Commentary PHL Vote 2022

Does character matter?

Communication specialist Jose Bayani Baylon, is a keen observer of Philippine politics. He will be sharing with VERA Files readers his reading of political movements, obvious and not-so-obvious, leading up to the elections in May 2022.

Magnanakaw! Mandaraya! Sinungaling!! Mamamatay-tao!

What else have you heard said about the politician you love to hate? All of the above, and more – and if you’ve lived long enough like me, you will surely have a long list of epithets that you hear over and over again, every three years or so, part of what makes our electoral process so colorful.

But if you are observant enough, you should also have noticed that no matter how crisply the sometimes slanderous adjectives are hurled, they do not seem to matter much to the majority of the voters. You simply have to check election results and you’ll understand why: those called thieves and cheats and liars and killers get elected and re-elected – over and over and over again.

People don’t seem to care much if the candidate of their choosing is seen by others as a thief, a cheat, a liar, or even a killer.

Maybe because it has been drilled into them that everyone in politics is the same in one shade or another? Let us not forget that during GMA’s presidency one Catholic Bishop had intoned, “Everybody cheats anyway”, and there was your blessing from On High!

This brings me to the epithets being hurled at Ferdinand Marcos Jr by his opponents, mainly those from the Yellow-Pink color spectrum. What I’ve listed above are the usual ones, hurled at him as well as at his family, and of course at his late father. I’ve seen friends in certain social media chat groups discuss how best to project these characterizations of Marcos Jr. as their way of eroding his base. And we have seen an explosion of posts – from narrations to videos – talking about the Marcos years and the Marcos gold and even the various Marcos claims of academic achievement or excellence – and how all of that is false or fake, a lie told a thousand times

I suspect they won’t wash. I suspect that his opponents have to take a different tack. That is, if they truly want to connect to those outside their echo chambers. To connect to those who time and again elect and re-elect the others who have also been accused of being thieves and cheats and liars – and even killers.

My suspicion is that what connects is more about how a candidate stands up to injustice and stands up for the small people. Don’t random interviewees always say “matulungin siya” when asked why they intend to vote for this or that candidate? At the same time the lesson from the political fortunes of a former sportsman turned Congressman turned Senator whose political career was cut short by a gruesome murder – one in which one of his sons was a prime suspect – is clear: the public takes justice/injustice to heart, and when an issue (rightly or wrongly) drags a political aspirant into this morass then that aspirant better have an excellent crisis management team at hand if he is to salvage his career.

That Marcos Jr could not be tied directly to a similar case I think works in his favor. That some of his opponents have very long track records of working to uplift the plight of the less fortunate works in their favor. This is where I think the campaigns should focus, and less on questionable academic achievements (which the vast majority of your voters do not have anyway) or decades-old accusations of thievery (which have long been surpassed by successors in office!).

Does character matter?

Well, everyone cheats anyway – but the cheat or liar or thief who helped me or my family at a time of need gets my vote.

Whether we are happy about it or not, I think that’s the message the voters want us to hear.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.