Whatever the recent presidential-preference surveys say, the President’s bet, and the declared candidate of the ruling Liberal Party, Manuel Roxas 2nd, is really out of the race – roughly the current version of the 1992 ruling-party bet Ramon Mitra in that year’s elections.
In both cases, the early talk was that a strong party machine and overflowing finances would push them from the No. 4 and No. 5 ranks to the winning spot on election day. From the 20 percent levels Mitra was registering months before May 1992, he finally ended up fourth, with just 14 percent of the votes. Meanwhile, former Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel Ramos won with his 24 percent and the firebrand Miriam Santiago, the runner up with 20 percent. Both had tied at the No. 1 slot for months before the elections.
But Roxas is in a much, much worse situation. Browse the social media and you can’t miss the conclusion: Roxas has become a figure of ridicule, the butt of very funny jokes and Facebook memes. And nobody, of course, takes a circus clown seriously.
Vice president Jejomar Binay is accused of corruption during his term as mayor of Makati; Grace Poe Llamanzares is weighed down by issues regarding her citizenship and lack of experience; Duterte by his Dirty Harry thinking and empty braggadocio.
In contrast, people no longer bother to discuss Roxas’ culpability in the “Yolanda” aftermath, or for his bungling of the MRT-3 project, which had made Metro Manilans’ daily commute a hellish experience, or for his paralysis while 44 of the elite police troops under his command were being massacred in Maguindanao. He is, instead, being laughed at, or ridiculed, for his “epal” attempts to endear himself to Filipinos by portraying himself as Mr. Palengke and Mr. Kargador, even for falling off his motorcycle in a post-Yolanda episode.
Indeed, I can’t fathom why Roxas would allow photos of him taken in such ridiculous situations – lying down in what appears to be dry ice in a warehouse, pretending to be a tricycle driver, furiously directing traffic in a drizzle, carrying a sack of onion or rice.
His silly attempts to portray himself as not a rich brat but a man of the masses have been just too much for Filipinos not to laugh at. That is precisely the common thread in comedy: an egoistic person’s failed attempts to be somebody else, as exquisitely portrayed in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Dictator.”
What if I eat…
That he is now the butt of social media jokes was demonstrated in a cruel Facebook meme showing Roxas in deep thought, with a thought bubble in Filipino: “I’ve run out of gimmicks, what if I eat shit?” (see image). Vulgar as that may sound, the meme was posted on a lot of FB walls.
Another recent example is a photo of him supposedly in a Cebu university enthusiastically waving to students crowding several floors. On nearly each of those floors, though, were posters of Duterte. I myself had believed that picture to be authentic. However, the FB post turned out to have been “photo-shopped” by Duterte’s supporters, and the unaltered photo didn’t have the Duterte posters. That it didn’t enter my mind, and that of most FB viewers, that the funny photo might have been altered is proof that I had also begun seeing Roxas as a bungling fool.
A presidential candidate being ridiculed is the surest sign voters no longer consider him a serious candidate. At best, he would be someone from whom they wouldn’t hesitate to accept a campaign T-shirt or even money, but would think demeaning for them to vote for. Manny Villar in 2010 was ridiculed as the rich guy who claimed he “swam in garbage” in his youth, while Joe de Venecia in 1998 was dubbed the “mouse.”
One of Roxas’ big mistakes was leaking through a PR man his information that Duterte had cancer of the throat and would unlikely finish the race. Other than the fact that that PR guy’s Facebook page had all praises for Roxas, it didn’t, of course, require much sleuthing in to find out who was financing the PR operator. A smart candidate would have leaked that kind of information to another candidate. As a result, Duterte was livid, and for a few crucial months threw all his deadly vitriol against Roxas.
Now, what candidate would cross swords with a street-smart politician from Davao (or for that matter Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City)? People from that area (and in Tondo as well) have developed amazing skills in the art of ridicule, and the Filipino translations of their Visayan tirades even underplay their hilarity.
Roxas even fell for Duterte’s taunts, which not only made him more ridiculous but also a wimp, somebody from a convent school pretending to want to fight a street-smart hoodlum. “Pinatulan” is the Filipino word difficult to translate exactly into English but which best describes Roxas’ clumsy responses to Duterte’s threat that he would slap him if he saw him on the campaign trail. (Roxas said slapping was for girls and that he preferred a fistfight. Duterte retorted by challenging him to a gun duel, which silenced Roxas.)
Of mice and men
Aquino’s plan to set up a Yellow Dynasty by having Roxas as his successor has, indeed, become a classic story whose essence is captured by that famous quote from Robert Burns’ poem: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Starting 2014, they undertook a full-blast campaign with the Senate and the Ombudsman as tools, to bury Binay under a hail of corruption charges, and they spent nearly a year and a half for such an expensive operation.
Either it was too early, or was based on really very flimsy grounds, or appeared to be so much of an Administration plot that people ignored it. Proof of that is Binay’s 33 percent voter-preference rating (Poe has 23 percent), the highest among the candidates in Metro Manila, which has by far the most developed media infrastructure that disseminated efficiently the charges against him.
The character-assassination campaign failed, with the charges believed only by Aquino’s naive core yellow supporters, mostly from the upper classes, who, however, make up less than 10 percent of the voters. After retreating at the height of the attack, Binay’s ratings rebounded – at the best time possible, which was a few months before election.
And election campaigns (as well as basketball games), as most political strategists (and coaches) know, are games of momentum.
The Aquino-Roxas duo also didn’t realize that Grace Poe-Llamanzares had enjoyed the taste of power so much that she refused their offer for her to be Roxas’ running mate, which they thought was a done deal and the dream team. Llamanzares as presidential candidate instead eroded much of Roxas’ base, which already had been battered by his Yolanda ineptness, corruption at MRT-3 and drastically, by the Mamasapano massacre. And now, if Llamanzares is disqualified, her votes – private surveys show – won’t go to Roxas or Duterte, but to Binay.
With their hubris, Aquino and his Yellow Cult had believed surveys of the President’s high “satisfaction ratings” that they were unable to sense the public’s disgust, especially that of the poor, with them. To package himself as the Daang Matuwid champion has been Roxas’ monumental error, forgetting that Aquino wasn’t voted to office because of his principles but out of sheer sympathy over his mother’s death. Duterte – from all places, a frontier town – emerged, rallying around him the anti-establishment crowd. Totally unexpected, Duterte has become Roxas’ deadly nemesis, and Binay didn’t have to do anything in terms of negative campaigns, which is what most voters want a candidate to be, i.e., somebody who doesn’t pull another one down.
All the while, Binay has been doing the crucial ground-campaign, not only handshaking with and hugging the masses, but touching base with mayors and governors all over the country, who, time and time again, have proven to have the power to tell their constituents whom to vote for. Duterte doesn’t have time, physical energy, and finances to export his charisma and ground campaign outside Mindanao. Voters will smile and nod as they take Roxas’ money, but they’ll laugh at him as soon as he turns his back. If nothing drastic happens in the next 62 days that would hit Binay in a big way, and if Llamanzares is disqualified, we’re likely to see a landslide victory for the vice president, as President.