All roads lead to the status quo
At a dinner on Monday night, I asked a veteran former senator (not affiliated with the opposition) why the President seemed unconcerned with backing a full slate, and he responded with a shrug. He observed that “in 2016 he didn’t lift a finger for his Senate slate then,” adding that “the President only seems to be concerned with the candidacies of Bong Go and Bato dela Rosa. And maybe Tolentino.”
I asked the former senator if the candidacy of Go was a case of being kicked upstairs, meaning he’s lost favor, as some have suggested, or whether it has the full backing of the President. He answered in this manner: “No, Go wants it. Anyway, he will continue to hold office in the Palace; there’s no way he will spend much time in the Senate.” The former lawmaker believes Go has spent time and effort to knock out administration bets, supposedly on the premise that removing them will raise his rankings in the polls (two administration or friendly-to-the-administration bets are expected to be disqualified by the Comelec: Osmeña and Pimentel).
One could add, based on the President’s plugging them in recent speeches, that the President’s Senate slate extends to endorsing Freddie Aguilar and Imee Marcos besides the three mentioned by the veteran lawmaker. As recently as the Christmas holidays, though, it kept being floated that the President would announce a full slate then; but the holidays have come and gone, and the campaign season is upon us, without the President doing so. His personal list, which is the one that matters, remains five. For what it’s worth, his own list are mainly Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban): Go, Dela Rosa and Tolentino, while Aguilar was formerly PDP-Laban but is running as an independent; Marcos is Nacionalista Party (NP).
The five are part of the coalition of local barons known as Hugpong ng Pagbabago’s slate, to be sure. But that slate carries with it a blithe disregard for the possibility the overly obedient will take it literally. In Pampanga, yesterday, Gov. Lilia Pineda enthusiastically endorsed Hugpong’s list of 13 (five PDP-Laban; three NP; one Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino; one Nationalist People’s Coalition; one Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino; one Lakas–Christian Muslim Democrats; one independent) senatorial candidates, and aside from Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo chiming in to also endorse the bloated ticket, it’s the President’s daughter, the mayor of Davao City, who was front and center in the news, ensuring Hugpong, and not the supposed administration party, PDP-Laban, that got everyone’s attention. Conspicuously absent from Hugpong’s list are candidates who have been loudly, fiercely devoted to the President, like Raffy Alunan who ended up, at least while his candidacy lasted, in the outer fringes of presidential forgetfulness like Harry Roque.
Of course, the President’s seeming indifference can be attributed to a pragmatic reading of the possible results, which puts, at most, two slots in the column of the opposition, meaning the administration will retain its big, tame coalition in the Senate, regardless of how the various administration slates actually do. Enough to keep the administration comfortable to 2020 at least, before the realignments in anticipation of 2022 get in earnest by 2021.
While the field’s upper echelons are crowded with incumbent senators and former senators making a bid to return to the Senate (a natural enough advantage for such candidates), the opposition pushing a Straight Eight slate may have been disappointed to see slender improvements for most of its candidates. It would do well to double-check if such a campaign can gain the individual candidates the recognition they require. Repeating the slate’s handle imprints it in people’s minds, but there is no circle to shade with that name; while swiftly listing their names afterward might be counterproductive, though eight, as studies apparently show, is the maximum people can generally memorize, list-wise. Perhaps name them first and then mention they’re a slate last?
As it stands, the phenomenal growth in Go’s numbers only validates the crude strategy that throwing enough money at a candidacy can make the improbable possible, while Marcos and Dela Rosa’s dip in numbers (combined with what became an online sport in gleefully posting photos of empty showings of his biopic) suggests public opinion can still change as well.