FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Let us not kid ourselves. The campaign has already begun.

There is an “official” campaign period, to be sure. It starts early February. The early schedule for filing of candidacies (due to ballot printing requirements), however, has determined the contenders and finalized the team-ups. It has become impossible to stop early campaigning.

When calamity struck northern Luzon last week, the candidates were quick to be seen bringing aid to the stricken areas. Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo were quickly seen in Baler – although at the height of the storm, the pair were in Mindanao attending another of those assemblies of cash transfer beneficiaries in a thinly disguised exercise in winning their votes.

Several congressmen have complained about the use of the cash transfer program to win votes. But that is the very purpose of that program. It is another mechanism for buying political support evolved by the most comprehensive pork barrel state ever assembled. It is precisely Dinky Soliman’s role in the Mar campaign to convert the millions of dole recipients into LP voters.

With the start of actual campaigning, the deployment of black propaganda brigades cannot be far behind.

The LP campaign, which really began in 2010, has evolved its black propaganda capabilities to the fullest. Recall that the Noynoy 2010 campaign relied almost entirely on vilifying both Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and chief rival Manuel Villar.

Soon after Noynoy’s victory (and Mar’s defeat), the black propagandists were quickly back in action. Rumors were spread about Vice President Jejomar Binay’s health. When that tack failed to gain traction, the negative campaign turned to the Senate “subcommittee” hearings.

The past few months, the anti-Binay smear campaign was supplemented with an effort to disqualify Grace Poe and raise questions about Rodrigo Duterte’s health. When Miriam Defensor Santiago blindsided the LP scenario by filing for the presidency, her health was raised as a campaign issue.

Poe attributed the effort to get her disqualified to LP special operations. Duterte, who did not file his candidacy, came out swinging. The Davao City mayor called out LP operatives for claiming he had cancer.

The fact is that it is Duterte’s first wife who is suffering from the affliction. The black propaganda truly agitated Duterte. The mayor threatened to reveal more about why Mar Roxas should not become president.

Here is a man, we know, who does not issue threats lightly. If he says he has damaging things to reveal about Roxas, the LP has reason to fret. Duterte has a significant following, even if he refuses to run for the highest office.

We all await his revelations with bated breath. Those revelations could shape the outcomes.

Burdened with all the failings of the administration it threatens to prolong, the Roxas campaign has become more reliant on smear tactics. In the case of Duterte, at least, reliance on negative campaigning will likely backfire.

The LP should try its hand at aboveboard, affirmative campaigning – the sort that produces statesmen and not political cripples.

More levies

A couple of months ago, there was great furor over the decision of the Bureau of Customs to subject Balikbayan boxes to full inspection.

There are valid reasons for doing so, although it is physically impossible to enforce considering the sheer number of such boxes coming in, especially during the holiday season. There is evidence Balikbayan boxes are being used to smuggle drugs and firearms into the country.

The public’s adverse response to the order to fully inspect the boxes was highly emotional. In the main, these boxes represented the hard work of our OFWs and their love for families they miss sorely. Protestors decried as well the looting of the boxes opened for Customs inspection.

Adverse public reaction forced the authorities to backtrack. The public was assured the iconic boxes will be physically inspected only when x-ray checks showed enough reason to do so.

That will not end controversy over these boxes.

The costs of sending home Balikbayan boxes are likely to rise very soon. This as a consequence of the decision of the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to raise levies on all container vans coming into our ports.

According to news reports, the BoC management committee decided during its Oct. 12 meeting to further raise the levy imposed on containers. That will be the third such increase this year.

In the first round of increases, the BoC raised levies by P60,000 per container. They quickly followed this up with another P40,000 increase. The latest increase in levies will add an estimated P180,000 to the charges already imposed.

Meanwhile, according to BoC sources, the Balikbayan boxes will not only be subject to 100% x-ray examination at the port, they will also be subjected to 100% physical inspection to be conducted at the forwarders’ facilities. That looks to be a tedious process likely to substantially delay forwarding of the boxes. The process seems to be in defiance of President Aquino’s orders to the Bureau at the height of public protests.

Expect a new round of noisy protests to burst forth after the newly mandated procedures are carried out. The BoC may have its technocratic reasons for doing this and they may, after all, be valid. But that will not suffice to avert the emotional public response when it comes to these boxes.

This early, rumors are being spread that the increase in levies is intended to help fund the LP campaign. Those rumors may be entirely baseless. That does not guarantee they will not be believed – especially in this highly charged election season.


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