The hot topic at my favorite watering hole in Daly City is the 2019 midterm election in the Philippines, scheduled on May 13. That date is an unlucky one for the superstitious and will certainly be unlucky for most candidates, but lucky for some.
Only 12 Senate seats are open for who knows how many wannabe senators have filed their candidacies. Then there are those running for the House of Representatives, including the party-list candidates. That’s several dozens, if not hundreds. Plus the provincial, municipal and city officials.
“That’s a lot of candidates,” says Pete behind the bar. “And a lot of money going around.”
“Pista na naman!” exclaims Bert who is nursing his beer at a table. “Alam mo na…vote-buying and vote-selling.”
“Election time is the only time that the common tao makes money off the politicians,” says Danny at another table. “The rest of the time, the politicians make money off the common tao.”
“In the Philippines, running for public office is like going into business,” says Pete with unveiled sarcasm. “Siyempre one has to invest in the business.”
“And siyempre, they expect to make a profit,” adds Bert. “So, the first thing the winning candidates do is concentrate on the ROI — the return on investment.”
“But there are winners and there are losers,” butts in Danny. And he mimics Tony, who owns the noodle restaurant nearby. Danny puts his fingers over his eyes and squints: “Minsan maliit kita. Minsan malaki kita. Minsan wala kita.”
Laughter follows that until they all realize that the joke is on them.
“What happens to the common tao?” asks Danny and he answers his own question. “Wala kita. Wala kain.”
“Serves us right!” declares Bert. “Nagpapa-gago kasi tayo. Look at the candidates running for senator. Puede mo nang tawaging The Plunderers. Pero, mananalo pa rin dahil gago ang botante.”
“That’s us!” says Danny who is a dual citizen and plans to vote at the Philippine consulate. “We voters never learn. We elect Noynoy Aquino for president. What happened? Buck-passer pala. We elect Duterte president dahil daw may change. Short-change pala. We elect Trump president. Hustler pala. Wala tayong panalo.”
At this, Art, who has been quietly guzzling his beer in a corner, speaks up. “Ako mananalo. I’m running for Senator. Tiyak na walang talo!”
I have also been quietly drinking my beer without saying a word. But Art’s remark intrigues me. “What makes you think you’re qualified?” I ask.
“What makes you think the other candidates are qualified?” he shoots back. “Besides, what qualifications do you need to run for the Senate, anyway?”
I throw it right back at him: “Well, what do you think are the qualifications?”
“First of all, you’ve got to have name recognition.”
“You mean, popularity?”
“Popularity. Notoriety. It doesn’t matter, as long as your name rings a bell and people can pick you out from among the long list of candidates,” he replies with authority.
You would have thought people ran for public office based on integrity, patriotism, leadership, intellectual capacity, and all that noble stuff, but Art seems to know better.
“Remember how Ramon Revilla lost when he first ran for the Senate?” he continues. “That was because he was listed as Jose Bautista and voters couldn’t tell him from Joseng Batute. But when he ran under his screen name, he won. In advertising, that’s called brand awareness.”
Art has obviously consulted a marketing expert.
“Of course,” he adds, “Revilla was lucky Nardong Putik wasn’t around to run against him. Putik would have beaten him hands down.”
Art has more to say about name recognition: “You must be the most or the first of whatever you are…like the biggest plunderer.”
“You mean, Bong Revilla?” (Acquitted by the Sandiganbayan last December – Ed.)
“Or you must be the biggest alalay.”
“You mean Bong Go?”
“Or the biggest berdugo.”
Nobody wants to comment on that one, except Pete at the bar. “Bato bato sa langit!” he puns.
“But you’re not the most or the first of anything,” I remind Art.
“Which brings me to another important qualification,” he parries, ignoring my comment. “Money.”
“Are you saying you have a hundred million to spend?” I ask incredulously.
“That brings me to still another vital qualification: financial backers.” Art seems to have figured out all the angles. “You’ve got to have backers with plenty of money who are willing to bet on your candidacy.”
“Bet? You mean, as in gambling?”
“Well, isn’t that what politics is all about? Businessmen and special interest groups place bets on candidates who can pay them back with favors when they win.”
“And if they lose?”
“Candidates lose but special interest groups don’t,” is his quick reply. “They bet on all the horses, if you know what I mean.”
“Are you saying that you have financial backers to fund your campaign?”
He ignores this and makes another point: “That brings me to the next important qualification: a political machinery.”
“You mean, ward leaders, poll watchers and that sort of thing?”
“Plus private army, dirty tricks specialists, media retainers, the whole works.”
“Are you saying you have all of those?”
He ignores me again. “That brings me to the most important qualification when running for public office: Utak.” With a wink, he points a finger at his head.
“I learned this from a friend who ran in one election,” Art continues. “He managed to get on the senatorial tickets of both Imelda Marcos and Erap Estrada who were both running for president. Imelda and Erap had name recognition, money, financial backers, and even a political machinery, but they had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for candidates.”
“So they picked your friend,” I say.
“Right. He knew the right people, so he landed on both tickets. He got a share of the campaign funds which he pocketed. He took advantage of the political machinery, without spending anything.”
“And he won?”
“No, he lost,” Art replies. “But he made a lot of money. So he also won!”
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.