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Queen's Gambit: Why Possible Presidential Bets Keep Us Guessing

Politics is like a game of chess.
by Erwin Colcol
Sep 15, 2021
Photo/s: Shutterstock

In one of Netflix's quarantine hits, "The Queen's Gambit", accidental chess prodigy Beth Harmon would look to the ceiling to map out how to go for the kill by being one step ahead. That's the same strategy at play as decision time nears for potential candidates for president of the Philippines -- keep opponents guessing.

For months, supporters chanted "Run, Sara, Run" and one month before the filing of certificates of candidacy, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio answered with a "no". She is not running to succeed her father, President Rodrigo Duterte.

Her closest rivals in the polls have also yet to categorically declare their plans -- Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Manny Pacquiao. In the 2022 presidential race, one that will determine the Philippines' post pandemic direction, only Sen. Panfilo Lacson has made it clear that he is running for president.

Why do some politicians keep the public and their opponents waiting? It’s because politics is like a game of chess where candidates need to be one step ahead of their opponents, campaign strategist Gerardo Eusebio said.

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“Sometimes politicians play these games to offset opposition, to keep them guessing. If you keep your opponent guessing, that would be in your advantage,” Eusebio, who also teaches political science at the De La Salle University, told reportr.

You would know how to play your cards better. It's like playing chess, there's what you call a gambit. In basketball, you can fake, you can throw pass,” he added.

It's an expensive decision

Launching a national campaign, especially during a pandemic, could be more costly than ever. Eusebio, who has been a campaign strategist for over 15 years, estimated that presidential candidates might need around P2 billion to campaign without the usual rallies and motorcades.

Which is why it is only practical for politicians to wait it out and see first if they have a good chance of winning the elections before formally announcing their candidacies, the analyst said.

“It's just common for politicians to test the waters themselves because they want to find out the reactions. What is important now for them would be the reaction both of the people and their competitors,” he said.

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In deciding whether to push through with their election plans, Eusebio said candidates generally would need to consider three things: their campaign resources, the pulse of the people, and their potential contenders.

“Even if you're really dead set in running, one factor that would really dictate a lot of thinking is where would you get your resources,” the analyst said.

In the Philippines, political parties usually provide the logistics and the funding for a campaign, according to Eusebio. Sometimes, candidates join a certain party not necessarily because their advocacies align, but because of what the party can contribute to their political career.

Survey results also play a crucial role in helping politicians decide about running in the elections. Unlike advice from friends and campaign consultants, survey results are scientific and can guide potential candidates on which areas they are strong or have high awareness ratings, Eusebio said.

“Another, very tricky, is the number of candidates that could possible vie for the presidency. You're talking now of maybe five. Also, the combinations are very, very important,” he added.

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Take the case of Lacson and his running mate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III. Before formally launching their bids, the two veteran politicians went on a consultative tour and talked with local leaders, ensuring first that they would get enough support should they run in the 2022 elections.

Robredo spoke with other potential candidates with the goal of forming the “best unity possible” to run against the one backed by the Duterte administration.

There has to be 'public clamor'

Politicians also delay their announcement or even back out initially from the race just so they can feel the clamor of the people, which would eventually push them to pursue their political plans, according to Eusebio.

If you say that you are not running, you can now feel the pulse of the people, if they really like you to run. Some would come to you, knock on your door, 'Ma'am, takbo ka na Ma'am. Kailangan ka ng bayan,’” he said.

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“Some politicians actually play on this. Parang ilalagay nila, ‘Clamor is too much, I cannot refuse the people,’” he added.

Prior to the 2016 elections, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte shunned talk of a presidential campaign up until the filing of candidacies. He later substituted for a partymate and the rest is history.

You should assert democracy

As election season comes in full swing, people would understandably get excited or even impatient over the political plans of their bets. Several hashtags, including #DapatSiLeni and #RunSaraRun, have flooded social media recently explaining why these candidates should vie for national posts next year.

While potential candidates are still in the process of making the biggest decision of their lives, Eusebio said it’s up to the Filipino people to come together and show their bets their support.

“If I were the public and I'm getting impatient, what I'll do is I'll be more proactive,” the analyst said. “The people should show it themselves. They should manifest if they really want change.”

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After all, like the elections itself, pushing a candidate to run is part of democracy, Eusebio said.

Democracy is when the people show their empowerment, their vigor, their assertion. You assert your democracy.”

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