The Explainer: Modern electoral exercise

That was from the documentary, “The War Room.” At the conclusion of the successful Clinton campaign, political strategist James Carville took a bow and spoke proudly of his profession. Our coming election is the same as any other modern electoral exercise: there are professional pros trying to make the news and influence how you vote. 

How this is done, is our topic for tonight.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.




Explainee, have you heard of Stephen Covey? I think most of our viewers who work in companies and have taken leadership training have.

I’m bringing up Stephen Covey because in private life, we find many people obsessing over leadership, while in public life, we keep obsessing about how leaders seem to lack leadership skills. And so, Stephen Covey is not just about your planners and seminars, he can be about politics, too.

I’d like to ask you to read this excerpt, from a speech by Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D:

In his famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey complains that the long-standing “character ethic” has been replaced by the “cult of personality”.  Suddenly leadership has been reduced to a set of “techniques”, whether it’s “winning through intimidation”, “thriving on chaos”, or simply knowing how to “make friends and influence people”.   It’s the ultimate triumph of image over substance.  Why bother learning how to be a leader when it’s so much easier and simpler merely to look like a leader?   Learn how to dress, how to smile, how to use a Palm Pilot, toss in a little Botox, and presto… instant leadership!  Except it’s not.


Covey: for 150 years, the focus was on Character Ethic: integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule. Success is measured by integrating these principles with one’s basic character.

In recent decades, the focus has been on Personality ethics:

Covey himself wrote –Explainee, would you like to read?

The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are. And if our words and our actions come from superficial human relations techniques (the Personality Ethic) rather than from our own inner core (the Character Ethic), others will sense that duplicity. We simply won’t be able to create and sustain the foundation necessary for effective interdependence.


So let’s say we’re bot unique: we Filipinos are like people anywhere else, and anywhere else, the politics of character has given way to the politics of personality. Or to be more precise, in politics, the politics of personality today is about the politics of celebrity: and celebrities are as susceptible to fashions as hemlines. We elected lawyers long ago; we started electing actors; today we’re tiring of actors and who knows what the new political fad might be?

Now, explainee, I have here in my hand a book titled “The Vote of the Poor” by the Institute of Popular Culture of the Ateneo de Manila University. I’d like you to read conclusion number 6 of the book, please.

Corruption is widely seen as making a bad leader. To be good, a leader must have the following attributes: (a) God-fearing, (b) helpful, (c) loyal, (d) responsible, (e) intelligent, (f) hardworking, (g) faithful to one’s word, (h) principled, and (i) trustworthy. Rural and female participants look for intelligence, while urban participants value religiosity. Older participants give priority to helpfulness, while youth and male groups emphasize a leader’s sense of responsibility. Participants tend to cast their sight on local officials for examples of good leaders and on national officials for examples of bad leaders.


Let’s make some connections. Let me suggest to you and our viewers, that there’s no difference between what Stephen Covey says we should retain –a principle-centered approach to leadership- and the views of our poor countrymen and women, as borne out in this book.

The problem is, if rich and poor alike, we know what makes for good, or desirable leaders, rich or poor alike, we also tend to say our present crop of leaders, on the whole, are uninspiring.

But let me suggest something further to you.

Just because a candidate doesn’t provide it, doesn’t mean the public hunger for good leadership isn’t there. It only proves that if the larger public has a sense of traditional, ethical values, our political class has no feeling for those values.

And so, if you can’t feed the hungry with something nutritious, you can feed them with junk food: and this is where political strategy enters the picture.

The American writer writer Garry Wills defined leadership as “Trinitarian”: that is,not just the push and pull between a leader and his followers, not merely the stories of people who have had great numbers either pushing them forward or being bullied forward by them, but rather the leaders who mobilized “others toward a goal shared by leader and followers.” As Wills points out, “one-legged and two-legged chairs do not, of themselves, stand. A third leg is needed. Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.”

Now if you lack common goals, how then, do leaders still manage to get followers to secure them victory at the polls?


When we return, if the more things change, the more some things remain the same, what is changing in terms of political campaigns? It’s all about reading the political numbers.




That was the second part of James Carville’s closing speech to fellow campaign workers, in the documentary “The War Room.” Or, as the late Max Soliven put it, there’s the deathless expression of the late, great Amang Rodriguez: “In the long of time, we shall success.”

As these political cartoons from the 1930s to the 1980s show, the recipe has remained simple.


[let me bear your cross]

Plus more promises…


[here they rest in peace]

Never mind if they’re left unfulfilled…


[king on cushion]

Plus cash, whether properly or improperly earned…


[guy with tuba]

Plus machinery, including so-called command votes…


Plus mudslinging –in this case, Ferdinand Marcos accusing Diosdado Macapagal of collaborating with the Japanese during the war, and Macapagal bringing up Marcos’s trial for the murder of his father’s political opponent-

And the usual postwar guns, goons, and gold, equals victory even if it thwarted the people’s will. And what can anyone do about it but complain?

Politics requires evolving or being unable to survive. Some candidates have influenced major changes in how we do our politics.

Diosdado Macapagal made a point of visiting every barrio –no baranggays then- in the country.

Ferdinand Marcos perfected going around by helicopter…

But their innovations still relied on the tried-and-tested formula that the measure of a political bandwagon was the size and noise of your rallies and your miting de avance.

But even back then, the days of the Marcos-Macapagal-Manglapus three cornered fight already saw surveys as headline material.  And surveys would only become more crucial for determining how campaign resources should be spent in an election.

In 1965, our population was 31.7 million people; today it’s about 85.5 million. The old strategies of campaigning door-to-door, of having rallies, fabulously expensive even in 1965, and much more so in the recent elections we remember: 1986 when we numbered 55 milion; in 1992, when we had 63 million, and 1998 when we had 75 million is simply impossible when the estimate of our population’s grown by 7 million just between 2001 and 2004.

With such a huge population, the only way to track whether your campaign’s doing well, is to use surveys to track all sorts of things.

You can track how candidates are doing individually, and how they’re comparing to each other.

Here’s how Pulse Asia’s been tracking the top 24 senatorial candidates, as graphed in’s Eleksiyon2007 site:

And here’s how SWS has been tracking the same group:

You can track how the surveys compare to each other. Input the margin of error and they’re remarkably similar:

You can track whose endorsement is helpful, and whose endorsement hurts. Take this recent survey by SWS, commissioned by Senator Serge Osmena:

In that survey, here’s one of the findings:


If Candidates is endorsed by:  WouldVote Would Not Vote Unaffect

GMA                                             18%   31%          49%

Fidel Ramos                                   17%           32%           43

Joseph Estrada                               36%          18%            49

Cory Aquino                                   36%          18%            43

Susan Roces                                   36%  17%          44

Kris Aquino                                    27%           22%           48


The same survey also asked other things: it tested negative messages against the administration:

And tested positive messages about the administration:


Which may seem pretty straight forward. A political party wants to know its strengths and weaknesses relative to its opponent. But what happens when they surveys themselves become news? As they always do. Then it becomes a matter of spin-a-win. To win, you have to spin the survey results. And if you can’t spin the results, then release spin on the survey firms.


In the May 2, 2007 editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer:


The paper pointed out that complaints about some of the questions SWS asked, were puzzling.

For example, take this April 29, 2006 entry in Philippine Commentary –that’s the blog of Dean Jorge Bocobo whose been our guest to explains how surveys work.


In the entry, Bocobo pointed to an SWS survey commissioned by Pedro R. Laylo in March, 2006:


You can see the questions point to whose side Mr. Laylo was on. And if you had any doubts, the Philippine Information Agency then spent our tax pesos to take out ads in the Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer. The ads were titled “Let The Numbers Speak: It’s Time To Move Forward.”

Fair enough. If the Philippine Information Agency can praise favorable questions, how can anyone object to Serge Osmena’s hiring SWS to test the strength and weaknesses of opposition messages?

And so, again, welcome to the wonderful world of spin. When we come back, our guest explains to us how it all comes to together: old tricks, new tricks, old realities, and new political realities.


My view


In less than a week, we’ll be going to the polls to vote for our local and national officials. In the case of our congressmen, this year marks a century of lower house elections. That’s a long track record, 1907 to 2007. In terms of the senate, this marks the 66th year since we first elected senators nationally.

We’ve seen how the numbers can tell us some truths, but also, how they can be fudged, so that they seem to lie. But the surveys are only a snapshot: it’s election day that tells us the real picture.

Except that because of guns, goons, gold and dagdag-bawas, the real picture can be Photoshopped to distort, even hide, the real score.

But you and I should at least be in the picture. The best reason for doing so, was provided by rural female interviewed in The Vote of the Poor:

Tungod kay kung dili mabotar, dili kita tawo sa gobyerno, mura tag tagalasang.

Because, she said, if we do not vote, we are not people of government, but like those of the jungle.

So please vote. And stay for the counting.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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