Gestalt Moves

Reading political plays is not mere speculation. Reading and interpreting political plays are both a science and an art. 

This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on April 16, 2019.

DAVAO CITY: Reading and interpreting political plays are both a science and an art. It is a science because you do several analyses before you can make clear interpretations. Mostly foresight methodologies, these analyses can be any combination of scenario planning and horizon scanning. Some would interchange these as terrain analysis or environmental scanning or scoping. Then there is political history, and when it comes to elections, demographics and psychographics matter. Numbers are not just plain numbers; they tell you a story. They can be the basis for various strategies. There is also trajectory analysis which tells you whether a candidate is plateauing or increasing over time or, worse, losing traction.

Reading political plays is not mere speculation. It is not for “analysts” who do not do their work before talking. Or when they talk, it’s like a shallow interpretation of events and when drilled are totally erroneous about facts and antecedent facts. One must remember the wise counsel of one leader: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”

And it is from this vantage point that one can see the shadow plays at work in the May 2019 elections. Yes, a midterm election and yes, a referendum on PRRD’s last three years, but it has achieved much, much more just by watching the shadows and performing a lateral reading of the political events unleashed in the run-up, actual campaigning and the E-Day itself.

Two PRRD parties

There are two parties of PRRD in play. One is PDP-Laban which he used in 2016; the other is Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HnP), a regional party based in the Davao peninsula, which has all the national parties as affiliates save for the Liberal Party. PDP-Laban has five candidates for the Senate at the start. HnP has 13 candidates (voter votes for a max of 12 names). PDP has PRRD leading the barnstorms and HnP has presidential daughter, Mayor Sara Duterte, heading the campaign trail. Two Mindanaoans of different generations, hues and persuasions. They are like shadows to each other, like father and daughter. Where HnP starts, PDP follows barnstorm strategies that started in Luzon, passing to Visayas and today, hitting Mindanao.

Both have captured the hearts and minds of voters what with the huge crowds the caravan has attracted. PDP showed presidential machinery at work while HnP is sheer local machinery. Both Dutertes are being attacked but both are not candidates in the national elections. From five candidates, PDP now has 12, with PRRD endorsing as guest candidates the following: Cynthia Villar, Sonny Angara and JV Ejercito, Taguig City Rep. Pia Cayetano, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, and folk singer Freddie Aguilar and Raffy Alunan. And in all the sorties, one can see three names consistently pushed: Go, Bato and Tolentino. Go was pushed first with high frequency TV ads; Bato followed suit and now, Tol is being helped more. You can also see the presidential daughter changing campaign t-shirts in areas where some Senate candidates are weak. She literally became a walking billboard of certain candidates. Will the last 30 days redefine things? Interesting to watch how the Davao City mayor will end the 90-day push and whether there will be one big rally for both 
PDP and HnP.

Otso Diretso lost its “magic” when it failed to connect with voters on what it plans to do in the next three years. Yes, it was successful in dropping the Liberal Party (LP) tag but its communications shared the same bias and contortions as LP. Worse, it carried the same positioning and had the same cast of characters associated with LP. Otso would have had a good traction because research showed that voters’ fill up rate is down to eight names. But to vote straight eight is the huge roadblock that Otso failed to explain clearly. In its success in rebranding the LP, Otso forgot to understand that the Senate fight is a top-of-mind battle. It got Otso in the mind of voters but no voter can vote for Otso because it is not in the ballot. Otso is not even a good mnemonic to the MaBaGoKoTo of PDP. Clearly, Otso committed a cardinal sin in political management. Otso Diretso is not a party or a coalition. And when Roxas left early and Aquino left after 45 days, framing became more destructive and no longer contrasting. Was Otso designed to build a wall to protect the two, Aquino and Roxas? Interestingly, Otso, by iteration at best campaigned for the No. 8 in the ballot, reelectionist Sonny Angara!

If you look at survey results, there are four clusters among the Top 15. The first clusters are those in ranks 1 and 2, which at this stage are a sure thing unless there is a huge meltdown in their conversion strategies or a crisis of epic proportions that will shake the standings in the homestretch.

The second cluster are those from ranks 3 to 6, with candidates separated by 2 percent points. Ranks 7 to 9, separated by an average of 3 percent, form the third cluster. Ranks 10-15 are tied or separated by 1-2 percent. This means only the Top 4 are stable going to the last 30 days of the campaign.

Still there is no signed budget and PRRD has issued a warning to operators if there is wide-scale cheating, a revolutionary government will be declared. A warning fired in a terrain where both national and local candidates are reminded often of the war on drugs (narcolist is a tool to control the locals), federalism, Build Build Build and China. Of late, we have the inefficiencies of utilities, telcos, airlines and airports affecting consumers. 

Both tactician and strategist

Observers should not miss the clear fact that PRRD came to office with nary a political support save for a handful. The 17th Congress did not have winners owing their victories to presidential candidate Duterte. The 17th Congress was said to be a supermajority when in truth and in fact, most of those who joined Duterte’s party were political butterflies. If PRRD had a hold, then the two Mindanaoans in Speaker Bebot Alvarez and Senate President Koko Pimentel would have stayed and finished their terms as institutional leaders. They did not. They went out as leaders almost at the same time which led to the bleeding of PDP Laban.

Today, we see how the Dutertes are shaping the 18th Congress. From the get go, you would see that the remaining three years will not be a lame duck period. After May 13, we will see definitive lines for the Speakership (with four already named: Alan Peter Cayetano, Lord Velasco, Martin Romualdez and Tonyboy Floirendo) and the Senate President (Tito Sotto or Cynthia Villar) and with both houses having de facto centers of powers in the First Son at the House of Representatives and the former SAP in the Senate, respectively.

Truly Clausewitzian, PRRD has again unleashed strategies not seen in the traditional political playbook. He is both tactician and strategist; player and shadow; wise man and ruthless warrior. And then there is the heir to the throne who has come out clear re her future plans and in the bruising game of politics in this May 2019 elections; she has showed to the voters who she is, how she is as a leader and a Filipino and in the process has cured her awareness rating. If we get a sweep (10-2; 2 being Poe and Binay), HnP will be the party of the future. If Go, Bato and Tolentino make it, PRRD has converted his coattail effectively; mind you, such coattail was built for only three years. Mindanao will continue to lord over the agenda in the remaining three years and it will define 2022. Some say PRRD is chaos personified, but if you follow the latent and the shadows, the smoke and mirro

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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