, the Liberal Party found itself confronting a Noy-Bi (Noynoy-Binay) faction led by Sen. Francis Escudero and his thunderous “Ang bise presidente ko ay may B” ad. “We we’re sleeping with the enemy (Escudero),” a dumbfounded LP campaigner Corazon Dinky Soliman was quoted to have told reporters afterwards. Aquino himself sensed the danger and responded with ads reiterating his support for his running mate. It was around this time that Roxas and Binay were running neck and neck in the surveys.
More was yet to come from Escudero – the video that showed Roxas applauding while President Arroyo was signing a bill into law, which Escudero claimed was the Expanded Value Added Tax measure. Roxas countered that the video was taken during the signing of the Cheaper Medicines Act and not during the signing of the EVAT law. Damage has been done, however, and since the ad came out a few days before Election Day there was but little time to recover lost ground.
Now all that Roxas could hope for is a miracle during the canvassing of votes by Congress. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at email@example.com.)