A Candidate’s Unofficial Guide to Winning in Philippine Elections

Bartolome, in the past 20 years, has taught college psychology and written TV and movie scripts. He now works for a leading TV network. This piece was published in the Yellow Pad column of Business World, 19 April 2004 edition.

Elections have always been a national pastime in the country. Winning
them, however, requires special skills and actions from the candidate.
Here is a handy guide for all those governance wannabes.

1. What is the first rule?

Do not forget rule number 1. The Philippines is a democracy. Proof:
elections. In democratic elections, one voter = one vote. Whether you
are a billionaire tax evader or a carpenter who does not have a house,
you have one vote. But a 200 square meter- squatters’ colony will
probably have a hundred times more votes than a 2,000 square meter-
mansion in Ayala Alabang. So rule number one say—do not forget where
your votes will come from.

2. Do you mean that the election is a popularity contest?

But of course. And in more ways than one. So if you want to win, you
have to be popular. If you are not yet a popular movie star, son,
daughter, lover of movie stars or politicians, make sure you become
one. Here are some very effective ways.

  • Be a movie or TV star. If no one is asking you to star in a movie
    or TV show, produce your own movie or TV show. Team up with an already
    popular/controversial star. Have a romantic affair or at least, have
    someone churn out loads of write ups and features about you and your
    movie, show or affair.
  • Marry a movie star (better if you have two ceremonies—one civil,
    one religious and have them shown as TV specials). If it’s not possible
    to get married, live with him or her, or at least, have an affair with
    him or her.
  • Be in the limelight. Be an endorser of a heavily advertised
    product like liquor, vitamins, clothing, hotdogs, etc. Have your best
    photograph or video clip enhanced or retouched so you can use it for
    billboards, posters and leaflets. Make sure that your best photo or
    video is displayed prominently along busy areas—even if they destroy
    the view. Pay the product manufacturer, if you must, just so you get to
    be the endorser.
  • If you cannot be any of the above, the least you can do is to
    have your picture taken by a good studio. Pose like a movie star and
    make this your standard poster/leaflet photo. (This is no longer
    difficult to do with the new computer software available to computer
    artists. A word of caution, though: make sure you are still
    recognizable. They might elect the movie star you are trying to
    emulate).

3. What about name recall?

Very good question. Remember this once-popular actor who ran under his
real name? He lost, of course. But he won handily the next time around,
after he made sure that votes for his screen name were counted in his
favor.

You cannot be too presumptuous when it comes to name recall. People who
know you may call you names that may not have been listed as your alias
with the COMELEC. There are two important things to consider here: one
is to make sure that all votes intended for you are going to be counted
in your favor. (It is better if other votes are also counted in your
favor, but this requires another discussion altogether.) Two, make sure
that people do not have difficulty remembering your name. Even at this
time, when voters simply have to tick printed names on the ballot, the
shorter, catchier names still have the advantage. Abad will always have
an advantage over Pagsangandaanan unless the one with the long name
makes an effort to find out what three or four-letter words people call
him—like Mr. P. or Dr. P. The short name, presumably the more popular
moniker, should be used. This is usually a better choice than one you
or someone from your team simply comes up with like Pagsy. You might
end up regretting the choice.

Lately, many politicians have been using slogans that use their
initials as acronyms or other aspects of their names and/or color
schemes identified with them. This is especially true among many
incumbents who have the government coffers at their disposal
purportedly for “information dissemination.” (More on this below.)

  • For instance, if your name is Pedro Batumbakal, you should come
    up with a slogan with the initials PB like Perwisyong Bayan. Choose
    colors highlighting the initials PB and paint them on every space
    possible—walls, artesian well pumps, on banners and posters, fans,
    envelopes, police cars and ambulances. Never mind if your slogan
    doesn’t mean anything. Remember this is a mnemonic (not demonic)
    device, meaning, a means for people to remember your name.
  • The color gimmick is also an important device for people to
    remember you. In showbiz, any news is good news for an aspiring star.
    In politics, it is slightly different. Unless the recall is utterly
    negative, it is positive. For example, a unique color like urinal pink
    used on all government projects you can lay your hands on, will work
    for you. The high recall of the urinal through the color that is highly
    associated with you will translate positively in the voters’ minds.
    Though the colors and the high visibility of the urinals might piss
    some voters off, it would relieve the great majority, who will most
    probably say to themselves, “Ah, here’s one politician doing something
    for the community.”
  • With your catchy slogans featuring your initials in “proprietary”
    colors, make sure you never miss an opportunity to have your name,
    slogan and color hog the limelight through posters of Christmas
    greetings, Valentine wishes, congratulatory messages at graduation
    time, reminders, pocket calendars, fans, street-sweepers’ vests, etc.
    If you’re the incumbent, you may even team up with popular commercial
    establishments. Many establishments are especially cooperative just
    before the deadline for renewing their permits and licenses.

4. What if a very popular candidate has a checkered past? People in his
or her hometown or province surely know about his or her escapades.

Well, that’s a big risk if the candidate runs for mayor or congressman.
Seeking a senatorial post would afford the candidate that chance to
have voters who know him or her well enough to tick his/her name on the
ballot but not too much to remember who he or she really is.

Not having enough money should not prevent a candidate from launching a
nationwide campaign. A “reformed” candidate who really wants to serve
can do any of the following:

  • Put up a day care or some other social welfare institution (don’t forget the initials, slogans and color scheme rules).
  • Find someone to expose your rivals’ shenanigans or create black
    propaganda. Don’t forget that during elections, one merely has to
    choose the lesser evil.
  • Host or anchor a TV or radio program that helps the poorest of
    the poor. You don’t have to spend your own money. Solicit help from
    kind people and business establishments by airing their pleas and
    showing their heart- rending situations.
  • Organize the youth, the mothers, the elderly, the gays, or some
    other “marginalized sector” and have them remember that whatever they
    do, even if intended mainly for their own sector, should also work for
    you

How many posters and leaflets and other propaganda materials do I need?
What about the COMELEC prohibitions on poster size and proper places,
number of TV ads and the like?

Plenty. If you are not the incumbent, this will certainly cost you an
arm and a leg—maybe even your soul, especially if you are running for a
national position.

But the COMELEC regulations should be the least of your worries. Like
the U.N., this body is basically a debating club. You can always claim
that the illegal posters were put up by your opponents. Have you ever
heard of a candidate who has been disqualified because of illegal
posters and other campaign paraphernalia display? If you are going to
be the first one, then maybe, you do not really deserve to win.
Remember, these rules have been crafted by experienced politicians. Do
you remember the anti-political dynasty legislation? Is it still in
force? If so, how many have been apprehended?

If you are the incumbent, you have a lot of options.

  • Upon assuming office, come up with many high-impact projects.
  • Every now and then, remind people about these projects. Remember
    that you do not have to implement all these projects. What is important
    is that these projects make an impact on the voters.
  • Begin implementing some of these projects as the election nears.
  • Be very careful in allocating funds for various aspects of the
    projects. In other words, allot 50 to 80 percent of the funds for
    information dissemination. After all, of what use is the project if the
    people do not associate the project with you?
  • Make sure your name is prominently displayed in the information
    materials on these projects (as in billboards, TV, radio and print ads,
    T-shirts of contractual road sweepers, etc.).
  • Of course, you shouldn’t put the words “vote for me” in these
    info materials. The people are intelligent enough to associate this
    with you but dumb enough not to realize that you are using public funds
    for your campaign. This is one of the best ways to beat the legal
    limits of the campaign.

5. Should I join debates?

It depends.

  • If you are a good debater, challenge everyone to a debate. If
    your opponent is the better debater, decline on matter of principle.
    Tell the press that you believe action speaks louder than words.
  • Whether you will join debates or not, make sure you learn how to
    dance the otso-otso and sing the Pamela-mela wan. This will go a long
    way. Debates will only please the very few middle class (compared to
    the D & E), many of whom are not registered anyway or would prefer
    to go to the beach on election day.

6. If I have done all these things well, am I assured of victory?

Of course not! The things mentioned above are necessary but by no means
sufficient. For instance, what would probably be the most important
handbills that you need to circulate before the elections are the
violet, yellow and blue handbills that do not even have your pictures
on them. These are the bills that have the faces of Osmeña, Ninoy and
the Escoda-Lim-Abad Santos triumvirate. Make sure they reach the hands
of the voters on the eve of the elections and that the voters know
where they came from. In the past, these bills have proven to be very
effective instruments for name recall in the voting precinct. Nowadays,
however, one cannot rely so much on them. Many voters have smartened
up. They’ll get your money but vote for their choice anyway.

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