THE “FIRST LEAVES of political spring are upon us” and of late we have the unacknowledged “Oplan Stop Nognog” that’s reminding us that the unofficial campaign period has started in earnest. That makes our electoral exercise the longest in the world, a similar honor we already owe to our four-month observance of the Christmas season. Climate change is everywhere.

No less than the prime power is at stake. And even this early, a year-and-a-half away from May 2016, the two biggest protagonists are already slugging it out. One is PNoy’s rumored would-be anointed. The other is someone who feels alluded to by the pejorative “Nognog.”They are only the most visible ones, with a couple more hopefuls waiting in the wings. The truth is, the number of presidential wannabes in this country stands equal to all its living politicians, in varying degrees of commitment. Of course, the very core of politics is power, where big is beautiful. Politicians everywhere only abide by the nature of their chosen profession, which to me is the oldest.So, Filipinos are playing witness once more to an exercise that the wise among us blame for what is flawed in our system of politics: clientilistic, money-intensive, oligarchic, dynastic, etc. But the final blame is heaped upon the voters. Sometimes it is clothed with elegance: “The people you elect are the people you deserve.” Often, in terms bare of any pretension, “bobo!” (stupid).

Despite all this blame, one interesting fact about it is that, it is capable of putting into power a contrasting mix of choices: Estrada, Revilla, Villafuerte, Pineda, Emano, etc., on the one hand; PNoy, Grace Poe, Robredo, Panlilio, Moreno and the like, on the other. Those on the first list do overwhelmingly outnumber those on the second list. But the point is it gives you a chance at winning — if you only know how.

It’s fatal to assume that your divine heart and trillions of synapses are enough to win the votes for you. That could be your own undoing. There is no such thing as a “stupid electorate,” there is only a stupid campaign: you cannot change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust your sail.

Winning an election in the Philippines is long past the 3Gs formula — guns, goons and gold. The more sophisticated 4Ms have subsumed it: message (and the medium), machinery, muscle, money. A wise use of these in combination defines the candidate’s capability to win.

For May 2016, PNoy’s would-be anointed will be hounded by the same issues that form a blot marring his performance. One is the government’s response to the Yolanda aftermath, which has been perceived as slow, uncoordinated, insensitive. Another is the heavy traffic problem in Metro Manila and the breakdown of the mass transport facilities blamed on an ill-managed maintenance system. Still another is the anticipated energy crisis that is expected to affect areas in Luzon starting in the middle of next year, if not averted on time. This could be a minus to the anointed’s message.

A plus to his machinery and muscle (apart from his political party) is the very agency he is currently sitting as head of. His choice of the agency is not serendipitous. The agency’s official organization reaches down to every town and city through its hierarchy local operations officers, who may be persuaded to double as political operations officers in the area. It was created during the rule of Marcos partly to serve the same electoral purposes.

Little wonder. The agency is taking the lead role in the anti-poverty planning-budgeting scheme that earmarks national government agency funds for municipal/city poverty reduction initiatives. It’s a smart plus for money.

Unable to catch up in the survey rating game, he’s been accused of moving to cut down the big lead of his strongest competitor by digging up his filth and exposing this to the public. If you can’t grow tall, look tall by cutting the legs off the other person. It’s an easy plus for message.

He is up against a formidable opponent whose campaign for the presidency seems to have started the moment he was appointed to an elective post in 1987. There was no turning back from then on. The needs of visibility and recall he had pursued with passion from that former little town (now a city) where he himself sat in power.

With much generosity, he had shared with other local governments the blessings of his own, awash as it was with cash, courtesy of transfers and taxes on business and real property. It has blessed him in return with a nationwide network of friends, a good name and a good image as perceived by the masses. In 2010, he was blessed with a post that’s one breath away from his dream.

His campaign in the 2010 elections invoked his performance as a mayor. He promised: “This is what I did in my city. That is what I will do for the country.” Testimonies of whistle-blowers exposed alleged big-time corruption in the city during his incumbency. Now eyeing the presidency, that same promise seems to start assuming the shape of a threat.

We fervently pray for Grace from up above. Please heed us. Sige na po!

Mario M. Galang is a senior fellow of Action for Economic Reforms and a development and governance specialist.

This article was first posted on BusinessWorld last October 26,