AS Senator Osmena stated so bluntly, President Aquino cannot sway voters in 2016. And that was not a fact-free opinion. The senator must have looked at the appreciation and trust figures of Mr. Aquino (which have recovered a bit) and made some rough calculations based on the methodologies of Sam Wang, Drew Linzer and Nate Silver. And factored in intangibles such as the almost-zero personal connection of Mr. Aquino with ordinary Filipinos.
Mr. Osmena’s assessment was not a brutal takedown of Mr. Aquino. On most issues, Mr. Osmena supports Mr. Aquino. It was, in fact, a mere statement of a reality that the incumbent is not like Lula of Brazil who was able to ask Brazilians to vote for his chosen despite Dilma’s obvious lack of personal charisma and the presence of a real alternative.
So, why is a section of the mainstream media so obsessed with playing the “anointment” card as if it were the most important deciding factor of the 2016 presidential elections? Why is Mr. Binay, who will definitely not get Mr. Aquino’s endorsement, likewise seeking the endorsement of the president? Why is Senator Poe hoping for a presidential change of mind and a last minute shift of endorsement from Mar Roxas to herself? Why is an endorsement seemingly so important when, according to political science, it is practically worthless?
People who believe they are grounded on reality are likewise puzzled with the inordinate attention to the “anointment” angle of the 2016 elections. The headlines being produced do not align with either politics or science. We can only hazard a guess. Newspapers have to sell papers to get the bragging rights on who is the “ Number One” paper. To get ads and generate revenue – and stay afloat. With “anointment” stories selling better than debates on serious policy, the newspapers have to pander to popular tastes and run those stories on endorsements despite the absence of either politics or science in those stories.
And because politicians want to be in the headlines, they ride on with the trending stories. It is pure cynicism. But was there ever a time, except for a brief moment in 1986, when Philippine politics was not on the cynical, superficial side?
So, who and what are impoverished by the media circus on who gets the “anointment” of Mr. Aquino? Many, but the primary loser has been Mr. Roxas, the one assiduously courting the endorsement of Mr. Aquino. And, as the unanimous LP choice, the candidate Mr. Aquino would most likely endorse and wholeheartedly support?
As a long-standing laggard in the national surveys, what Mr. Roxas needs is a so-called “breakout moment.” Like Hillary Clinton’s bold repudiation of her cautious centrism to embrace and echo FDR at Roosevelt Park. Clinton’s move to the left of the Democratic Party and the invocation of her mother’s tough and sad life story and the injection of the gender issue into the campaign may have been done out of necessity, may have been orchestrated for political survival. But it was a defining moment for her and her quest to be the first woman president of the US.
Mar Roxas, now preoccupied with getting the anointment of the incumbent, and getting no reprieve from this, might as well try something new. Be his own man, declare a break from the heartless technocracy of Mr. Aquino, and adopt a sincere populism that means not simply mouthing the Akbayan jargon.
He can start by supporting a P15,000 monthly minimum wage on top of the COLA and other fringe benefits. And denounce the old economic orthodoxies so cherished by Mr. Aquino. On the other end, on the law-and-order end of his mandate, he can start hauling all the top Mafiosos to jail. A made-for-TV chase of the Mafiosos would make him soar in the public consciousness overnight. Mr. Roxas is eminently positioned to carry out populist moves and law-and-order initiatives. Instead of groveling before the LP party gods to get their support, he should be his own man and determine the nuts and bolts and the bigger strategies of his presidential dream.
The media circus on the “anointment” has obscured what should be the most important part of the campaign – the debates over campaign planks. Is there any merit to Mr. Duterte’s proposed shift to a federal form of government? Or, does Mr. Duterte himself fully understand the pros and cons of his advocacy? Mr. Binay is required to go beyond his “ Gayahin ang Makati” meme and expound on his dreams for a nation beyond Makati’s entitled walls. But with the obsession over the “anointment,” no one has required him to do so.
Ok, what is the stand on the dynasty issue? Of the presidential wannabes obscure and prominent, only Ms. Poe is not spooked by the dynasty issue. But Ms. Poe is the most deficient when it comes to propounding a central theme for her presidential ambition. A hodge-podge of Senate bills does not make a central and compelling theme for a presidential run.
The mainstream media, under its traditional civic duty and its vital role as the Fourth Estate, should be a forum for airing the plans and platforms of the presidential wannabes. It should help rein in the politics of personality in favor of issues and policies – what the presidential hopefuls plan to do, from the China question to the historic level of economic inequality, if elected into office.
But will the mainstream media help clarify issues and lead the way to make presidential contests forums for intelligent political debates?
We doubt it. Catfights and he-accused, she-accused stories sell more papers than fulfilling the media’s real mandate in a democracy.