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By Napoleon G. Rama
Party strategists are junking old doctrines, Imelda is busy wooing votes for FM, Ninoy and Salonga are on the offensive for Serging.
November 1, 1969—THE old doctrines and certitudes on how to conduct and win a presidential campaign seem to be giving way to unorthodox theories. Many of the old notions and articles of faith on when, where and how to corral votes are collapsing.
One such notion is that a campaign of personal and platform persuasion just a month before Election Day is an exercise in futility. For by then, it is argued, the voters will have already made up their minds. Thus, the more rewarding strategy for the month immediately before the big day would be to consolidate party forces and refuel the political machine for mopping-up operations. But the way President Marcos and Senator Osmeña have been crisscrossing the country, raising fresh issues and hurling new charges at each other just a few weeks before Election Day, shows that they and their strategists have abandoned the old doctrine.
There seems to be sound logic behind the new strategy. A decade ago, transistor radios were as rare as Asian blondes. Television was a novelty and the TV audience was very limited. Now transistor radios are as common as coconut trees even in remote barrios. In the Visayas, tuba-gatherers climb palm trees with a transistor set strapped to their waist in order not to miss their favorite radio programs and commentators. And today, there are perhaps more TV and radio stations in the Philippines than in any other country its size. Now you can even hear two stations on one meter band.
Furthermore, a nationwide radio or even TV hook-up is no longer unusual. TV and radio audiences are now assured of receiving programs with few interruptions and little static, even in remote areas. Scientific breakthroughs, like the development of inexpensive videotape and tape recorders, have prompted the revision of campaign strategy and the updating of campaign timetables. To the electronics people, the new strategy is no surprise. They are also among the happiest people in the current campaign. One can build a radio station during the campaign and recoup his capital before Election Day.
Thanks to TV, radio, helicopters and fast planes ferrying the day’s newspapers, it’s never too late for a candidate to raise a new issue or throw a new bomba at his opponent.
The old notion was that it took at least two to three months before an issue or an idea could seep down to the vote-rich rural areas. Now you can talk about a Japanese businessman in Plaza Miranda and people in Jolo will be commenting on it the next day.
Last week, just three weeks before Election Day, the presidential candidates were still developing new election themes, minting new slogans and unwrapping new charges. There has been no letup in the punishing pace since the campaign officially started a few months ago. President Marcos was in Laguna and Leyte, hopping east to west and back; covering both Leyte provinces in an exhausting sweep that originally included Cebu and Iloilo. LP presidential candidate Serging Osmeña visited Negros Oriental, then leapfrogged to Siquijor Island before invading ube-shaped Bohol.
The Marcos persuaders announced in Leyte that the Iglesia Ni Cristo, the monolithic socio-politico-religious sect that claims a solid following of over 500,000, was all set to support Marcos. The Osmeña camp also let the nation know that an OK bandwagon trend was under way. President Marcos spoke of beefing up revenue allocations for the rural areas and bringing more progress to the barrios.
Osmeña went on television to detonate a new bomb—the “Balao Memo”—giving a new wrinkle to his Plaza Miranda reparations-kickbacks charge. President Marcos cited new achievements and enunciated what was billed as a new foreign policy touching on American bases and investments.
As of last week, the propaganda people of both camps were still setting up posters and billboards along the highways, on the theory perhaps that nowadays people travel more and farther.
One notable new feature of the current campaign is the uneven propaganda battle of billboards, leaflets, pins, buttons and television time. The battle of the billboards is no contest. The Marcos billboards far outnumber the OK signs. In fact, in many provinces, Osmeña billboards are nowhere to be seen.
Osmeña operates on the theory that billboards in the presidential contest serve little purpose. Billboards, he maintains, are necessary for the senatorial candidates because the voters are apt to forget some names in a field of 16. But in the presidential competition, Osmeña continues, no voter need be reminded of the names of the two protagonists.
The Marcos boys have another interpretation: “It’s simply that the OK camp hasn’t got the logistics.” To which taunt the Osmeña persuaders reply “since we haven’t got kickback money, we are using our logistics where they count most.”
All over the land, the landscape is dotted with Marcos or Marcos-Lopez billboards and streamers. The Marcos billboards are multi-colored, larger-than-life affairs, the largest and the most elaborate on the campaign scene, and perhaps the most expensive ever put up by any presidential candidate.
The November polls will put to the test Serging’s theory that billboards are of negligible importance in presidential elections. The outcome should settle a question of great interest to future budget-conscious presidential candidates. Billboards represent one of the biggest items in the candidate’s budgets. Confirmation of Serging’s theory would save future presidential aspirants a tidy sum.
While the propaganda contest is unequal in many other respects, the Osmeña persuaders are not far behind the administration drumbeaters in radio blurbs, jingles and commentaries. Because of limited resources, opposition propagandists take care to feature on radio and TV only effective impact programs or “spots.”
What has Malacañang worried is the phenomenal rating of a radio commentary program conducted by Cebu’s top radio commentator: Natalio Bacalso. Until the start of the current campaign Bacalso was a ranking official in the Malacañang Press Office. His program, which has been beamed in simultaneous broadcasts to all parts of the Visayas and Mindanao for the past several months, enjoys a fantastic rating: from 80 to 90 percent of all radio sets in most Cebuano-speaking provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Bacalso, a virtuoso on the platform, was top campaigner for Marcos in the Visayas and Mindanao in the 1965 elections. He had a falling out with the First Couple at the start of the current campaign and volunteered to campaign for Osmeña.
More than any single propaganda effort, it’s Bacalso’s radio commentaries, according to Malacañang intelligence reports, that are hurting the NP presidential campaign in Visayas and Mindanao. Indicative of Malacañang’s apprehension over his program and respect for Bacalso’s lethal gift of gab is the recent frantic attempt of administration men to woo Bacalso back into the fold, a little too late in the day. Bacalso’s astounding success as a political commentator is traced to his talent for working magic with the Cebuano language. The consensus among the political persuaders, LP and NP, is that Bacalso’s radio program is worth more than all the NP radio programs and gimmicks in the Visayas and Mindanao put together.
Bacalso’s success proves that it takes more than money and radio programs to achieve maximum propaganda impact. One good radio program is worth a hundred mediocre ones. The old saturation theory of radio propaganda may well be on its way out.
In the television battle, NP programs outnumber LP presentations 20 to 1. The NPs run several half-hour television political dramas featuring top television and movie stars. But the scripts, more often than not badly written, concentrate on name-calling and vulgar language instead of issues. Even Marcos partisans are critical of these programs.
Teodoro Valencia of the Manila Times, who is certainly not an Osmeña fan, is unhappy about such programs. Last week he wrote: “Radio, television and press propaganda can be overdone. The NP seem to be overdoing the media advertising and propaganda. The ‘overkill’ can work in reverse. As it is, the NP have a 90-10 advantage in media advertising. If the propaganda can be good all the time, well and good. But if the tempo or the quality declines some more, the preponderance of propaganda can boomerang.”
LP strategists meet the TV onslaught with one-minute spots depicting crime and poverty, and, occasionally, television interviews with the LP presidential candidate himself or top LP leaders. Newspaper columnists are agreed that Marcos is not as effective as Osmeña on TV. Here is columnist Apolonio Batalla of the Manila Bulletin on the two presidential candidates as TV performers: “The other evening we watched Senator Osmeña being interviewed on TV in a program sponsored by the UP Institute of Mass Communication. His manner was forthright, his answers were sensible and direct, and his exposition was simple and spontaneous.
“We also watched the President being interviewed in Malacañang. Although he revealed what to us is significant—the Philippine economy has ‘taken off’ (probably in the Rostovian context), he was as usual lisping and groping for words. The delivery of the message was not effective. He would create the impression that he was merely relaying the message and that he did not know much about it. Considering that he could have made capital of the ‘take-off’ study, his delivery was tragic….
“We have sneaking suspicion that the President declined the proposal of some student groups to share the same platform with his rival because he had been told that he would be no match for Osmeña on TV. In that case his advisers observed correctly. On TV, Osmeña would make mincemeat of the President.”
The observation is a bit exaggerated. But the point made has not been lost on the LP bright boys, who have scheduled more TV appearances for Osmeña.
Newspaper columnists and opinion-makers sympathetic to the incumbent President and the First Lady outnumber those inclined to Osmeña, 8 to 2. What is keeping the Cebu senator from being buried is his headline-baiting tactic of making provocative statements during his daily press conferences with newsmen covering his campaign.
“Some people have been complaining that Osmeña gets into the news more often than Marcos does,” said veteran newsman Feliciano Magno, whom the Daily Mirror assigned to cover the Osmeña campaign. “We can’t help it. Osmeña is quicker on the draw and makes superior, more newsworthy statements at press conferences.”
Imelda Marcos is still the most effective campaigner for the President. She has not lost her bewitching popular appeal. While she merely sang or delivered five-minute messages in 1965, now she goes campaigning on her own, accompanied only by some Blue Ladies, distributing goodies and making hour-long political speeches. Her enchanting style is said to have softened many Liberal leaders in the provinces.
Osmeña’s answer to Imelda is the potent LP duo, Senators Benigno Aquino Jr. and Jovito Salonga, whose political oomph and oratorical skill have been mesmerizing the rally crowds. Ninoy has been making sorties to all parts of the country, plumping for Osmeña’s presidential bid. Osmeña has appointed him commander-in-chief of the Central Luzon campaign. Ninoy has promised to deliver the region’s votes to the Cebu senator.
One reason why the Tarlac senator is going out of his way to campaign for Osmeña is that Malacañang has threatened to file anti-subversion charges against him. Broad hints have been dropped that after the elections, Ninoy will face criminal charges for his alleged ties with the Huks.
Ninoy has not passed up any invitations to pro-Serging rallies, even in Osmeña country. Cebuanos are still talking about “the most dramatic platform performance” they have seen so far in the current campaign. At a rally early last week, an inspired Aquino appealed to Cebuano pride and ethnic sentiment so skillfully that instead of mere applause, he drew fervent cries of “Osmeña Kami!” from his Cebuano audience.
His electrically-charged pitch: “If we in Central Luzon, so far away from Cebu, are fighting and dying for the cause of your favorite son, Serging, there’s no reason why all the Visayans and all the Cebuanos should not unite for the victory of Osmeña this coming November.” His impassioned appeal simply bowled over Cebuanos, whether pro- or anti-Serging.
Salonga’s performance as Osmeña’s chief legal counsel in the Haruta case and his forays into the Tagalog provinces have alarmed NP tacticians. They had figured on a sulking Salonga, nursing the wounds acquired during the vice-presidential tussle, and having nothing to do with Osmeña’s presidential campaign. There was apprehension at NP headquarters when word came that Salonga was appearing at the LP Plaza Miranda rally, and consternation when he accepted the legal assignment and started campaigning in the Tagalog provinces for Osmeña.
But whether or not Ninoy and Salonga are effective enough to counteract Imelda and the inexhaustible resources of the Marcos camp remains to be seen.
A most interesting question that Election Day will answer is whether a well-oiled party machine, plus unlimited resources for politicking and propaganda, plus Imelda, plus the Ilocano vote, plus the P2,000 to barrio captains can be beaten by the poverty vote, plus the Cebuano vote, plus the Salonga-Aquino combine, plus charges of kickbacks aired by a presidential candidate running on a shoestring budget.