FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - December 9, 2015 - 9:00am

Mar Roxas’ campaign strategy may have been working on entirely wrong assumptions. This might explain why he has been faring so badly in the surveys despite his robust war chest.

The last SWS nationwide survey tested for the value of endorsements. That survey shows President Benigno Aquino’s endorsement carries negative value for the candidate he blesses. It is a reverse Midas touch.

In the National Capital Region, the endorsement of the sitting president is most debilitating. In this most populous region, Roxas’ ratings are mired in the single digits.

One wonders how far the Roxas campaign could go carrying the weight of the sitting president like a monkey on the candidate’s back. I have it on good source that it is President Aquino’s idea to make Mar Roxas seem like a clone, mouthing his vacuous “Daang Matuwid” mantra and walking around wearing that ridiculous yellow shirt and ribbon.

Mar Roxas seems content playing the role of a puppet, indistinguishable from the puppeteer. He is not trying to evolve a political identity separate from his endorser. The two men seem to have a rather curious, slightly perverse, relationship that drives them to political oblivion. 

Instead of curing the basic flaw of having no distinct political personality, the Roxas campaign has been trying to offset the popularity handicap by heavy advertising in the provinces. One veteran politician laughingly describes this strategy as “surrounding the cities from the countryside” – borrowing Mao’s obsolete dictum.

There is a serious problem with this. Three-quarters of our voters live in highly urbanized towns and cities. The huge tarpaulins in the remote communities will yield the least bang per buck. Those tarpaulins are reportedly being collected by the rural poor and used to reinforce their dwellings. At least they result in some social good.

This strategy is complemented by face-time with beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer program. The objective here is to finally convert the dole-out program into a comprehensive vote-buying operation. This is traditional politics in its worst form, representing the perfection of pork-barrel politics.

I am not sure if this operation, masterminded by DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, will yield tide-turning results. The poorest income bracket is also the strongest constituency for Vice-President Jejomar Binay, Roxas’ most resilient rival.

Another cure applied by the Roxas campaign for his chronically low survey ratings is massive advertising. He has flooded radio and television outlets with highly intermittent ads. This includes all sorts of celebrity endorsements that may, of course, be had for a price.

There is a threshold where intermittent ads cross from being entertaining to being annoying. The Roxas campaign has crossed that. The subtext the audience gets from such high-intermittence advertising is that the Roxas campaign is simply awash with cash.

But money can’t buy Roxas love.

Ads are useful only in building up name-recall. Roxas already has 100% name-recall. His grandfather, a namesake, appears on the peso bill. There is Roxas City and Roxas Avenue.

We all know he exists. That knowledge of his existence does not translate into voter enthusiasm for his candidacy. That is the riddle the Roxas campaign cannot seem to crack. All his lazy campaign handlers are content throwing more money at the problem of poor voter reception.

Right now voters see Mar Roxas simply as the rich candidate, with billions to burn, vainly trying to buy his way to the presidency.

All the spending the LP seems ready to do to pump up an unpopular candidacy threatens to eclipse the expensive 1969 Marcos campaign for reelection. That instance of administration overspending resulted in hyperinflation in the wake of elections. The perception that Marcos bought his way to a second term also caused deep political polarization in the aftermath.

Roxas should study this historical episode closely. It is entirely possible he could spend his way to the presidency (helped by the disqualification of his rivals).

But he will rule over a deeply cynical citizenry, a nation unwilling and unable to love its leader. He will be the monkey on the people’s back.


In many developing societies, power distributors sell their supply to consumers on a prepaid basis.

The technology is there. The consumers, especially the poor, like the technology. It helps them monitor their power consumption and fit that to their budget – much like prepaid SIM cards on phones.

Meralco has the technology. Consumers here like it as well. But the prepaid power distribution program is being run only on a pilot basis.

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) allowed Meralco to install 40,000 prepaid connections. That has been fully deployed.

The power distribution company proposes to add 100,000 more prepaid connections because of positive consumer feedback.

Meralco has a customer base of 4.5 million. Those on the prepaid program constitute a very small percentage of that customer base. The distribution utility reports that more and more clients want to get power on a prepaid basis.

One could count the many advantages of widening the prepaid power distribution program. Government-supported mass housing projects, for instance, could save on electricity bill deposits, enabling the funds earmarked for this to be used to build social service facilities. The distribution utility will likewise benefit from lesser customer defaults on power bills.

The new technology that enables prepaid power billing is a win-win solution for everyone.  It is a wonder the distribution utility does not seem to be widening its use fast enough and the regulatory agency does not seem to share the enthusiasm of consumers for prepaid solutions.


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