THINK TALK: The excruciating defeat of the opposition: what went wrong?

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MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 21 May) — The opposition, or Leni Robredo’s camp to be more specific, has been saying they lost in the 2022 elections due to “disinformation” / “misinformation” and the handiwork of the paid “trolls.” (The other three camps are either pseudo opposition or bogus administration).  When you point to these as the culprits while you were in fact the highest spender in social media and you have the mainstream media with you, you are admitting that your communications and public relations (CPR) teams are weak, to say the least. Whether in politics or business, the job of the CPR team is not only to sell the product but also to study the strategy and behavior of competitors and counter bad publicity and/or black propaganda.

On the other hand when you assert that your CPR teams did their best, it was either that their best was not good enough or you just have to admit the painful truth that your product is not sellable. In this case, you just have to adapt the so-called “Volkswagen principle.” 

When you look at the Volkswagen beetle (a popular German-made car in the 1960s) on the side, you will notice that the hood rises to a certain point and then goes on a steady horizontal line. The same is true with its roof until it goes down towards the rear. The steady horizontal line that approaches a downward trajectory is called the “law of diminishing return.” The opposition may already have been on its diminishing return, and therefore, there is an urgent need to revisit its strategies, philosophy, rethink key assumptions, and more importantly, revise its political paradigm.

Philippine “masa” (common people) voters have not changed since time immemorial. They had been personality oriented and obsessed with the “idol” pin-up or archetype – the reason why Robin Padilla grabbed the number one senate slot and why Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, and JV Ejercito are strong contenders every now and then.  This is how the “masa” votes, who incidentally, comprise the 65% of the voting population. They are dispersed in the rural areas, and more often, they have only very limited access to information. They do not look at issues and nuances of the past. They don’t care whether one is “well-educated” and the other one a non-degree holder “thief.” PRRD was idolized by the “masa” in 2016 and this catapulted him to the presidency.

Because they comprise the voting majority, the opposition should strive by all means to win the hearts of the “masa” and groom a candidate who could become their “idol” in due time. Political platforms and advertisements are still necessary for consumption of the 35% voting middle and upper classes of the society.

This election should serve as a wake-up call for the progressive Liberals in case they are still half asleep after the devastating loss of the “Otso Deretso” senatorial candidates during the midterm elections in 2019. They have to go back to the drawing board and reassess themselves and their strategies. For one, when you have a sitting President idolized by the “masa” it was a blunder to call them “bobotantes.” They will surely hit back at you with the force of 16 million.

Dr. Rommel Curaming, who considers himself a well-meaning progressive liberal, writes thus: “It is time we let go of our arrogance to suppose that we have the monopoly of morality, critical thinking, right discernment, and love of country. People who voted for BBM (Marcos Jr.)  and the other candidates also have these in equal measures. Because of our presumption of moral and intellectual superiority, we ignore or dismiss them offhand, calling them names (bobotantes) that reflect badly on our being liberal. Let us stop acting as if we are the only rightful vanguard of the ongoing socio-political evolutionary process. Let us refrain from assuming that we are the only ones who truly understand the plight of the people and have the sole right to speak on their behalf.”

This recent election showed negative campaigning is not the way to go. When Isko Moreno, a third placer in the surveys, asked for Leni Robredo’s resignation or quitting the presidential race, he was quickly dislodged by Manny Pacquiao on the third spot which was affirmed by the results of the election.

This decisive election results should be a clarion call for the opposition to revisit their campaign strategies and rethink key assumptions to consider what liberal politics entails in Philippine setting. As it is now, liberalism and progressivism are in crisis in various parts of the world. It is now up to the opposition to save it from irrelevance if they still wish to build up on the said political ideology.

Let me go to the more specific issue: Leni Robredo herself. What was wrong with her?

Leni’s indecision at the beginning to join the presidential race took so long and this sent the other presidential wannabees squabbling in a quandary while BBM was on the final stages of consolidating his forces. He astutely entered into concessions with major political groups and influencers from north to south to ensure his political machinery serves him well.

At a time that the political opposition, or the prime movers of 1Sambayan to be more specific, was looking for a strong leader they were training their eyes on Ms. Robredo and expecting her outright to embrace the call for a united opposition. I disagree with the group’s (1Sambayan) initiative for a screening of the presidential aspirants because it gave the impression that the winner is superior to the others in many respects. It was a big turn-off for the other aspirants who likewise see themselves as another presidential timber. The selection process should have been done on the basis of consensus and not screening or competition.

The long wait pushed the other presidential aspirants to go on their own political courses of actions thus thinning the path with which Robredo had to walk on later, so much so, that a call for one united opposition by the 1Sambayan group became hollow and lacking the fire and enthusiasm it needs.

Dilly-dallying which worked for Duterte in 2016 did not work for Robredo because the precedents between the two were different. Duterte did not show interest in the presidency to avoid an early attack which happened to Binay. The opposition took advantage of Binay’s early disclosure to do demolition job against him which effectively crumbled him to pieces.

Duterte was pushed by the “masa.” and therefore, his dilly-dallying was highly charged by the sympathetic majority. Robredo was pushed from her long wait by the 1Sambayan, a convenor group working for unity of the opposition and perceived as an elitist group as they were composed of high caliber intellectuals and justices. Duterte’s wait and see attitude was like a volcano waiting to erupt. Robredo’s long wait was like a compressed spring; the longer it was released, the weaker it becomes.

On the other hand, Sara Duterte’s decision to finally run as BBM’s VP tandem bolstered their chances because this was seen as a political marriage made in heaven between the solid north and solid south with central Visayas approving the Uniteam couple.

It was surprising, even confusing, to see Leni Robredo, who, as President of the Liberal Party did not run under its banner. This was seen as an attempt to veer away from the tarnished image of the yellow cult after the devastating defeat of the “Otso Deretso” in the 2019 midterm elections. She chose to be pink running as an Independent candidate. Even then, people still see Ms. Robredo as yellow disguised in pink. This was why she and her group earned the monicker “pinklawans.”

Dr. Curaming continues his treatise by saying: “Let us be aware of the intellectualist biases that hamper our effort to reach out to the common people (masa). Just as fact-checking did not turn the tide of support for Trump in the U.S., it cannot also do the trick in the Philippines. The presumption that people’s support for BBM rests mainly on disinformation/misinformation, which drives fact-checking efforts, need to be seriously rethought as the whole idea is condescending. (Unfortunately), it was one of those that turned off a lot of people when the “kakampinks” tried to convince them. People who voted for BBM have their own valid reason for doing so. Denying this is yet another sign of liberal hubris that enable us to fantasize that we know more and better than people who actually live their own lives.”

If we look at why and how the two lady presidents Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency, it was destiny made possible when they were perceived as the only emerging personality to salvage a situation that threatens our democracy. In Cory’s time it was preceded by the toppling down of the so-called Marcos dictatorship. In PGMA’s time it was preceded by the impeachment of Erap (Pres. Joseph Estrada). When the husband abuses his authority in the household the mother is looked up to as savior of the children.

Must Leni wait for such kind of situation to exist? If not, then the opposition has to revisit its strategies, rethink key assumptions, and revise its political paradigm.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid holds a doctorate degree in rural development. He is a freelance writer, planning consultant, and teaches Statistics and Methods of Research in the graduate school. He can be contacted at mauganmosaid6@gmail.com)

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