Channeling his most famous role as “Heneral Luna”, actor John Arcilla led a 412,000-strong crowd at presidential candidate Leni Robredo's rally in Pasay City in declaring that they are not “pinklawan”, firing back at critics who use the pejorative to malign their campaign for the May 9 elections.
A conjugation of “pink” and “dilawan”, the term was also used by Manila Mayor Isko Moreno in an Easter Sunday press conference to describe Robredo’s camp, accusing them of calling other presidential bets to withdraw from the race. In the days that followed, he also called the vice president and her camp “bully” and even “matapobre”.
Mudslinging has been ingrained in Philippine politics so much that even before the campaign, a local chief executive was branded a “call boy”, which some people believe was Moreno in an apparent reference to his past life as an actor who starred in sexy films.
With just two weeks left before the elections, candidates are expected to pull all the stops to get more voters to their side, even if it means throwing dirt at their rivals. It’s a tactic that they believe would discourage voters to pick their opponents, a political analyst said.
“By discouraging them from voting other candidates, negative campaigning is believed to help the attacking candidate maximize votes either in absolute or relative terms,” University of the Philippines political science professor Alicor Panao told reportr.
“In other words, negative campaigning is meant to convert previously decided voters, persuade the undecided voters, and—if they cannot court more votes—at least trim the votes of the opponents,” he added.
Why candidates resort to negative campaigning
While many candidates launch their campaign by offering their programs and platforms to the electorate, some also resort to personally attacking their rivals hoping that the negative publicity would convert voters.
“Candidates and campaign machines resort to negative campaigning primarily because they believe it can help them win votes,” Panao said.
“Meanwhile, some candidates believe that by presenting or criticizing other candidate’s inconsistent proposals, they can help voters make more informed voting choices,” he added.
Negative campaigning can come in various forms, including criticizing the policies of a certain candidate, character assassination, use of pejorative or degrading language, and even insinuating rumors about the political opponent, Panao said.
Over the years, politicians have found themselves at the receiving end of bashing, with the late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago being called “Brenda”, short for “brain damage”, and former President Joseph Estrada being made fun of due to his limited English vocabulary.
How mudslinging can create a ‘boomerang effect’
Regardless of how it is made, negative campaigning may not be always favorable to the attacking candidate, as it could have a “boomerang effect.”
“Mudslinging can backfire, that is, voters might withdraw their support, if voters are turned off by the negative campaigning or if the campaign strategy exceeds what people deem as acceptable,” Panao said.
According to the political analyst, there are some studies which show that negative campaigning actually helps citizens become more engaged.
Take for example Robredo herself, who has been branded “lugaw” by her critics, but which she now uses to her advantage as her supporters distribute bowls of the popular Filipino dish to those who take part in her rallies.
Even so, Panao said Filipinos would have to wait until the elections are over before it can be said that the negative campaigning backfired.
“For this reason, it seems premature to call the bad rap Mayor Moreno received in social media purportedly after asking Vice President Robredo to quit the race, as backlash. While this may be what some groups, or some contenders would want to portray, I believe it is too early to tell,” he added.
After all, no candidate may be completely innocent of mudslinging, even Robredo, Panao said. He cited the vice president’s interview with television host Boy Abunda in January 2022 where she called her closest rival Bongbong Marcos a liar, and Moreno as having no clear stance on issues.
How to see through the political noise
As the May 9 elections draw closer, expect some candidates to go all out with their negative campaigning as they try to win over more voters.
But as responsible voters, the public should be able to see through the political noise and not let mudslinging dictate their choice on election day, Panao said.
“Bear in mind that campaign spiels are claims and they cannot be taken at face value. Everything that a candidate says is self-serving. Those who engage in negative campaigning believe their message will resonate with voters who will then draw votes away from the rival candidates,” he said.
“Negative campaigns are meant to take advantage of your emotions and translate them into voting behavior. It is important to be always critical, especially of the candidates we admire,” he added.
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