PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRANT Vice-President Leni Robredo waves to supporters during a campaign rally along Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City on April 23. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN
Some commentators have started to talk about GOTV — get out the vote. It was grueling, but now we are in the last week of the 90-day campaign period. This is inexorably the culmination of the whole process of the political campaign. True, the message to the electorate is key to building the base, but actually bringing this base to the precinct is indeed the litmus test of how those mammoth rallies and endless caravans managed to connect to the hearts and minds of the electorate. Converting them to votes is tough.
Winning pre-election surveys or even Goggle trends is one thing, but inspiring people to go out, queue at the polls, and deliver the votes is primordial. Vice-President Leni Robredo’s unquestionable momentum should now spill over to the polling places, on to the undecided among our registered voters.
There are still a great many of them, the undecided among us.
Ten days ago, Inquirer reported Jean Franco, a UP political science professor, saying that in 2016, 45% of voters chose who to vote for president only in April and May, and even waited until the day of the election itself. This would contextualize some comments in media that recent endorsements of some candidates from major groups are just too late. The exit poll of the Social Weather Station (SWS) back in 2016 in fact would support the observation that the number of the undecided rose as the D-day approached: 12% decided in April, 15% in May and 18% on the day of the election.
No less than Mahar Mangahas, then SWS president, confirmed that “taking time to decide is a characteristic of the voters.” If those who made up their minds only on election day were to be the gauge, we are seeing more of them recently. The share of the undecided to the sum of the voters rose from 15% in 2010 to 18% in 2016.
What is the political significance of this enormous number of the undecided?
For one, this could be the missing link between the seeming contradictory results of pre-election surveys and what Google trends suggests.
Marcos Jr.’s dominance of the surveys derives from his heavy use of social media after his 2016 loss to VP Leni. With no small support from Cambridge Analytics, he has managed to rebrand the Marcos name while his troll farms have propagated a thousand urban legends about the family gold and his achievements. His campaign continues to directly access civil society through social media which has practically no filters against disinformation. By calling for unity and sobriety in this campaign, he managed to condition the minds of his supporters and would-be supporters to avoid mounting personal attacks against any one candidate — including Marcos Jr. himself. That call works for him because of the skeletons in his closet. There are the troll farms to demolish the other contestants. He ends up holier than the Pope. He is Teflon, nothing seems to stick to him.
Disclosures of the truth about his father’s Martial Law brutalities and plunder of the country’s treasury, even as confirmed by the Supreme Court and Congress, were easily dismissed as “politically motivated.” TikTok and YouTube and Tweeters are cheap vehicles for disinformation. Avoiding public debates is convenient, and patently consistent with this ingenious public relations coup. This is where Marcos Jr. is coming from each time he declines an invitation to a public debate.
Thus, those high survey results simply reflect the reward to this protracted social media exposure and disinformation.
But this large margin also cuts the other way.
Notwithstanding the many reservations about their sampling design and methodology, these survey results were enough of a challenge for VP Leni to intensify her campaign and the results are astounding, quite obvious from the ever-increasing groundswell of support in all the “Olympink” rallies from Luzon, to the Visayas and Mindanao. This is called momentum. Tsunami, if you will. Marcos Jr.’s camp has a serious handicap battling volunteerism, a spontaneous response of goodwill to an inspiring cause. It’s tough even to equal the size and energy of the pink crowd. The top three areas in NCR south — Pasay, Batangas and Laguna — alone turned out nearly a million people. Tomorrow’s Miting de Avance in Makati promises another million people.
But the Filipino people are not content with what they see and hear from Marcos Jr.’s website and other social media uploads. They search the internet, and, finding the truth, they also search for alternatives.
If there is one person who was diligent enough to do her own homework before she decided on her presidential choice, it is Jean Christine Armas, a young economist. No, she did not engage in any partisan politics but she conducted a good objective research of the top two contenders for the presidency by assessing their respective platforms of government through searching the internet, among other resources, as well as their track record. She uploaded her research on her Facebook page.
A good summary of her findings should be helpful to any one of those over 40% undecided. On their overall policy statement, JC concludes: “The country’s macroeconomic framework is unlikely to change drastically regardless of who between the top two aspirants wins amid policy continuity from the incumbent administration, with focus on job creation, agriculture, MSMEs, foreign direct investment, and agriculture.” This is something one should expect, especially when both candidates are expected to depend on economic managers of a generally liberal market-friendly persuasion. It is wisdom, too, to build on their predecessor’s accomplishments.
Beyond this similarity, JC distinguishes between the two by saying “on investor/market perception, Robredo’s presidency is deemed to be more favorable than Marcos’ administration amid the former’s initiatives aimed at improving governance and transparency.”
JC subscribes to that virtuous cycle of transparency and accountability leading to enhanced competition and investor perception, which actually encourages higher investments, employment, and income generation. In turn, this is expected to drive higher spending and higher economic output. Marcos Jr., by his pronouncements favoring the reversal of the rice tariffication law and reviving the regulatory powers of the National Food Authority, shows his bias to policies that are both populist — mandating lower rice prices at the expense of the farmers — and statist — more government intervention in the market. This has a chilling effect on any businessman.
Finally, and the most significant aspect of JC’s research, what would assure us that the candidate will deliver as promised?
She invokes a basic human resource principle that “past behavior predicts or determines future performance.” On paper, both candidates appear impressive, but taking a deep dive into Marcos Jr.’s legislative performance, it was rather sloppy and hollow. JC also cited the following cases that continue to haunt Marcos Jr: “(1) Ill-gotten wealth cases => Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) has recovered P174.2 billion as of March 2021. P125.9 billion in Marcos ill-gotten wealth has yet to be recovered and remains under litigation; and (2) Six convicted cases on tax evasion => Convicted on 27 July 1995.”
JC anchors her choice on May 9 on three H’s: history of care, heart with character, and hand of competence. Hands down, JC is writing Leni Robredo, number 10, on the ballot.
JC is only one perhaps of a thousand or a million Google users to search and find the truth in this pandemic of lies and disinformation. The alternative is VP Leni and she has scored almost the same rating as Marcos Jr. in the lagging indicators of the survey results.
The big difference between VP Leni and Marcos Jr. in either of the survey results or Goggle trends could be the size of the undecided and how each camp intends to convert them on May 9. One thing we know, the pink wave has gone on house-to-house campaigns all over the Philippines, in both the High Street of Bonifacio Global City and Divisoria on Juan Luna. “Heneral” Arcilla stopped traffic in Tondo to address the people directly to endorse tropa rather than trapo.
For the undecided reading this column, you may wish to consider the road taken by JC. She concludes her research by expressing her choice of a leader as one “who can represent our country with integrity, honor and excellence.”
VP Leni is not banned from traveling in the US or in Switzerland. She has no criminal or civil case against her. She wears her badge of excellence with degrees in economics and law. She will have no trouble being addressed as “Her Excellency.”
Bayan, may pag-asa tayo! (My country, we have hope!)
Diwa C. Guinigundo is the former deputy governor for the Monetary and Economics Sector, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). He served the BSP for 41 years. In 2001-2003, he was alternate executive director at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC. He is the senior pastor of the Fullness of Christ International Ministries in Mandaluyong.