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I am Running for President: Why the Political Show of Force Must Go On

It's a production, pandemic times or not.
by Erwin Colcol
Sep 22, 2021
Photo/s: Jerome Ascano

Mayor Isko Moreno declared his intention to run for president before a socially distant crowd at a townhouse complex for former slum dwellers, hoping to inspire the electorate that like himself and the residents of Basecommunity, they too can turn their fortunes around.

Moreno's coming out rally as presidential contender is a classic "show of force" in Philippine elections, albeit truncated one because of COVID, and one that is necessary to carry a candidate to victory.

Crowds of supporters allow candidates to flex to undecided voters that they have public backing and with physical gatherings limited by the pandemic, expect candidates to get creative with how to mount a "show of force".

“Candidates have to convince people or voters that they are strong candidates and they have the capacity to win,” University of the Philippines political science professor Ma. Ela Atienza told reportr.

“With health protocols in place, campaign strategists have to think of other ways to prove to voters that there is a sizeable support for their candidates,” she added.

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When Sen. Manny Pacquiao declared his intent to run for president three day's before Moreno's event, he made sure to be surrounded by at least a thousand-strong crowd on Zoom.

Before COVID, the measure of a candidate's popularity was by how many millions they can pack in symbolic places like Quirino Grandstand and Tondo in Manila or in the case of Club Filipino in San Juan, how many thousands on top of live TV cameras.

In 2022, however, the campaign is expected to be less on touch and large rallies, if at all. For the filing of candidacies in October, aspiring presidents, vice presidents, senators and party-list representatives were advised to bring just one companion and get tested for COVID before going to Comelec.

'Show of Force' rallies are symbolic

As much as joining the elections is important for politicians, so is the way they declare their candidacies. The people on and off stage symbolize who they represent and why they want to run in the first place, said political analyst Cleve Arguelles.

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“If you're branding yourself as a pro-poor politician, then you're likely to see poor people being mobilized to attend the event. If you're selling yourself as a regional candidate representing the interests of a region, then you'll see people from that region as well,” Arguelles, who teaches political science at the De La Salle University, told reportr.

“It isn't really a show of force but a way to tell one's campaign story,” he added.

The physical setup and the place where candidates announce their bids also matter. Some politicians choose a venue with historical or community significance so they can claim its legacy, Arguelles said.

The political analyst cited Club Filipino in San Juan, for instance, which is significant to both the Filipino high society and the Liberal Party. Serving as the venue for the inauguration of former President Corazon Aquino in 1986, it was also here where her son, the late President Benigno Aquino III, announced his presidential bid in 2010.

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Seeking to continue the legacy, it was also in Club Filipino where Noynoy endorsed former Sen. Mar Roxas as the Liberal Party’s candidate for president in the 2016 elections.

“Rhetoric is important as it sets the tone of their campaign and defines the constituency they wish to talk to and mobilize,” Arguelles said.

'Show of Force' doesn't translate to votes

While a display of support from their followers may boost a candidate’s confidence, it doesn’t necessarily translate to actual votes. With proclamation rallies being done mostly virtually, it becomes harder to see if those who participate are genuine supporters, Atienza, the analyst, said.

“Some of them may actually have been convinced to participate in these rallies with promises of food or payment by the candidates' people,” she said.

Genuine supporters not only show up and cheer their politicians --- they also play multiple roles, according to Atienza. Many of them actively campaign for their bet and participate in planning activities to increase their chances of winning. Others help finance the campaign, and they usually represent major interests in the elections.

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Some supporters are not only loyal to their candidate but also to the principles and programs of their parties, Atienza said. For progressive groups, these are activists who can be very active and dedicated in coming up with strategies to win.

“Some who claim to be supporters actually are not loyal to the candidate or the party but the possible personal benefits they get; they can switch sides once they think other candidates can be more useful to them,” she added.

How to mount 'Show of Force' during COVID times

Pandemic forced restrictions on physical and mass gatherings, and the 2022 elections campaign is no exception. With the limitations brought about by the health crisis, candidates have to think of creative ways in order for the so-called “show of force” to work.

Arguelles cited the use of digital media when Sen. Panfilo Lacson announced his presidential bid, along with Senate President Vicente Sotto III as his running mate. The veteran politicians employed an “Eat Bulaga” type of program where they spoke before a studio audience and broadcast it on major television stations nationwide.

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“Watching it makes it clear the kind of audience they want to attract to their campaigns: the same audience that enjoys the noon time show that they've patterned their launching program after,” Arguelles said.

While candidates can make good use of digital and social media, no one can really predict how people, even the most avid supporters, will cast their votes, Atienza said.

“Show of ‘support’ can still be deceiving as loyalties are difficult to maintain among traditional politicians and typical voters,” she added.

In the end, regardless of how many people turn up in proclamation rallies, it’s still the candidate who gets biggest support on election day itself wins.

"Considering that voting is done physically, it would be strategic for candidates to try mobilizing their bases physically to check how many will go out for them on election day," Arguelles said.

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