Strategic, smart and 2022

Who will be the “smart” candidate or candidates would be interesting to watch since that will be reflected in the pre-campaign surveys.

This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on February 5, 2019.

There were days in bygone years when national candidates prepared heavily for the 90-day campaign period. In the industry, it was commit all mistakes before the starting line and, because a candidate is able to set up a mean organization, everything would be muscle memory and execution. Campaigns then had to worry about dagdag-bawas but since it was manual, it was very easy to put together an antidote.

Then, a candidate below rank 25 had an equal chance of landing in the Top 12 because before the campaign period, a plan had been made on where to get votes, identify the harvest areas and a strategic offensive launched to string the votes. Most would rely on command votes (via politicians, warlords and ward leaders) while others would focus on voters (market votes). Rarely would you see a candidate with “alkanysa” votes. There are astute ones who already have that in the bag by sheer organizational ingenuity. Such candidates are strategic in approach; they know conversion is always a ground game. But those are very rare, for candidates these days do not want to spend money on organization. They would rather spend their budget on ads and retainers.

Today is different. A candidate has to spend much during pre-campaign to ride the surveys. Riding means to be in the Top 8 and prevent an engine blitzkrieg operations a few weeks before E-Day. Ranks 9 to 15 are free-for-all during the campaign. But those in ranks 1 to 8 will have to be careful since a crisis or two could lead to a loose grip, especially when propaganda is launched against a candidate, slates or PRRD himself because 2019 is a referendum on his first three years.

Who will be the “smart” candidate or candidates would be interesting to watch since that will be reflected in the pre-campaign surveys. A survey reading twice called is a stable reading in political campaigns. It establishes a trend. The hiccups may just be momentary blips. And that is where a third survey house is critical because if two commercial survey houses have already established a trend, “smart” operators can use the trend to establish an outcome.

What SAP Bong Go has made is to ensure, during pre-campaign, that he is competitive and has a trajectory that can potentially go up and end in No. 1. PRRD has sent the signal to his base that his candidate is Go. The priming and sensing are palpable. He has gone out strong and the TVCs are out early with “ang bisyo ay serbisyo.” And Go rightfully laid claim to a patch of land that no one else can: “I want to change the mentality of people that a simple man from the province who works as staff, who is not famous, who is not a celebrity, and someone who does not belong to a political family can dream of providing services for others on a much larger capacity.”

Go’s campaign is actually a dry run for 2022. If PRRD can make Go win and end up No. 1, he can build on that political gain to ensure a Sara Duterte victory. Go, on his own, won’t fly. But Go as the shadow play of PRRD is an over-the-top move. From rank 16 to rank 5, pre-campaign, is an impossible climb on his own, but riding on the coat-tails of PRRD is like a magic carpet ride. Will Go self-destruct in the 90-day campaign period? — Is the betting game on the ground? Will his organization, said to be 10 to 12 parallel organizations, be able to convert? That is a major challenge for his team but with the administration being quiet on the issues against Smartmatic, you know the bases are loaded.

If Go wins and ends up No. 1, PRRD has effectively altered the Senate. Yes, Go is just one vote but Go in the Senate is like Malacañang being in the Senate and vice versa. The power shifts to Go even if he is just the neophyte senator from Davao City.

PRRD is very unorthodox in his political plays. He won with an adopted party in 2016. He never really built up PDP and allowed it to be gamed by the likes of Pimentel Jr. and Alvarez. Both ended up as Senate President and Speaker respectively, at the start of the 17th Congress in 2016. Both were removed before the start of the third regular session in 2018. PDP has a list of five candidates for the Senate while the regional party, HNP, affiliated with all national parties, has a list of 15. PRRD himself announced a list of eight. If, apart from Go, PRRD is able to make Bato and Tol win by sheer coat-tail, consolidation and use of all resources and “smart,” he effectively unseats three reelectionists. This will have an impact in 2022, especially if the three are political families.

Would a Cayetano move to secure No. 1 in the Senate run and parlay this to a name recall game in 2022? If a Cayetano ends up in No. 1 and a Cayetano ends up Speaker of the 18th Congress, a Duterte II for 2022 would be a battle royale between supporters of PRRD. And then there is a Villar who can also climb up to No. 1, having consistently held on to the No. 1 or 2 spots since June 2018. Cayetano remains NP and Villar is head of NP. Who is moving smart on the ground? Would the NP end up as the predominant majority party? If so, the NP has cleverly secured a beachhead going into 2022.

As support for PRRD becomes mind-boggling with the highs, so it is with Poe, who remains ensconced in No.1. Now, everyone is edgy about pinuno dying in the telenovela, “Probinsyano.” Could he zoom to No. 1? And the trek of candidates to the biggest political party in the country continues as candidates line up on the starting line. The 2022 cards are indeed in play.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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