Friday, December 15, 2006

The High Cost of Elections

GMA political adviser Gabby Claudio at last acknowledged that the May 14, 2006 elections will push thru and said that they are now gearing up for it (see this Manila Standard TODAY story). Former senator Heherson Alvarez, who is the Lakas Vice President for Luzon, floated the following names to comprise the administration Senate slate:

1. Mike Defensor
2. Angelo Reyes
3. Buboy Syjuco
4. Arturo Lomibao
5. Jose Marty Lim
6. Amang Magsaysay
7. Lito Atienza
8. Roy Cimatu
9. Robert Ace Barbers
10. Prospero Pichay
11. Gilbert Teodoro
12. Miguel Zubiri

Reading the list, my reaction was: No wonder they want to abolish the Senate! No wonder they have kept their list for so long! My God if this is going to be their senatorial slate, they will definitely be creamed by the opposition! Consider the senatorial line-up which Erap announced awhile back:

1. Loren Legarda
2. Manny Villar
3. Ralph Recto
4. Kiko Pangilinan
5. Gringo Honasan
6. Tessie Aquino-Oreta
7. John Osmeña
8. Tito Sotto
9. Chiz Escudero
10. Alan Peter Cayetano
11. Koko Pimentel
12. JV Ejercito

Definitely, Gabby Claudio will have to exhaust all his electoral campaign wizardry to make even just 1/3 of the admin slate to win.

In the olden days one has to have the backing of a party (either Nacionalista or Liberal) to win. Local political kingpins in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s were relied upon by our national leaders to "deliver the votes." Much has changed since then. Today, senatorial races are "immune" to machinery politics. Senatorial candidates no longer rely on mayors, governors and local kingpins to "deliver the votes" but rather rely on their own network of contacts and loyal supporters. This is so because local politicians, pre-occupied with their own respective campaigns, lend only token assistance to senatorial candidates and many usually leave it to their constituents to decide whom to vote for in the Senate. Senatorial campaigns have also become more and more media-driven. This is so because a senatorial candidate can reach more voters and/or make a better impression to voters by appearing on TV than by "pounding the campaign trail," shaking hands and making speeches (which almost no one listens to anyway). In fact, an already-popular or "winnable" candidate nowadays can just stay in Manila and decide to appear on TV during the entire campaign period and win a Senate seat. Of course, not one among our present crop of nationally-elected leaders (not even popular TV broadcaster Noli "Kabayan" de Castro) have attempted this but I suspect that the only reason why national candidates today still insist on scheduling provincial sorties is to enable their campaign handlers to generate stories and images for their press releases. "Human interest" stories i.e. a photo of Candidate X being kissed by a toothless lola or Candidate Y being mobbed by the youth can help boost a candidate's image. Time will come when national candidates will no longer have to endure travelling the entire breadth of the Philippines to win. Elections will primarily be decided by how well a candidate can articulate and communicate his/her campaign message to the voters thru media. The downside is that media-driven campaigns have jacked up the cost of running for a national position in this country.

In the last 2004 elections, it is said that (serious) senatorial candidates spent on the average between P200 million to P500 million, the bulk of which was spent for the purchase of media air time and ad space. Presidential aspirants spent more, and political experts estimate that one has to have at least P2 billion in order to wage a decent run.

While election expenses for local positions have also trebled in the past years, it has not gone up at the same rate as with national-level positions. A candidate for Congressman, on the average, needs around P30 million to be able to wage a decent campaign and a Mayor around P10 milion. Of course, congressional and mayoral candidates in heavily urbanized areas usually need more (I know of one congressman who ostensibly spent P500 million) but in small, far-flung municipalities, there are still mayoral candidates who spend as low as P200,000 and win. In a local race, there is only so much you can spend your money on. Even if you have a P1 billion campaign kitty, you will not be able to spend it all (at least not wisely) even if you want to. You can probably buy all the radio air time and newspaper ad space in your locality, but with that kind of money you might as well set up your own local radio station (as what in fact some local politicians have done).

While national elections are becoming more and more media-driven, local elections are becoming more and more machinery-oriented. While a senatorial candidate might complain of media ad rates becoming more and more expensive, a candidate for congressman or mayor may be bemoaning the fact that voters are becoming more and more jaded - meaning: they will only vote for you if you give them money, otherwise they would rather just stay in their homes come election day. With the way things stand, the cost of elections will continue to escalate and is showing no signs of abating. In the future, elections in the Philippines may well become so costly that even billionaire taipans will no longer be able to afford donating campaign funds to politicians every three years (see this List of Top 40 Richest Pinoys) . They might join the clamor to change the Constitution to hold elections once every 10 years only.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tis' the Season to Rally

Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo has called on his flock to join a prayer rally tomorrow (Friday) at the Jaro Cathedral (read here). In a statement issued to the media, Archbishop Lagdameo, who is also President of the influential CBCP, said, “As we have said before, if Charter change is really needed, or when such shall be decided to be held, the best option is to do it through a Constitutional Convention. Please, hold the Con-con purified from the ‘negative impact’ that accompanied the People’s Initiative and Con-ass. The Filipino people deserve the best of the best.” He also said that the work of the Con-con should be the work of statesmen “whose concern will not be to fit it to a pre-determined framework, but who will discern, discuss, debate on what will be the best for our country.” The prayer rally in Iloilo City comes 2 days ahead of the prayer rally being planned this coming Sunday in Manila's Luneta Park which is expected to draw opposition leaders and thousands of people.

Meanwhile, the coming May election promises to be a ho-hum affair in Negros Occidental what with Governor Marañon's UNA (United Negros Alliance) dominating provincial politics. This early, Marañon has already firmed up his slate for the province's 6 congressional districts (read this Visayas Daily Star article).

This news article caught my attention: "Rebel leader weds in Bacolod Hotel amid tight security" (read here). Naks ala Salvatore Guiliano (The Sicilian) a!

See Reuters' Picture of the Year:

Picture of the year 2006: US President George W. Bush hands back a crying baby that was handed to him from the crowd as he arrived for an outdoor dinner with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Trinwillershagen, Germany, July 13, 2006. [Reuters]

Have a nice day!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Con Ass is Dead, Long Live Cha Cha!

It is now clear that Speaker Joe de Venecia misjudged the mood of the people. Filipinos are apathetic but not apathetic enough - they will object and go to the streets when they see wanton display and brazen abuse of power. Watching JDV, et al. on ANC last Saturday, it almost seems that they are desperate (Manolo Quezon in his column described them as "weepy") to change the Constitution. The House leadership has since withdrew their 72-hour ultimatum and more diplomatically "requested" the Senate to approve a Resolution calling for a Consitutional Convention. But lest anti-JDV opponents think that they have won, the Man of the House, the Godfather of Backroom Politics has come out with another gambit: I'll scrap Con Ass if you call for a Con Con.

While most opinion makers in Manila would rather just demonize the House members, I for my part would like to find explanations for their "brazen" behavior. Certainly, there are bad eggs in Congress but I refuse to believe the "one-dimensional" portrayal of Congressmen by media as "pure evil." No one person thinks he is evil (most especially politicians) and there must be underlying reasons that make otherwise rational individuals to act so brazenly.

For one, I suspect that most incumbent congressmen are not ready for elections in May 2007. It may be that most of them bought Speaker Joe's "PI/no-election scenario" hook, line and sinker. Having been promised that there will be no elections come May 2007, many may have been complacent in their constituency work and neglected their "fund-raising" activities. Thus, the rather "weepy" look of most congressmen during the presscon called by JDV last week. Understandably, JDV is combative because he may well lose the Speakership if he doesn't deliver on his promise to his House colleagues.

If it's any consolation, Speaker JDV succeeded in "polarizing" politics along Pro and Anti Cha Cha adherents. Before the aborted Final Push, the usual "People Power people" had no compelling political issue to use to bring the people out to the streets. Before the aborted Con Ass, our Senators were just sitting on their asses and were just ignoring the repeated requests of the House for them to Cha Cha. All the Senate have to do to defeat Con Ass is to do nothing.

It is weird but I have yet to meet anyone who is against Charter Change. Almost anyone who oppose Cha Cha claim that they are not against amending the Constitution per se but that they feel now is not the right time and suspect that it will be used by the powers-that-be to extend their reign. Cory Aquino used this line in 1997 when she rallied People Power in Luneta to oppose the Pedrosa-led Pirma. Ten years later, Cha Cha opponents are still using the same line to justify their opposition to Cha Cha. So the question to current anti-Cha Cha forces then is, when is the right time? Or more appropriately, who is the person you think should be in power for you to say that now is the right time?

At least, the coming May 2007 elections will be an issue-driven campaign (hopefully) and any candidate will have to decide on where he will stand on the issue. This country has not had an issue-driven campaign since the U.S. Bases Treaty issue. Now, senatorial candidates will be supported by local kingpins based not only on their winnability but also on their stand on the Cha Cha issue. Reelectionist local politicians, most of whom are in favor of Cha Cha, will have to explain to their constituents why they are for amending the Constitution. Voters will be forced to think and listen to both sides of the debate. The May 2007 elections may well prove to be a referendum on Cha Cha.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

AC DC: "Puwede sa Kuryente, Pwede Man sa Battery"

Yesterday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dropped by Iloilo City to attend the birthday party of her close political allies in the city. Iloilo City Congressman Raul Gonzalez Jr. celebrated his birthday on December 5 while DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. was born on December 3 (Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas's is on December 4). Annually, the father-and-son tandem jointly celebrate their birthday by holding a grand, "eat-all-you-can" party in Jaro attended by their supporters, barangay captains, local media, businessmen, department heads, and other elected officials. This year's celebration is bigger because they had no less than the President as their Guest of Honor.

The President's visit seem to indicate that she intends to give her all-out support for Gonzalez Junior in his fight against Senator Frank Drilon, who has signified his intention to vie for the lone congressional post in Iloilo City. Lately, Drilon has made his presence felt in Iloilo City by conducting medical missions and granting interviews in the local media. As I said in an earlier blog entry, Malacañang will be keeping a close eye on the Iloilo City race and the President's visit seem to confirm that observation. Although various radio surveys say that Drilon is leading Gonzalez by a comfortable margin, local pundits predict that support for the veteran Ilonggo senator will whither away once the full force and resources of Malacañang will be brought to bear in Iloilo. This early, some of the prominent opposition figures in Iloilo City have already switched (nag-tipyok in local parlance) to the Gonzalez-Treñas camp, most notably businessman Larry Jamora and lawyer Roming Gerochi. In the 2004 elections, Larry Jamora was the major financial backer of Mansing Malabor while Atty. Gerochi is an outspoken lawyer famous for his various advocacies. Both Malabor and Gerochi ran and lost to Gonzalez Junior in the last elections. Jamora, who is closely identified with the First Gentleman, is currently the administrator of MWSS, a government-owned and controlled corporation. With the "defection" of Jamora and Gerochi to the Gonzalez-Treñas camp, Drilon has just lost two very influential individuals who potentially could have boosted his chances to victory. In Jamora, the local opposition lost a valuable campaign financier while in Gerochi the Drilon-Malabor group lost an intelligent and popular cause-oriented advocate.

While Drilon is currently more "popular" with the local media and is currently leading Gonzalez in the radio surveys, I believe that elections in Iloilo City will be determined by how well a candidate can wage a "house-to-house" campaign. Unlike in national elections (and probably in other cities), it is Machinery, not Media Projection, that determines election outcomes in Iloilo City. Sadly, the power of the local media to influence public opinion and determine the outcome of local elections has been waning in the past years. This is partly due to the fact that certain local media personalities in Iloilo have been dogged by allegations of widespread corruption and questionable journalism practices. During elections, Iloilo journalists take sides and are no longer neutral reporters and some in fact, work as PR consultants for candidates. And they fight among themselves. Thus, just like the politicians, Iloilo media also suffers low credibility with the public. In fact, a common joke against certain media practitioners here is that they are "puwede man sa kuryente, puwede man sa battery." AC-DC in other words. So unless Iloilo media tries to reform its ranks, I fear that its power to influence public opinion and relevance in local affairs will continue on its downward spiral.