Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Marcosian Gambit

Today’s generation may no longer remember it but in the months prior to Martial Law, Manila was rocked by a series of bomb explosions which then-President Ferdinand Marcos blamed on the communists. At that time the students almost daily were holding protest rallies in the cities and the New People’s Army (NPA) was actively recruiting peasants in the countryside. The rally of the Liberal Party was disrupted when two grenades were lobbed at the stage, injuring almost all the LP senatorial candidates and countless others in the crowd. The “last straw” was the attempted assassination of his Defense Minister, Juan Ponce Enrile and soon after Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972. Fourteen years later, Enrile himself admitted (during the tense days of the 1986 People Power) that the attempt on his life was fake, an “ambush-me,” which the Marcos administration staged to justify their placing the Philippines under martial rule.

I am bringing this up because last week I heard over Aksyon Radyo an intriguing news report about the latest police findings on the grenade attack on the Trenas ancestral house in Molo, Iloilo City. According to the report, PNP-SOCO investigators found the grenade’s safety lever pin within the walls of the Trenas property. This only means that the grenade was thrown from inside the property walls. It’s either that or the perpetrator was some kind of ninja who was able to sneak close to the property wall, throw the grenade (plus the safety lever pin!) over the 8-foot fence and then make his escape without being detected by the bunch of road construction workers who are bunking directly in front of the Trenas ancestral home. But this theory is being discounted by police investigators as highly improbable because no one ever throws the grenade and the grenade’s safety pin together. Every grade 5 student knows that once you’ve popped the safety pin, you are supposed to scamper to a safe distance because most grenades have only five (5) seconds before they explode and you do not have time anymore to pick up the safety pin and throw it, moreso in the same general direction that you lobbed the grenade. This to me confirms what many pro-Gonzalez people are claiming that the recent spate of grenade attacks is nothing but a case of “bomba-me.”

When I first heard Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr. accuse Mayor Trenas of masterminding grenade attacks on his own properties, I was incredulous. His thesis was too far out and so outlandish that it is easy to dismiss it as the ramblings of a senile old man. I mean, who in his right mind would bomb his own house? But on deeper analysis, Secretary Gonzalez does have a point when he said over radio that his family has no history of violence (in fact, it was his house that was strafed a few years back) and that the person who has politically benefited (in terms of public sympathy) from the bombings is actually the “victim” himself Mayor Jerry Trenas. Recall that even before the grenade attacks, Mayor Trenas had already labelled the Gonzalezes as the “Ampatuans of Iloilo.” Even before there was any disturbance or any election-related violence in the city, Mayor Trenas has already called on Comelec to put under its control. But in order to succeed in convincing people that the Gonzalezes are as abusive and violent as the Ampatuans, and in order for Comelec to justify placing under Comelec-control, there has to be some level of violence or threat of general disorder in the city. And because of the grenade bombings, Mayor Trenas has succeeded in ousting the Iloilo City police chief Melvin Mongcal whom people perceived to be close to Secretary Gonzalez. People even claim that Trenas will be getting property damage insurance from the grenade attacks. As such, whether he admits it or not, the chief beneficiary of the grenade bombings in Iloilo City is the good mayor himself. That is why I cannot help but suspect that someone within his camp thought up this brilliant "Marcosian gambit" to checkmate the Gonzalezes and secure their victory this coming election.

I think that when he first decided to go against the Gonzalezes, the good mayor thought that he could attract a significant number of barangay leaders to his camp. But things did not go according to his plan and, as it turned out the Gonzalez group has remained largely intact with 158 out of the 180 barangay captains firmly behind the Gonzalezes. By now, Mayor Jerry knows that he cannot match the formidable campaign machinery of the Gonzalezes man for man. So the only way really for him to win this election is if he can gain the sympathy of the people. Indeed, in the last few days, I have noted a slight “re-tooling” of the Trenas campaign strategy by capitalizing on the grenade attacks and adopting an underdog posture. The recent “indignation” rallies, prayer gatherings ostensibly for the “safety” of the Trenas family and appeals to the people’s sense of “lu-oy” (pity) for the deaths threats and harassment his family members have been supposedly getting from the Gonzalez camp are all designed to win public sympathy and make their campaign into a sort of “crusade.” Only time will tell if Mayor Trenas will succeed in convincing Ilonggos to join his “crusade” and vote for him this coming May 10 elections.

As for me, all I can say is that someone is playing a very dangerous game and I do hope that, whoever that someone is, I sure hope he stops this grand deception before anyone gets seriously hurt.

Monday, March 29, 2010

“Word of Mouth” is More Influential Than Surveys

Various studies have shown that “word of mouth” campaigning is more effective in influencing voters than opinion surveys. This is especially true in Iloilo City - where everyone seems to know everyone – and if you ask anybody why they “like” a certain candidate, chances are he will tell you that he was approached and convinced by a friend, a relative, a neighbour, a professional colleague, a classmate or maybe just by someone in his locality whom he respects (like the barangay captain, for example). Or maybe the candidate himself may have talked to him. As the saying goes, “all politics is local and local politics is indubitably personal.” As such, “face-to-face, one-on-one, word-of-mouth” campaigning is still the best and most effective form of campaigning at the local level. Voters, most especially Ilonggo voters, hardly ever vote for a certain candidate just because they saw his poster and just because the surveys say he will win. In local politics, the candidate who has the largest and most efficient grassroots machinery wins. Most politicians know this and this is probably the reason why Trenas and Mabilog, although they are supposedly “leading” in the surveys, are not complacent and are currently doing the kapihan rounds, rigorously going house-to-house. Even though various surveys show them supposedly leading by 30% plus points over the Gonzalezes, the two are still not confident of winning. Thus, Trenas and Mabilog themselves are giving lie to surveys because if I was a candidate enjoying a 30% lead over my rival, I would not even bother to go out of my house to campaign.

The real value of surveys, as candidates themselves will admit, is that they can use it to generate campaign donations. A presidential or senatorial candidate for example can easily convince businessmen to shell out big bucks to his campaign if he is rating high in the surveys. But the situation in the local level is very different from the national. In Iloilo City for instance, most local businessmen already have their political loyalties set. Prominent Ilonggo businessmen for the most part have already chosen their side and seldom do they give to several or all candidates. Thus, because of this peculiar dynamics, surveys are not as effective as in the national level in terms of generating financial support from campaign donors.

For the last three elections (2001, 2004 and 2007), the local survey outfit Random Access Consultants, Inc. (RACI) has consistently predicted the demise of the Gonzalezes in Iloilo City politics. Time and again, they have been proven wrong. During the last 2007 elections for example, RACI survey findings consistently showed Congressman Raul Gonzalez Jr. lagging behind his opponents Mansueto Malabor, Benjie Gengos and even Dan Cartagena. But after the votes were tallied, results showed Raul Junior winning overwhelmingly with a 45,000 vote majority over his closest rival! And I think no one can claim that the last elections were fraudulent – the 2007 elections was in fact one of the most peaceful and orderly elections in Iloilo history. My question then is: how could RACI have missed so badly? As it turned out, it was not even a close fight and if their survey methodology was correct, RACI’s findings should have shown that Raul Junior was way ahead his rivals. And yet despite its horrible track record in predicting elections, radio commentators, print columnists and other local media people continue to discuss and carry news stories about RACI’s latest survey findings as if it was the gospel truth. Not a single media entity has pointed out the fact that RACI has been calling it wrong for several elections now.

This only reinforces my suspicion that surveys nowadays are conducted not really to measure but actually to influence public opinion. Today, RACI is at it again conditioning the minds of Ilonggos that the “men to beat” in Iloilo City are Jed Patrick Mabilog for mayor and Jerry Trenas for congressman. I have yet to see RACI’s latest survey but I am sure that it will be showing more of the same findings. But I believe the people of Iloilo City are already wary of RACI and other “survey-surveys,” given their deplorable track record, and that a big majority of Ilonggos are not influenced by their mind-conditioning attempts anymore.

I am not privy to how RACI formulates its survey methodology and questionnaires because they usually do not show and explain them to the public. But I wouldn’t be surprised if RACI is still using the old “one-on-one, face-to-face interview” method wherein surveyors (usually pretty college undergrads) go to your home to ask you a set of questions from a predetermined questionnaire. For the information of the public, this method is no longer being used in America and other First World countries because it has been proven to be flawed. There is a now infamous incident in America wherein the big newspapers, trusting the prediction of the Roper Polls, all carried the headline “Dewey Wins” only to be proven wrong afterwards because, as it turned out, it was actually Harry S. Truman who won the election. After that election came the usual Congressional investigation and the lawmakers concluded that the methodology used by the polling firm was flawed. After that debacle, Roper and other American polling outfits reformed their methodologies but to this day, Roper has never quite regained its credibility as a polling firm.

The “one-on-one, face-to-face interview” method is flawed because the interviewer could very well influence the subject thru “visual cues” and subtle body languages. Also, survey firms usually give all barangays equal “weight” so therefore, the candidate who carries the most number of barangays is theoretically the winner. But obviously, Barangay Barrio Obrero which has 4,000 voters should have more “weight” than Barangay Roxas Village which has only around 300 voters. And what if, for example, Gonzalez Senior wins in the 80 biggest barangays and Mabilog carries the 100 smallest barangays? Gonzalez Senior will still win because the sum total of the top 80 biggest barangays is more than the sum total of the 100 smallest barangays in Iloilo City. Even if Trenas carries Arevalo, Molo, City Proper and Mandurriao, and Raul Junior wins only in Jaro and Lapaz, the latter will still win because the total voting population of Jaro and Lapaz is greater than the voting population of all the four districts combined. I sincerely would like to know if RACI was able to formulate an algorithm which takes into consideration this peculiar facet of Iloilo City’s political topography.

Surveys are only a “snapshot,” a partial and incomplete picture of political reality. And surveys are a faulty, imperfect method of predicting elections since it does not simulate the realities and nuances of electoral politics in the Philippines. Come election day, no one from Comelec will go to your house, give you your ballot, take your vote and bring your ballot to the precinct so that it can be counted. On election day you have to wake up early, shower and dress up, walk or motor to the public school where your precinct is located, and once you've found your precinct, line up under the intense heat of the summer sun in order to cast your vote. Thinking and doing are two vastly different things. Thinking or even saying that you will vote for someone is very different from actually voting for that someone. In the Philippines, as elsewhere, the candidate who has the larger machinery that could convince people thru "word of mouth" to vote for him usually emerges as the winner.