By Yen Makabenta
Like his political opponents and critics, I too have wondered why Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, Jr. or BBM as candidate for president is so popular and greatly favored by a large majority of the national electorate.
By almost any yardstick — leadership and support base, personality and character, policy agenda, service record and experience, and opinion polls — BBM is the runaway favorite of the people.
To the chagrin and desperation of his political rivals — notably Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Senator Roland de la Rosa — the negative campaign that has been desperately mounted to stop another Marcos from entering Malacañang appears to be generating the unintended effect of making BBM inevitable.
Every election poll conducted so far has installed BBM as the candidate most preferred by voters. It’s so overwhelming that placing second to him in the preferential polls is now being seen by his hapless rivals as consolation.
You can argue that BBM’s popularity is principally due to his personality and character, his record of public service and the abiding appeal of the Marcos brand (thanks to both his father and his mother). Each of these counts as a factor in his electoral appeal.
But the biggest factor of all, however, may be the desperate and negative propaganda that political rivals have mounted with increased urgency in order to get him, such as the rehashing of the old and debunked charge that he did not get his degree or diploma from Oxford University in England.
Instead of derailing BBM’s run for the presidency, the negative attacks are contributing to his appeal and are probably cementing the vote preference of many.
Negative propaganda against BBM could turn out to be the biggest enemy of his opponents.
Affirmative vs negative campaign
Dick Morris, the renowned political strategist and campaign consultant (he was a key factor in Bill Clinton’s reelection despite Monica Lewinsky), discussed the shortcomings of negativity as a campaign strategy in his book, The New Prince: Machiavelli Updated for the Twenty-First Century (Renaissance Books, Los Angeles, 1999).
Morris wrote the following in a chapter entitled, ‘Positives over negatives’.
“Voters hate negative ads. They have always hated them. They used to work better than any other type of ad… but the pendulum has swung back. People have become jaded by negative ads. Voters have become deeply suspicious of negative media.
“Part of this skepticism about negative messages comes from our greater sophistication and understanding of personality. People understand that a spot on one’s record or a blemish on a politician’s character is not necessarily a disqualification that affects all other aspects of a candidate’s personality.”
Bongbong Marcos has earned his shot at the presidency; odds say he could win the prize
More important is Morris’ warning: “If negatives don’t work, they have an increasing potential to blow up in the face of its candidate-sponsor. When a negative attack fails, its sponsor endangers its own credibility.”
Morris’ most weighty advice to candidates is probably this: “Campaigns start with competing messages. The key to winning any race is to come up with an affirmative message that outdistances your opponent’s message. It is the inability to understand this simple, straightforward point that causes more losses in politics than any other single factor.
“Neither a financial advantage, nor a better negative campaign, nor a superior field organization matters as much as getting the right affirmative message established at the start of a race.
When one outdistances the other by pulling ahead with its positive message, forcing the other into negatives and then destroys the negative attack, victory is inevitable.”
The Marcos mystique
There is a lesson from the unsuccessful campaign of the Aquinos, Yellows and Liberal Party against ousted President Ferdinand Marcos and his family since the EDSA coup in 1986.
Despite some 35 years of demonizing Marcos and his family among their countrymen, and writing their preferred history of the country, the Yellows never succeeded in driving the Marcoses away from the affection and support of their countrymen.
Even hauling Imelda Marcos to trial in New York City on corruption charges and flying plane loads of documents there could not do the trick of humbling Imelda.
On the charge of stolen or plundered wealth, the case fell apart when the judge asked from where or from whom Marcos stole all that money. He could not be answered by Philippine officials.
When it was suggested that the loot was probably taken from Japanese reparations to the country, or from US economic assistance because of the military bases, the Japanese government issued a statement that no part of that reparations money was lost to President Marcos; and the US government similarly manifested that no portion of US economic support was misappropriated or unaccounted for.
Marcos critics similarly failed to prove the charge of massive military and human rights abuses during martial law.
The claim proved feeble when placed against the reality that martial law declaration stopped the communist insurgency in its tracks and succeeded in arresting most of the top leaders of the CPP-NPA at the time.
The Filipino people were never asked about their own feelings and attitudes about martial law and the Marcos administration. The US media and the American people were not given a brief on the full record of the Marcos government. Most were just content with the delusion that an evil regime had been toppled by a saintly one.
In three successive Philippine administrations, the “Yellow forces” prosecuted the Marcoses through the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), filing case after case, and failed again and again to get a conviction.
While this court drama was playing under successive “Yellow” administrations, the Liberals proved themselves incompetent and clueless in the task of leading the nation and managing the affairs of government.
Now, as we approach the national elections in May 2022, the LP standard bearer does not want to use the color yellow anymore; Vice President Robredo prefers pink. And she has expressly limited the number of Liberal Party members in the ticket which she will lead in the campaign.
Many of the key leaders of the Yellow and Liberal regime are now departed.
Liberals have been reduced to just a few posts in the 18th Congress.
Meanwhile, in contrast, the Marcos family has made a comeback to the nation’s political stage.
In the elections in May 2022, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is standing for election as president of the Philippines.
According to the polls and the pace of organization of forces across the archipelago, Marcos is in position today to create a coalition of forces and parties that will contest nearly every position on offer.
If BBM is wise, he will strive to carve a coalition that will mirror the entire archipelago and provide a mosaic or tapestry of colors and cultures in our varied and manifold land.
Then will all our people and communities be heard and united as one nation under one government. #
MORE FROM DICK MORRIS, The New Prince: Machiavelli Updated for the Twenty-First Century
“Message is more important than money. Issues are more central than image. Strategy matters more than tactics. Positives work better than negatives.
“Substance is more salient than scandal. Issues are more powerful than image, and strategy more important than spin.
“The more partisan you are, the less effective you will be.
“Appeals rooted in generosity and the public interest do better than those which appeal to the voters’ self-interest.
“Voters want to hear about how to make their lives better, not richer.
“Values matter more than economics.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Yen Makabenta is a columnist of The Manila Times. He has an extensive background in government service serving as Policy Research Director in the Marcos government from 1980 to 86, and as senior speechwriter to President Fidel V. Ramos from 1992-98. As a journalist, his work has spanned the roles of publisher, editor, and columnist. He was founder and editor-in-chief of the Philippine Daily Globe, and has written a column for several Philippine dailies.