Fri. May 27th, 2022
Isko serenading Digong: pure and unadulterated opportunism.

By Antonio Contreras

MANILA Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso’s candidacy started with an attractive, winnable narrative.

He imagined himself as a candidate who can unify the country, and would be taking the middle path to bring us forward. He had a relatively large voter base, and was a potential frontrunner, as some surveys have indicated.

His problems began when he became the object of organized slander and sliming by the camp of Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo. He was savaged badly, labeled as a Marcos clone and worse, a Duterte secret candidate.

And the results of succeeding surveys indicate that he took a beating, as his numbers plummeted, as he now struggled with Robredo for the distant second and third places to former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

It is in this context that Domagoso found himself trapped and from where he seems to be making moves that, for many, is a reversal of the impression he made earlier in his campaign.

He painted himself as a candidate who would not be shy in confronting criticisms, seen in full display when he openly quarreled with Robredo partisans and called them Yellowtards, which offended even one of his senatorial candidates, Samira Gutoc.

He was an image of defiance when he unilaterally banned the use of face shields even if it meant drawing the ire of Malacañang.

He openly criticized President Rodrigo Duterte. In fact, prior to his declaration as a candidate, Moreno made statements that were not flattering to the President. He accused the government of being detached from reality, even calling it out for seemingly living in Wonderland.

He had strong words of condemnation about corruption, particularly on the controversial Pharmally Pharmaceutical deal. And he had fundamental differences with the anti-Covid-19 strategies of the Duterte government.

But now that Duterte’s endorsement, and the government financial and logistical resources that go with it, are up for grabs with the apparent intent to withdraw, though not yet formalized, by Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go from the presidential contest, Domagoso seems to have found a new tune to sing.

He has declared his support for Duterte’s candidacy as senator, and offered him a slot in his senatorial ticket. He also welcomed an endorsement by the President for his candidacy. In a dramatic reversal from his view about a mismanaged presidency that is out of touch with reality, he is now saying that the President is qualified for the Senate.

This reversal is also palpable in how he heaped praise on Harry Roque Jr. for doing a good job as former presidential spokesman, a job from which he wanted Roque to be fired in September.

Domagoso, even before the official campaign period is to start, has committed these political somersaults that all but contradict his image of not being a traditional politician. One cannot be blamed to suspect that these dramatic reversals by Domagoso were all triggered by the prospect of a Duterte endorsement, driven by the adage that politics is addition.

Domagoso and his handlers and loyalists are probably hoping that with Go out of the race, a Duterte endorsement would enlarge his much-reduced voter base as he battles it out with Robredo for at least the second spot.

The game scenario is that the second placer may not be a bad place to be in the eventuality that Marcos Jr.’s certificate of candidacy is canceled, particularly if this should happen after the votes are tallied. After all, there is a perception that Duterte retains the upper hand, and many people believe, rightly or wrongly, that he has influence over the election bureaucracy.

Wild scenarios and conspiracy theories notwithstanding, the issue here is that it is no longer wise to assume that endorsements from incumbent presidents can translate into actual electoral victories, or that President Duterte’s endorsement is not in fact a kiss of death.

It is unwise for Domagoso to expect that all Go voters will mass-migrate to him, considering that some of them may choose other candidates.

Furthermore, Domagoso should also consider the risk of desertions from his initial voter base, with his soft supporters who are anti-Duterte abandoning him. In the absence of actual surveys, it is hard to discern the net effect of his recent moves, whether it will lead to an increase or a decrease in his support base.

It is also risky to overestimate the effect of a Duterte endorsement, considering that his approval and trust ratings as president have declined. In fact, even with the President’s open support, Go remained a single-digit candidate in surveys.

What is only certain is that politicians should cease and desist from assuming that voters are mechanical and mindless, that they would always heed the endorsements of their preferred political figures, regardless of their own choices and sentiments.

In the end, the most fundamental issue that should be raised against these reversals by Domagoso is that it undermines his consistency and reliability. It has a corrosive effect on his narrative as a candidate for the future, as one who offers a different pathway, as one who would be different from traditional politicians.

He promised a unifying presidency, not a compromising one. But that is exactly the image that he has painted. He is fast acquiring the image of an unprincipled, traditional politician, willing to do anything just to win, even if it means eating his own words.

Again, he can easily call as qualified someone he criticized for making wrong decisions, as he did the President. And he can easily praise someone for a job he wanted the person to be fired from as he did to Roque.

His defenders spin this as pragmatic tempering of his populism. But there is a problem with pragmatic populism.

It is the kind that abandons when the political winds shift directions. It is the kind that can easily become pure and unadulterated opportunism.

Domagoso has to rethink his moves before it’s too late.

Race for runner-up has been narrowed down as to who has the bigger dragon ball.

Epiphany: My objectification of Leni Robredo

The coming election has become an opportunity for transforming my politics, as I am now settled with the decision not to openly support and endorse any candidate. I am now living the mantra that being in the middle is the toughest, yet the most rational position that an academic, and a teacher, should ideally be.

We cannot turn our politicians into idols without undermining reason. This is why I have become allergic to the words “loyalist” and “diehard” simply because politics for me is not about blind loyalty and idolatry toward people we elect to become servants of our interests. It is about rational choice.

It is conduct unbecoming of any academic or university professor to subordinate the ethos of scientific inquiry and critical thinking to the very passion of partisanship. We cannot teach our students to privilege the gathering of data and evidence before they make any conclusions if we will base our political choices on bias and prejudice.

It is at this point that I realized that I cannot be in the middle, and be objective and rational, if I continue to carry this personal baggage that I have toward Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo. If I have to judge her, it has to be on the same basis that I scrutinize and judge other candidates, devoid of any personal bias.

More importantly, I cannot ask people who judge me on the basis of the bad choices I have made in the past to focus on the present, if I am weighed down by the emotional baggage I carry in relation to the past sins of Robredo against my family.

Either I inhibit myself from discussing Robredo, which is the most rational thing to do, or that I have to try to divest myself of any personal bias toward her and treat her like any other candidate.

This is precisely how academics should approach any candidate. We should all approach them as objects of inquiry and investigation, where we temper our inherent biases, prejudices and ideological preferences with a well-defined conceptual, theoretical and analytical framework.

We should allow data to prevail over our prejudices and not the other way around.

It is in this context that I look at Robredo in the context of what we in critical theory label as objectification, where human subjects are turned into passive objects whose inherent power is being denied them. People become objectified when they are turned into stories to be told, images to be crafted or, in the case of Robredo, as a candidate to be stage-managed and presented to the public regardless of who she really is.

Consequently, she loses authenticity because the image that her campaign creates for her is simply far removed from what she really is.

One just cringes at how her latest campaign gaffe has produced that TikTok video depicting her as a street fighter performing a Hadouken move. If there is any image that perfectly captures her objectification, it would be this piece of inauthenticity.

I can only surmise that whoever made her engage in such an act that embarrasses even many of her loyal supporters, the objective was to make her more relatable to the masses.

Obviously, the said TikTok video backfired since it only further amplified her lack of organic credentials.

There is also the other attempt to image her as Cory 2.0, as a saintly widow, with imagery of her even standing beside Jesus Christ as He multiplied fish and bread for the multitudes. She is being painted as a miracle.

Aside from bordering on blasphemy, the supporter who created this imagery only further drove a wedge between her and the people, by imaging her as god-like, and therefore unnatural. After all, saints and demigods are extraordinary beings.

There is a fundamental problem in the campaign of Robredo.

Their mantra is to “let Leni lead,” but they seem unable to “let Leni be.” If they want her to resonate with the people, they should stop objectifying her, and begin presenting her in her most authentic self.

Robredo’s greatest mistake has been trying to ruin President Duterte’s day for the past five years, rather than defining herself and her plans for the nation. She has become a national cartoon character because her reflexes to fight (as in Laban!) has caused the public perception of her aura to self-destruct. Digong is not running in this elections, so all her barbs have gone to naught.

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