#Journeyto30 The stories candidates tell
Epi Fabonan III (The Philippine Star) - February 13, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Shots were fired this week as the campaign period for this year’s presidential elections officially began.

The five presidential candidates, their running mates and senatorial lineups launched their campaigns in proclamation rallies in their respective bailiwicks on Feb. 9.

Among the most anticipated was the proclamation rally in Tondo of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and running mate Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

“I ran for president because I am mad at the government,” Duterte said before blurting out an expletive. In total, he let out six expletives while lamenting issues in the Aquino administration such as the bullet planting scandal at the Manila airport and corruption at the Bureau of Customs.

Meanwhile, former interior secretary Mar Roxas chose his provincial turf of Roxas, Capiz to launch his bid, where a sea of yellow gathered to watch his proclamation together with vice presidential candidate Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo.

“This fight is not easy because this is a fight worth fighting. I will never allow myself to be defeated by those who abuse our people, those who fool us and, most of all, I won’t let myself be defeated by thieves,” Roxas said, in reference to the corruption allegations against his opponent Vice President Jejomar Binay.

But the Vice President had “bullets” of his own against the administration he was once part of.

“The President’s term nears its end, but instead of reducing the country’s poverty rate, more people became poor under his administration,” Binay said in Mandaluyong City, where his proclamation with running mate Sen. Gringo Honasan was held.

Sen. Grace Poe, together with her running mate Sen. Francis Escudero, was also on the offensive during their proclamation rally at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila.

“I have been oppressed and belittled, but I rise to fight again after each battle, after the passing of each storm of my life and fate. They may well call it drama, but this is my real life. It is the reality that many Filipinos live everyday,” said Poe, whose candidacy is in limbo pending the Supreme Court’s decision on disqualification cases filed against her by those questioning her citizenship.

Meanwhile, Ilongga presidential candidate Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago found herself in Ilocano territory, where she and running mate Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. launched their bids.

“They’re not yet president and yet they are already violating laws,” she said, accusing fellow candidates of engaging in premature campaigning. She promised to jail politicians who pocketed their pork barrel funds, even as her running mate was himself accused of involvement in the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.

It’s typical for Philippine elections to be marred with gimmicks, promises, mudslinging, histrionics and appeal to emotion. Little has changed in how campaigns are done in the past five years — just look at The STAR’s front page from Feb. 10, 2010.

When the campaign period for the presidential elections kicked off that year, candidates resorted to different tricks up their sleeves to woo voters.

Some candidates appealed to our sense of nationalism at religiosity by unfurling giant flags, promising to restore moral values, and washing people’s feet à la Christ. Others tapped various pop culture references like Transformers and Star Trek, targeting younger voters. Like in previous elections, performances from celebrities, pop musicians and sexy dancers were present in every proclamation rally and campaign sortie.

Of course, elections would not be complete without drama. That year, former President Joseph Estrada implored the masses to “get back what was stolen” from them, in obvious reference to his late friend Fernando Poe Jr.’s loss in the 2004 presidential elections due to alleged electoral fraud committed by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Former Senate president Manny Villar, meanwhile, touted his rags-to-riches story of success, packaging himself as an everyman whose “hard work and perseverance” propelled him to the top of the corporate and political ladder. His ubiquitous jingle still echoes in our ears.

Adding spice to the campaign were the accusations. Candidates tried to connect one another to the allegedly corrupt Arroyo administration. Villar was immediately pinned with the “Villaroyo” tag, as he was purportedly Arroyo’s secret candidate as against party anointed Gibo Teodoro. Others questioned if his “urban poor” background was authentic. Then, there were questions regarding the ethics of his alleged “intervention” in the C-5 Extension Project to favor his real estate interests.

But it was Teodoro who suffered the most because of his actual connections to the Arroyo administration, being a former defense secretary and the standard bearer of Lakas-Kampi-CMD. That is aside from his being largely unpopular with voters.

Which brings us to the winning narrative: that of the enduring fight against graft and corruption — the narrative that thrust then senator Benigno Aquino III into the presidency.

Noynoy and his running mate, then senator Mar Roxas, had the upper hand. The scandals that caused Arroyo’s approval ratings to go down were still fresh in people’s minds. And the spirit of the EDSA Revolution throbbed strongly in people’s hearts following the death of former president and democracy icon Corazon Aquino in 2009. All they had to do was to capitalize on an electorate fed up with chronic corruption and instigate them into another revolution by ballots.

Newspapers have captured almost every election in our history, describing in vivid detail the vibrant, rowdy, and at times tense atmosphere. But in 2010, there arose another medium of news reporting and political campaigning — social media. It was perhaps the first election in our history where candidates began using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to reach voters. Electoral discussion was taken to another medium and level as netizens began discussing their views in Facebook posts and comments.

But even in the advent of new platforms such as social media, the narratives peddled in election campaigns remain unchanged. The key to political change, therefore, does not lie in politicians and the stories they frame, but in a curious and empirical electorate that sees behind the narrative and asks reasonable and critical questions.

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