Matter of platform or persona?


At the 47th Philippine Business Conference and Expo last month five presidential candidates presented what they would do in the first 100 days in office if elected president. I deduced that what they would focus on in their first 100 days as president is what they perceive to be the most serious concerns of the voters.

Here are the policies and programs of the five presidential candidates:

Vice-President Leni Robredo: Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic through wider and more effective healthcare programs and energizing the economy through a stimulus package for micro, small, and medium size enterprises (MSMEs).

Senator Panfilo Lacson: Laying the foundation of a clean government, restoring confidence in government, funding fully the Universal Health Care Act, supporting the MSMEs, and expanding agriculture.

Senator Manny Pacquiao: Putting corrupt officials in jail, implementing a housing program for informal settlers, reducing loans.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno: Reinforcing the health system, rehabilitating the economy by providing jobs, business and career opportunities, and reducing petroleum and electricity taxes.

Senator Bong Go has made known publicly his intention to withdraw from the presidential race. Whatever he said in the conference has become irrelevant.

Former Senator Bongbong Marcos did not participate in that conference. I glean from his latest advertisement that his platform is to unify the people to bring about prosperity and a bright future.

The presidential race in 2016 proved that winning is not just a matter of platforms and presenting them to as many people as possible. In spite of the fact that Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte declared his candidacy for the presidency just days before a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in late 2015, and that he still had no platform of government at the time of the survey, the results showed him as the most preferred candidate.

Presidential aspirants Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay, Manuel “Mar” Roxas, and Miriam Defensor-Santiago had been presenting their respective platforms from the time they declared their candidacies for the highest office of the land months before the survey. In fact, shortly after he was sworn in as vice-president in 2010, Binay made known publicly his intention to run for president and boasted of his capability to raise the people from the depths of poverty by hinting that what he had done for Makati he could do for the entire country if he were the president.

Binay, Poe, and Roxas conveyed their respective messages not only to the entire Metro Manila voting population but had taken their campaigns to the Visayas and Mindanao. They used mass media extensively to convey their message to the people. Binay presented to the public his solutions to the problems of poverty, Poe her program of inclusive growth and good governance, and Roxas his message of straight path governance. Santiago presented her programs of tax system reform and government efficiency improvement to university students.

Yet the survey showed that 48% of Metro Manila voters preferred Duterte over all of them. Binay, whose bailiwick of Makati is in the heart of Metro Manila, and who was once chairman of Metro Manila Development Authority, was preferred by only 18% of the area’s voters. Poe fared better, she being the choice of 22% of Metro Manila voters. Roxas had only 7% of Metro Manila voters favoring him.

In the Visayas, where Roxas, Poe, and Santiago come from, Duterte was the choice of 40%. Roxas was a poor second with a 20% preference. Davao Mayor Duterte got the votes of half of the Mindanao population.

Of the ABC income group voters, 62% named Duterte as their choice for president. Binay was the choice of only 16%, while Ms. Poe was the preference of only 13%. Roxas’ rating was 6%. Santiago’s was 3%.

Duterte leading in the polls in all areas and socioeconomic classes implied that the candidate’s persona is a bigger factor than his platform. I use the word “persona” instead of “personality” because “persona” is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as “the mask or appearance one presents to the world.” In other words, persona is the type of character that a person seems to have that is different from his real character. Personality is “individuality existing in itself” or the set of personal attributes that makes the real person.

In 2016, Binay ran under the slogan “Gaganda ang buhay kay Binay” (Life will get better under Binay), citing his governance of the financial capital of the Philippines as basis of that claim. The slogan seemed to have worked for him as he topped the polls for a long time, until his bitter political enemies twisted the slogan into something like “gumanda ang buhay ng mga Binay nung namuno sila sa Makati” (the life of the Binays became better when they led Makati).

While having had only modest accomplishments as a senator, Poe topped the polls by projecting herself as the one to carry on what her adoptive father, the late Fernando Poe, Jr. (FPJ), had started. But when asked just what FPJ had started, she was stumped. She started to slide down in the polls ranking from then on.

Roxas presented himself as President Noynoy Aquino’s “anointed” and the “Toll patrol of the Straight Path.” His rivals for the presidency did not bother demolishing or distorting that image as it never catapulted him to the top spot in the polls anyway.

Santiago portrayed herself as the superior mind among all the presidential candidates as she had the highest academic achievement, being the only one with a master’s degree, from the prestigious School of Law of the University of Michigan at that, plus research fellowships in Oxford and Cambridge. Superior mind but sick body, her detractors pointed out. That she was gravely ill was public knowledge.

When Duterte joined the presidential race, he depicted himself as the “The game changer” and the “Fearless and relentless buster of crime syndicates.” It was an image in sharp contrast to the “laidback president” persona of then incumbent President Noynoy Aquino. The image got Duterte elected president.

The present presidential aspirants also told the attendees of last month’s business forum the image they project for themselves. Here are their respective images:

VP Robredo: A leader who marched and worked alongside people and fought for their dreams of a country they deserve; a public servant who did what she could with the limited power and resources available to her to uplift the lives of the people.

Sen. Lacson: Experienced in governance, leader, honest.

Sen. Pacquiao: One who truly loves the country and the Filipino people and is dedicated to improving their lives that they may not experience the suffering he went through.

Mayor Moreno: Harbinger of true and meaningful change.

Based on his earlier and current commercials, former Sen. Marcos projects the image of the unifying leader who will work non-stop to bring about prosperity and a bright future.

Do these images reflect the true personality of the candidates? The next survey results will tell us what the voters think.

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. had worked for a public opinion/market research firm, an advertising agency, and taught marketing subjects in three graduate schools.

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