The 2022 Trigger

And this is what politicians should remember. They are being judged right now by their constituents and they will bring that to the polls an emotional tug on the heart that cannot be changed by a narrative made solely for a 90- or 45-day campaign period. Covid-19 is the campaign. If local government units (LGUs) and national officials do not get it, they may get the ire of the community come May 2022.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on May 12, 2020.

 

All politics, in any jurisdiction, is back to the drawing board. We cannot campaign the traditional way simply because of physical distancing, masks and shields, and “no” to huge gatherings. In the United States, it’s now peer-to-peer and the tele-town hall that are driving the gatherings, but very online — another chapter of the e-Campaigning initiated by the Obama campaign circa November 2008.

Congress, with a lead time of two years before May 2022, must be able to scope the landscape: how do you do general registration, how will campaigning be by February 2022 and how would election day be? These are not easy questions for the simple reason that the election body is really in a legacy system that does not understand or chooses not to understand data, systems and analytics. Since 2010, when we started the automated election, not a single chair has reported to Congress on the demographics and psychographics of Filipino voters as an aggregate and as broken down by regions, provinces, cities, municipalities and barangay (villages). They do not even do a 100-percent closedown of an election cycle, ensuring that every vote is reflected in the main tally board. Data on votes are more complete at the local level and it seems that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc will just adopt the norm of previous years with the reasoning that the local Comelec failed to submit a complete report and that those who need data should go to the local level.

The worst part is when you request for an updated Registered Voter File, Comelec Central will give you a photocopy, spending for the cost per page and it is not even in Excel format. The Comelec is so archaic that big data and data analytics is not a priority.

Decades back, Peter Wallace and I advocated for voting by smartphones, but this was rejected at the time. Today, mobile is king. Just look at the Philippine data in “We Are Social 2020”: there were “173.2 million mobile connections in the Philippines in January 2020. The number of mobile connections in the Philippines increased by 38 million (plus 28 percent) between January 2019 and January 2020. The number of mobile connections in the Philippines in January 2020 was equivalent to 159 percent of the total population.”

Mobile is the most democratic tool in the country because the internet has equity issues when it comes to 60 percent of Filipinos who are in rural Philippines. The “last mile” has not been connected to the grid. It would seem it is not even a priority for government, much more the telecommunications companies, which look at bottom lines to determine interconnection. In January 2020, internet users numbered 73 million and a penetration rate at 67 percent.

In terms of social media use, there were 73 million users as of January 2020. The number of users in the Philippines increased by 5.8 million (plus 8.6 percent) between April 2019 and January 2020. Social media penetration in the Philippines stood at 67 percent.

And the excitement and the tandem pairing, as well as numerous floats being made prior to March 16, came to a halt with the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). The pandemic is the defining moment for any political leader, elected or appointed. How they responded, took care of their constituents, made the residents feel government is present would be the basis of that moment in time when voters realized we elected the wrong person or there can be better leaders than what we have right now. Even at the barangay level, residents are now talking of the kind of help they got at the community level and why others are getting better service compared to the rest.

And this is what politicians should remember. They are being judged right now by their constituents and they will bring that to the polls an emotional tug on the heart that cannot be changed by a narrative made solely for a 90- or 45-day campaign period. Covid-19 is the campaign. If local government units (LGUs) and national officials do not get it, they may get the ire of the community come May 2022.

Take the case of a lady mayor in Mindanao. She distributed rotting rice. The recipients are posting comments on the rice being given: “Mabaho talaga at marumi…sayang ang pondo ng pamahalaan (Really smells bad and is dirty…the government’s fund is being put to waste).” The alleged supplier is a dummy of the mayor, said to be a “small-time rice dealer whose capacity was way below the 250,000 bags the LGU procured.” Apparently, it was the second relief operation conducted by the mayor. In the first, the mayor gave 3 kilograms of cheap rice, some canned goods and instant noodles to the tune of P200 million, and not everyone got their share. The Social Amelioration Program aid distribution was reportedly a “mess, with cops threatening people not to post complaints in social media or face arrest.” The mayor also duped President Rodrigo Duterte, the mayor of Davao City and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Emerging of Infectious Diseases by increasing the number of persons suspected of being Covid-positive from nine to 60 so their LGU could remain under enhanced community quarantine instead of graduating to general community quarantine. Why? So the mayor could continue using the supplemental budget amounting to P.5 billion that the council approved last week. And that city was under siege in the previous administration and has not recovered from it.

Covid-19 made real to Filipinos see what is wrong in the system — from a centralized government pretending to be decentralized; from how Metro Manila eats a huge allocation from other regions. Imagine, 83 percent of commerce comes from the epicenter of the pandemic. And the call for “Balik Probinsya” (Back to the Province) is being applauded by the majority because the megapolis way is not a sustainable development. When you strain capacities because of population density, a local chief executive can’t do much. Federalism became apparent to all, that having this kind of overtly central development is no way to address equity issues. Then again, a parliamentary form of government ensures one lens, one context, one solution for all, instead of asking for the immediate resignation of the health secretary just because he would not dance along with certain interests. Capacities, marks, personal protective equipment and testing kits are all felt needs globally. We are not an exception. In fact, the early lockdown helped us address the constraints and hopefully, by the new norm, we could have leapfrogged with the assistance of the private sector and our international allies and friends.

The pandemic showed to all the grit of certain local chief executives; after all, the presidency is an executive function. The senators and congressmen were left on the wayside, creating their own narratives just to maintain presence. But the people are looking not at them but at good executive leaders. Pre-Covid-19, names were ahead of some. Today, who holds the key for 2022 is the “hillbilly” from Davao City. If the country gets out without a relapse, the mayor never thought to be presidential in any quarters as defined in the old norm will be able to consolidate further and extend his administration. No relapse, a States of the Nation Address in July and a budget for economic reboot going to pre-election year of 2021 has strengthened his hand to changing this country, from governance to economics and infrastructure.

Sometimes, those we never count to be leadership material turns out to be what the country needs. Some would grudgingly say yes, others will look for that audacity in the next, while the remaining would probably say they want the usual. Voters will just have to be reminded of the various crises and that trigger will define 2022.

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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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