Market researcher Robert binge-watches "Designated Survivor" in the evenings to unwind while watching politicians devour each other, yet when a Filipino political drama unfolded at the Comelec in November, he was anything but entertained because it's happening in real life.
Such machinations could happen only on Netflix, the 24-year-old said. President Rodrigo Duterte, his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, and his two close aides in the Senate Bong Go and Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, all filed and switched their candidacies close to the Nov. 15 deadline, with presidential aspirant Bongbong Marcos waiting for the dust to settle.
“It's frustrating that this happens in real life. It’s nothing close to entertainment when you see how laws are bent to the point that they are almost broken to favor someone’s interest,” Robert told reportr.
For MJ , a 26-year-old PR specialist, the elections have become a “political circus” as politicians kept the public guessing about their plans and pulled all the stops to get media attention.
“Bilang isang botante, naramdaman kong hindi sila seryoso sa paglilingkod sa bayan. Lumalabas na kaya sila tumatakbo ay para manatili sila sa kapangyarihan. Nakakagalit at nakakapanlumo bilang isang Pilipino,” she said.
Political drama is nothing new in Philippine elections, where candidates with huge popularity and great showmanship almost always win. But like Robert and MJ, not everyone welcomes political gimmicks, an analyst said.
“Not all voters are happy with too many gimmicks, especially if the gimmicks insult some voters' intelligence and ability to discern intentions of candidates,” University of the Philippines political science professor Maria Ela Atienza told reportr.
“This can work perhaps for certain types of voters but if some politicians rely on too many gimmicks, some voters might get turned off and insulted,” she added.
Why do candidates put on a show?
Candidates use political gimmicks hoping that these would give them the attention they need to persuade voters. From appearing in television shows to doing song and dance numbers in campaign rallies, these tactics help politicians sway people into giving them their votes.
“This proceeds from the assumption that these tactics resonate with people, facilitate name recall, and ultimately win votes,” UP political science professor Alicor Panao told reportr.
Some candidates also use publicity stunts to divert attention away from their opponents who have better public service record, Atienza said.
“Candidates who do these publicity stunts and gimmicks are assuming that most voters rely on mass media for political information. These could be strategies that they hope their competitors will have difficulty of responding to,” she added.
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Why do some stunts fail?
Political gimmicks don't always work as planned, worse, they can backfire. Some politicians pull stunts to attack their opponents to sway voters to their side.
“Criticisms may be substantive, such as differences in policy directions. But it can also include character assassinations, use of pejorative language, or concocting rumors about the opponent’s private life,” Panao said.
“As in conventional campaigns, the motivation for why candidates and their machineries resort to negative campaigning is similar—they believe these tactics can win votes,” he added.
Presidential aspirant Isko Moreno was criticized for using the word “yellowtard” in a recent remark on Vice President Leni Robredo. “Yellow” has been used as a derogatory term for those identified with the Liberal Party, chaired by Robredo, who now adopts pink for her campaign.
When Duterte’s allies took advantage of the substitution rule to place last-minute candidates, the public saw this as gimmicks and publicity stunts are “in another level,” Atienza said.
“They show privileged people, families and groups publicly bargaining and resorting to publicity gimmicks and stunts preoccupied with retaining or capturing power and influence while the country is still suffering from an ongoing pandemic and the resulting economic hardships,” she said.
“They do not care for the welfare of the people, even if they claim to be simply giving in to the demands of their supporters,” she added.
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How to see through the political noise
When the campaign starts in January, expect some candidates to come up with more stunts and gimmicks to get the attention of voters. Filipinos should see through the political noise and know their candidates very well, analysts Atienza and Panao said.
“People should really learn lessons from the country's history, study the candidates' track record and character, and demand that these candidates answer allegations and accusations against them as well as explain their programs of government and concrete policies and programs that they will champion,” Atienza said.
“If people really feel that these candidates are merely resorting to publicity stunts and gimmicks, then they should not vote for them,” she said.
For Panao, it’s essential for voters and the media to be more discerning of what candidates say or do.
“Citizens should not trust information merely because it validates or reinforces their beliefs. Keeping one’s logic in place is one of the best defenses against fake news,” he said.
Voters should also learn to sift through candidates’ messages and distinguish platitudes from policy statements, Panao said.
“Just because we prefer particular candidates does not mean they are incapable of motherhood statements. In the same vein, just because we dislike particular candidates does not mean they have nothing concrete to offer,” he added.
In the end, candidates will be elected based on their capacity to lead. “It is the substance of the candidate that matters, not the showmanship,” Panao said.
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