RX for the 2022 elections

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2021 - 12:00am

You must be from the dwarf planet of Pluto if you haven’t noticed that pre-election campaigns have already begun in the Philippines. Since the Commission on Elections spokesman, my friend James Jimenez, has said that there would be no face-to-face campaign for the May 2022 elections, the internet has been inundated with such materials.

Just yesterday, my Facebook was flooded with images of a 2010 presidential candidate whose new campaign color is green, to stand for his alma mater on Taft Avenue. The copy is awkward, with words like “pulsating” and “Hail, 2022.” On the other hand, memes combining the names of possible candidates have also been floating. Some are witty, while others are downright obscene and not fit to print.

Since I am not running for the May 2022 elections, let me give some Rx based on my experiences in three elections.

First, the candidate – whether for president, vice-president, senator, congressman or other posts – should not only surround himself with people who are like him. This means people from the same social class and schools. This is a recipe for disaster, for your campaign team will be like your passive mirror. The team will just try to please you, not tell you what is wrong with your campaign, warts and all. They will just be rah-rah boys and girls.

I once worked for a candidate and sent fortnightly reports to his campaign manager, as part of my work. My reports consisted of the candidate’s popularity, or lack of it, in my bailiwicks: Pampanga, where I was born; Bicol Region, where my parents came from; the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) plus groups to which I belong; and education and youth, for I’ve been teaching for three decades. But the campaign manager just ignored my emails and did not even acknowledge them.

I did not know why he disliked me so, but one day, I found out. He called me up on the phone and said in a loud and angry voice, “Danton, why are you at number 9 in the ______ survey for senators and I’m only number 22? What happened?”

Look, I am the son of a military officer and a gentleman; I am kind unless provoked. So I told him, “Why are you angry at me? I think the people don’t like you. Not. At. All.”

He banged his phone and I just smiled the way the Cheshire cat must have smiled in “Alice in Wonderland.” He did run and the survey was correct: the bitter and envious man landed in the number 22 spot for senators.

Second, the candidate should know the issues of the day. I had attended many press briefings where the candidate didn’t even know what to say. One time,  I asked a senatorial candidate his stand on the West Philippine Sea, about the EEZ and what constitutes Philippine territory in terms of nautical miles. The poor sap glared at me, opened his laptop, searched a file and read what his research team had prepared for him.

Third, the candidate should practice proper hygiene and grooming. There is a famous photograph of a losing candidate raising his hands, with his left underarm soaked with sweat. Or another one of a short woman, her arms being raised in a campaign rally and her big belly spilling out of her raised campaign T-shirt. Or another candidate who was called Mr. Halitosis even by his own team, for his breath reeked of something resembling sulfur.

Fourth, the candidate should know her Philippine geography. Lucky is the candidate in this day and age, for she can easily look up the names of our rivers through Google. When voters ask if she will build bridges on the island, she can easily tick off the names of the rivers.

Fifth, the candidate should eat or drink whatever is being offered to her. I was on the campaign trail in the north when I saw a senatorial candidate eat the native fare being offered to her – a mound of something white. Later, her campaign team told me their candidate was offered a mound of termite eggs, as an offering from a group. Later, the candidate had an upset stomach and vomited, but oh boy, she won in that election – thanks for being game about eating what the voters offered her.

I remember the day the mayors in Pampanga called me up to complain about a candidate who never ate the great and glorious Kapampangan food they had offered. I called up the campaign team and relayed the hurt mayors’ message. But the candidate said “there were big flies atop the mountain of food being offered to me.” I told them the secret is this: with his bare hand, he should punch a hole under the mound of food, get the food from inside, eat it and then tell the mayors, “May I bring the food with me so my staff could also have their share?” Not only did he partake of the local fare, he also looked good because he had thought of what his staff would have for lunch.

For in the Philippines, election campaigns are touchy-feely, personality games. One should also be prepared. Many years ago, I saw mayor Jejomar Binay early one morning in the wet market of a town in Bicol, with an assistant in tow, having breakfast of fried rice and fried fish in a humble stall. I just stood at the back and listened to him as he asked the people what they needed to improve their lives. An old woman was passing by, so he stood up and kissed her hand in the traditional manner of greeting the old. He tousled the hair of a young boy selling the sweetmeat of tocino. His assistant was taking notes, and I’m sure this scene was repeated a thousand times in the many towns of the country, before mayor Binay decided to run.

And we all know what happened when he decided to run for vice president of the land.

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Email: danton.lodestar@gmail.com. Danton Remoto’s novel, Riverrun, is available at Shopee Philippines and Amazon worldwide.

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