Whose election frame will dominate?

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This commentary was published in the November 18, 2009 edition of the Business Mirror, page A6.

Slander cannot destroy an honest man – when the flood recedes the rock is thereChinese Proverb

Pulse Asia just released its latest nationwide survey on the top choices for president.  Noynoy Aquino is at 44 percent while Manuel Villar, Francis “Chiz”Escudero, and Joseph Estrada are at 19, 13, and 11 percent respectively. That makes the 2009 election a race for second place.

But that’s only true if honesty and an unblemished reputation remains the horse to ride.

Pulse Asia asked their respondents why they were voting for a particular candidate.  The five top reasons cited were: “Hindi kurakot/malinis” (Does not steal /Is clean) (21.2 percent); “May nagawa, may magagawa” (Has done a lot/can do a lot) (14 percent); “Para sa mahirap, galing sa mahirap” (Pro-poor/comes from the poor) (12.2 percent); “Tumutulong” (Helps a lot) (12 percent); “Reputasyon ng pamilya” (Family reputation) (4.2 percent).

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Looking into the components of each of those five reasons will show why the election frame is still up for grabs.

The first and fifth reasons belong to Noynoy Aquino, obviously.

The second reason,“May nagawa, may magagawa,” belongs to padrino (patron) politicos – Disaster relief (2.7 percent); Other accomplishments (6.1 percent); Nagbigay ng pabahay (Provides housing) (4.9) and one other at 0.4.

The third reason, “Para sa mahirap, galing sa mahirap” is also padrino (patronage) politics – “Matulungin sa mahirap”(7.8 percent); Makamahirap/pagtingin sa mahirap (3.7 percent) and “galing sa mahirap” (0.7 percent)

The fourth reason, “Tumutulong” is still about padrinos -“Tumutulong sa OFW” (Helps overseas Filipino workers) (6.6 percent) and “Matulungin” (Helpful) (5.4 percent).

So it seems that the way to defeat Noynoy is to change the election frame from a question of character to a contest of who is the best padrino, regardless of record and reputation.

I think the Villar and Estrada camps realize that. That’s why there is a concerted campaign to knock Noynoy off his white horse.

Estrada does not attack Noynoy directly but his campaign manager, writing an article in a newspaper closely associated with him, started a rumor that was picked up by the slimiest practitioners of jukebox journalism.

As for the ethically challenged Villar, his statement that all candidates were the same was followed with an expose by one of his loyal lieutenants.

Rep. Crispin “Boying” Remulla alleged that Noynoy Aquino got the SCTEX (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway) rerouted for his family’s benefit. He added that Noynoy’s family overpriced their land. In short, Noynoy was no different from Villar.

SCTEX was a road project between Estrada and the Japanese government. It started during Estrada’s term and was completed under the Arroyo administration. Noynoy had no hand in it.

The difference between the non-role of Noynoy in SCTEX and Villar’s hand in the cookie jar in C-5 is black and white.

The rerouting of C-5 and the overpricing of Villar’s landholdings happened while Villar was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Note that in fairness to Villar I used “while” instead of “because.”

Noynoy neither had the political power nor the gall to do to SCTEX what Villar did to C5.

Most important of all, Noynoy, unlike Villar, will not run away from an ethics investigation. He is not afraid to testify under oath. He has nothing to hide, nothing to lie about.

The strategy of those lagging behind Noynoy is to run gimmicks and political ads selling themselves as the patron saints of the poor while spreading black lies about Noynoy, his mother, and their relatives.

The American journalist Jimmy Breslin once described political campaigns as a season of  “speeches and slander, of lies and libel, of life without a conscience.”

The laggards have oodles of money to finance the sort of propaganda that would do Joseph Goebbels proud.

So the question is what will win the people’s trust and confidence this time around, the politics of honesty and cleanliness or the politics of patronage and slander?

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