By: Prof. Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Development Center for Asia Africa Pacific
11 December 2009
This political economist and social forecaster foresees an eventual presidential victory for Manny Villar in the 2010 national polls. The forecast is based on the observations concerning the weaknesses of the other candidates. Most observable weaknesses of the Noynoy Team, as per information from within, buttress this forecast most of all. The popularity of Noynoy Aquino is merely transitory, even as voters will eventually choose Villar whose strengths are his very cutting edge for victory.
Prior to the filing of COCs by the presidential candidates, the four (4) strongest contenders to the presidency were (in alphabetical order): Aquino, Escudero, Estrada, and Villar. To be considered a strong contender, a candidate must first exceed the minimum statistic of 8.5% (level of significance). A double-digit means the candidate’s public standing is very significant (notably 20% and above).
Public perceptions do change, and change so rapidly depending on prevailing circumstances. Before the filing of COCs yet, Sen. Escudero already pronounced his retreat from the presidential contest, thus rendering his supporters at a lost as to whom they should cast their lot on. Meanwhile, one can also see the decline of Aquino’s rating from a top of 60% to a recent 47%, evidence of short-term perceptual change.
The current situation points to the high level of indecision on the part of voters. Based on impressionistic information from the ground, voters who previously went for Aquino have already shifted to Villar. It is most likely that those who chose Escudero will go for Villar, assuming that the proper social marketing strategies and public projection are in place and operational on sustained basis.
It will take till the end of April yet for 90% of voters to firm up their choices, and another month later for the rest of the 10% of undecided to firm up theirs. By projecting the weaknesses of the Noynoy Team onwards throughout the campaign, it is possible that the tide will turn back for Villar even before the end of April, thus ensuring Villar’s victory.
DEBACLE IN THE AQUINO TEAM
A fractious team comprising of fragments of hardly unconsolidated factions is what characterizes the 1st layer of persons and groups surrounding Noynoy. Practically caught flat-footed by the upsurge of popular clamor for his presidency, Noynoy was so unprepared for the challenge, and ditto was his party. As of late November, Noynoy’s platform couldn’t be ironed out yet, precisely because the factions of experts and partisans who were tasked to produce each aspect of the agenda couldn’t see each other eye to eye.
Fractious and fragmentary indeed are these groups, that Noynoy is hardly in a position to get them to act together. A man unprepared for the presidential mission is likewise bereft of that credibility to call the shots within his backyard during a presidential derby. Unable to call the shots well, Noynoy is likened to Erap Estrada who was also regarded as a mere pawn by entrenched interest groups.
Finally, Noynoy’s platform was released in early December. But so glaring is the hodge-podge nature of the platform. The statements are mere motherhood statements comprising of lines that were already said time and again, providing no innovative thought about the huge challenges of solving poverty, attaining full employment, achieving fiscal balance, and getting the country closer to a 1st world economy by mid-2016 (or attain ‘development maturity’).
Till these days, volunteers are having a tough time getting through the Noynoy campaign lines. To be able to get inside, a volunteer has to study first the diverse groups comprising the pro-Noynoy forces, identify which group could be most friendly to the volunteer, and then finally decide to join. This tedious and circuitous process will drag down the Noynoy campaign altogether, and will prove disastrous during the middle of the campaign period. Lacking a solid machinery, the campaign will flounder, causing much chagrin on insiders. A chaotic campaign it will be, which will prove catastrophic in terms of securing voters’ fidelity and finality of choice.
Furthermore, the platform of Noynoy is so focused on domestic policy, with nary a statement about foreign policy. This expert is of the opinion that the ASEAN integration, which will happen during the next presidency’s incumbency, is a gigantic event for the nation and its neighbors, so that we can ill afford to be lackadaisical about it as a central feature of our foreign policy. The ASEAN integration is one that should be led by the Philippines no less, being the most credible country member due to its esteem as the 1st independent nation-state in Asia, and should, to repeat, be the central feature of the next presidency’s foreign policy agenda.
Aside from the above, there is the lack of experience of Noynoy in diverse facets of governance and relatively weak leadership in the public policy field. His charisma is largely an attribution of transference of his deceased parents’ charisma, which could hardly suffice to rally constituencies and his own supporters to support radical measures in the future.
STREAMING VILLAR’S VICTORY
Noticing such weaknesses quickly, and projecting them in the sharpest possible manner, will enable the Villar Team to recoup the temporarily lost grounds in public perception. Villar is clearly on top of his machinery, is most prepared in terms of a coherent platform, is most experienced both governance and policy-wise, possesses a charisma that flows from within rather than ‘inherited’ from departed parents, is the greater visionary and patriot than any of the other candidates. These strengths of Villar should be projected in crescendo fashion across the campaign period, thus ensuring victory at the end.
The mix of tactics and methods must be configured soon enough, with Villar himself at the helm of all the planning, generation of cognitive maps, and determination of the compass of the campaigns. It should be stressed that the campaign lines and substance must be high-level at all times, and only minimally ‘below the belt’. Villar, Legarda and the senatorial candidates should focus on high-level, principled campaign, leaving the ‘below-the-belt punches’ to other supporting personalities and groups within the Villar machinery.
Across the campaign period, diligence must be done in sustaining the building of the machinery (both the party and the multisectoral coalition) and the propaganda efforts. The Team should veer away from the clash between the Erap Team and the Gilberto/Lakas Team, which should go ahead and be allowed to devastate each other till they self-destruct. Along the way, the endorsement by cultural-political blocs with large command votes should be sought, notably the mainstream Left and INK. The endorsement by Sen. Escudero will count a lot for sure, which will provide light to his supporters about whom they should vote for.
Lastly, it should also be noted that the old conflicts among the Cojuancos are re-surfacing, the new morph being the Noynoy-Gibo divide. Noynoy will most likely be slam-banged by the Teodoro camp relentless, even as it has to parry the hard blows from the Erap camp. The Villar Team should maneuver to stay clear of these hardball confrontations, and focus on projecting positive, principled campaign lines and substantive debate lines along the way.
To conclude, realistically the contenders for the presidency will tail behind in the exit polls as their machineries and campaigns efforts puff up, flounder and lose steam. This will pave the way for heightened trust and confidence of voters on the Villar leadership whose presidency they will galvanize in the poll precints later.