FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - May 16, 2019 - 12:00am

Whatever surprises there were in the recently concluded polls happened at the local level. Several powerful political clans were thrown out of power.

Except for the end-game collapse of Jinggoy Estrada, there were no surprises in the senatorial race. The outcomes were as the pre-poll surveys said they would be.

It is not news that Cynthia Villar and Grace Poe are leading the senatorial race. We saw that coming.

The real news, deserving of a serious post-mortem, is how badly the self-appointed “opposition” Otso Diretso ticket fared. The failure is largely self-inflicted.

On Election Day, I listened to former Noynoy Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda discuss his group’s prospects on television. He said that as many as four of the Otso Diretso candidates could make it. That was false hope he was peddling.

He further claimed that the Otso Diretso slate did not have the resources to fight the “air war.” The man lies through his teeth. A study conducted by Nielsen and reported by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism shows Mar Roxas to be the biggest individual ad spender and Otso Diretso as the biggest political party ad spender.

This is not surprising. The so-called “Dilawans” have a history of heavy dependence on (black) propaganda-driven political enterprises.

Recall how, in the 2010 elections, they cleared the way for Noynoy Aquino’s win by orchestrating a heavy smear campaign to demolish Manny Villar. The same black propaganda campaign supported the imperious move to oust Chief Justice Renato Corona.

In the run-up to the 2016 elections, they demolished presidential contender Jojo Binay by painting him black.  The objective was to clear the way for Noynoy’s designated successor, Mar Roxas. Recall that Binay defeated Roxas in the 2010 vice-presidential contest. Things did not work out as planned, however, when Rodrigo Duterte drastically altered the configuration.

The Otso Diretso effort started off with a basic design flaw.

President Duterte enjoyed the support of 81 percent of Filipinos. Those who disagreed with him were in the single digits. He was a mountain on the political terrain. Instead of skirting around the dominant personality, however, the Otso Diretso chose to charge at the mountain head on.

No one survives a strategy as pig-headed as this one. True enough, the Otso Diretso slate was wiped out.

Otso Diretso’s campaign started off on the wrong foot. They tried very hard to make this a referendum on Duterte.

The pro-administration slate could not agree with them more. Any effort to picture this contest as a referendum on Duterte will only benefit the President’s allies. It activates the President’s high approval rating into a powerful electoral force.

Three candidates best illustrate the power of Duterte’s endorsement: Bong Go, Bato de la Rosa and Francis Tolentino. These three outsiders are entrenched deep within the win-column.

The Otso Diretso campaign should have enrolled in a seminar with Grace Poe. As an independent, she was running alone. She did not have the campaign resources of, say, a Mar Roxas. But she did not muster the conceit of designating herself as savior of the nation, as the Otso Diretso candidates did. She campaigned quietly but with a big statistic.

Within the brief campaign period, the Otso Diretso candidates tried to discredit the Duterte administration. That was an impossible mission.

By twisting facts and distorting perspectives, Otso Diretso tried to convince voters the nation faces perdition if they were not elected. That took a lot of presumptuousness to pull off. They obviously fell short of convincing enough voters to see the world in their twisted way.

In this desperate effort, the Otso Diretso candidates seemed a band of assassins out to constantly snipe at the administration.  They might have imagined themselves as crusaders out to save our democracy. But voters saw them as a gang of self-righteous obstructionists who will undermine effective government.

As all the other candidates made adjustments every week during the campaign period, responding to feedback and analyzing the numbers, the Otso Diretso band simply plodded on. It is the peculiar frailty of this wing in our politics that they are so comfortable staying deep in their own echo chamber, listening to their own voices.

Proof of this: they kept campaigning in school campuses where, the record shows, political opinion is always the reverse of what prevails in the larger society. Only hedonism can explain this waste of effort.

The purpose of participating in elections is to win elective positions. The Otso Diretso gang seemed to have forgotten that. They did not build a ground campaign to mobilize support, relying only on their untalented propaganda wing. They failed to build a party institution that will outlive this electoral episode.

The last straw of that overreliance on gimmickry was when some Otso Diretso candidates tried to mount jet skis to reach Scarborough Shoal. The shoal was pretty much beyond the range of those skis. They were taking our voters for fools. Fortunately, the Coast Guard prevented them from leaving port, effectively saving them from the tragic consequence of their own folly.  

The Otso Diretso slate achieved a record of sorts, however. For the first time in 80 years, no opposition candidate breaks into the senatorial win-column.

As reality set in, losing Otso bets sought consolation by saying their “principles” are intact. What those “principles” are we were never told.With the same air of mystery, Vice-President Leni Robredo consoled her badly beaten boys and girls that they had planted the “seeds” for the future. It is hard to imagine how those “seeds” might prosper on the hard ground of political incompetence.

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