Last Wave

CEBU: Down to the last 20 days and national candidates will have to put in more last-minute strategy, for some to go over the top, while the rest will need cement to latch on to that slot or rank and hold on as strong winds try to unseat them with the final offensive.

This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on April 23, 2019.

What needs to be communicated has been done. Who is the candidate? Why are you running for the position? Why should voters vote for you today? Three questions that should have been framed and primed in the first 70 days. The last 20 days are all about conversion and securing the outliers, or the 10 percent. Can you redo what happened in the first 70 days? Nope. Can you move across names and be in the winning circle? If you are way down the Top 20, it will be hard. If you are within the Top 20, the clustering effect will have to be played out. Based on experience, to go over the top of reelectionist or balik-Senado is hard. To go over the top of five to six names in a cluster may look easy, but 1 percent movement is so hard unless several scenarios are at play. And that is where ground war becomes important.

National candidates have a penchant for designing their campaigns on air war alone. Air being traditional or mainstream media, that is predominantly TV. You need radio in rural Philippines which is around 60 percent. TV is king because of reach, but digital war has cancelled that out. Unfortunately, since we are not fully connected to the internet and since the connection is spotty to say the least, reach has not been optimized by candidates. Telcos will have to be a major legislative agenda for the 18th Congress to harness fully the potential of a digital campaign. But there are noteworthy national and local candidates who are pushing their campaigns online. Will they be successful? Only time will tell and if they are, they have to stick to building that brand online since an effective beach head has been made. From campaigns to governance, imagine the possibilities! 

Lessons learned this early — one cannot launch a digital campaign without being strategic and targeted. Messaging should be simple (in the dialect), authentic and direct. Organic is the grail and not boosted or noise from farms. Which only means a lot of data science involved from building one’s data base of voters, people you met, projects launched in the area, geo-tagging and converting such data intelligence into effective receivers of messages and echoing channels to recruits. You do not launch a digital campaign without content and pre-tested messages.

A national candidate cannot be in crisis every day because that will frame your 90 days. One has to be proactive without adding to the noise. A campaign manager remains in the shadows, never be the story. Never get a politician as a campaign manager because his lens is far different than a professional. His perspective and context are not 20/20. It has never been about colors since voting is all about hope and the future. If it were about colors, then the conclusion is Filipinos are stupid, and they are not. One thing that Duterte has unleashed in the 2016 elections is that Filipino voters are now fighting for their rights to be heard and listened to. The blinders have been removed and herd mentality is an individual thing.

Senate is top-of-mind campaign while local is door-to-door, still very traditional. Though it remains very traditional, the ward system is being broken by certain candidates who thrive by going directly to voters. Hard, but if you are serious with your effort, you get to see your area and meet new people and test your message on retail manner. Vote-buying remains a reality. It has also been intricate, from vote protection (defensive and offensive) to suppression. Who will release first? Do you counter? By how much? The ground tells you one thing but operations change grounds and to a certain degree, a local candidate is left with a character defining moment, should I?

Some strategists insist that to win, one has to blanket the airwaves. That is not a scientific campaign. The airwaves give ground people the beach head. A good air strategy clinches the deal for national candidates but to convert what was clinched is a ground effort. Where do I get my votes? What are my harvest areas? What do I do to close the pitch and voters to vote for the candidate? If 60 percent of the country is rural and you have a long, back-to-back ballot, you need to guide them. The strategy of locals is different from national candidates. And this is where a strong sample ballot can net a national candidate at least a 5 percent to 10 percent gain. Filipino voters do not vote one slate, save in 2007 during the midterm of PGMA. Will the slate of Mayor Sara or that of PRRD have a unifying effect of a sweep?

And this is where harvest areas are important. You do not do a sample ballot operation nationwide; you do it strategic using political intelligence on the ground. Who is strong gets you the boost for that one huge wave to put you over the top. At the local level, who is strong is all about claiming the battle and winning the war. It boils down to organization, and duplicity and redundancy are basic protocols to prevent a meltdown on E-Day. That meltdown can be a last-minute counterattack or oodles of money removing the lead.

Against a strong, crushing wave, a candidate worth his/her salt stands and embraces it. It is unavoidable, could be unpredictable but you graciously stand strong, knowing you have made that pitch and is willing to be judged by the voters, vote buying or no vote buying. If you have crossed the voters sometime, say your piece, make amends, for as the wave comes crushing, it will gradually leave, returning to where they’d come from. Never will they have the ability to make you disappear but voters remember and when you skirt those defining moments (more like crises) of your political life, they will register their sentiments on how you treated them as Filipinos. The protest vote is real; it comes every season when politics needs cleansing.

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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