The tragic and fatal flaws of the Robredo campaign




The Manila Times

Front Page

THE people have spoken. Whatever allegations of fraud hurled will fail in the face of a science that predicted this lopsided victory. The only thing that now stands in the way of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. from becoming president are the pending petitions for disqualification and cancellation of his certificates of candidacy which, judging from the prevailing predisposition of the losers, may end up with the Supreme Court. The petitions are bound to fail since they are facially without merit. The two grounds for granting them are simply not present. Marcos Jr. was not meted with the penalty of imprisonment, and his so-called crime of failure to file an income tax return has been established as not involving moral turpitude both in jurisprudence, and in how the legislature has repeatedly provided space to exempt compensation income earners with withheld taxes from penalty. Marcos Jr.’s victory is, however, something that does not solely rest on his virtues or accomplishments. It coasted on the brand name he carries, but what pushed him to soar even higher was the fatally flawed campaign of his principal opponent, Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo. From the very start, the political opposition made a fatal mistake of pushing for Robredo. Her victory in 2016, despite being confirmed by the Supreme Court, remains not only doubted by many except her followers. It also is an effective trigger to the deep-seated anger that festers among the Marcos loyal base which actually remained a formidable force. Her tenure as vice president also became the launching pad for her to become the object of demonization by the popular incumbent Rodrigo Duterte. There was no reason for Robredo to be in a head-on collision with Duterte, and she could have established a firm ground to consolidate her support had she been a critical collaborator to a president that even gave her executive appointments not only once, but twice. Yet, she opted to operate outside the ambit of his government, and frontally engaged him even to a point of publicly attacking his war on drugs in an international audience. Thus, she became the enemy not only of the President, but his diehard Duterte supporters (DDS), which has become the other formidable force aside from the Marcos loyalists. In picking Robredo as its standardbearer, the political opposition was actually picking a fight with these two formidable forces in Philippine politics. When she started her campaign by declaring that she was running to prevent Marcos Jr. from retaking Malacañang, she awakened not only one, but two dragons which had every reason to breathe fire on her. The strategy was patently foolish considering that elections have always been a game of numbers. What proved fatal was the wrong premise that the two forces would never unite, and that Robredo could become the third force that can squeak through a scenario where both Marcos Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio would run for president. The political opposition knew that the only chance they had was to unite in the face of both the Duterte and Marcos firewalls. This is precisely why various anti-administration forces initially explored unity talks. But apparently, faced with a scenario where pro-administration forces were splintering, which in hindsight I now consider as simply a ruse to confuse the opposition, Robredo enablers decided to break from the talks and abandon any attempt toward a united ticket. The Marcos-Duterte alliance simply outplayed the political opposition, and ended up reversing the political equation that proved fatal to the latter. In the end, Marcos and Duterte became the UniTeam, while Robredo and her enablers practically torched any chance of unification by savaging Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso. The handlers of Robredo badly miscalculated her chances. Already burdened with a candidate with a narrow political base and who triggers intense dislike from the two most formidable bases, as represented by Marcos Jr. and Duterte-Carpio, a group eager to enter a brawl, the Robredo campaign should have adopted a less confrontational stance. She should have avoided a direct political fistfight, and should have launched a charm offensive to convert Marcos and Duterte supporters to her side. Her campaign should have conducted a more authentic, heart to heart, house to house initiative at the very start. They should have stayed away from focusing on Marcos and his flaws and failures, and instead focused on her virtues and accomplishments. Filipinos are not averse to a political brawl, as long as it is one where they are the spectators. We actually even enjoy the spectacle of two public figures crossing swords. We are not averse to negative campaigning as long as this is confined to and among politicians Unfortunately, the Robredo enablers took negative campaigning to the level of the personal, by fighting the demonization of Robredo by the DDS and Marcos loyalists by directly attacking them. While it cannot be denied that Marcos and Duterte supporters were equally toxic and were also guilty of committing personal attacks against Robredo partisans, and not just Robredo herself, the bitter reality of electoral mathematics placed the onus of political conversion on those who are fewer in number. And this is something that members of the Robredo political base, narrow and fewer as they may have been, miserably forgot. They acted as if they were in command, unwilling to temper their language and tone down their moral righteousness. It was only later in the game when they began their house-to-house, heart to heart campaign. By then, it was too late. The attempt to be inclusive was drowned out by the arrogant, exclusionary images, optics and actions that flowed so naturally from the ranks of Robredo supporters that continued to give like bad gifts. It can thus be said. If there is a more apt epitaph for the failed Robredo presidential run, it would be this: “Tried despite the odds but lost because of her supporters.”