Safer for Marcos to keep mouth shut — analysts


By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PHILIPPINE presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. would probably avoid making a stand on key election issues given his dominance in presidential opinion polls, according to political analysts.

The late dictator’s son, who had not joined major presidential debates, would continue doing so to also avoid a public backlash, they said.

“The lack of clear programs and efforts to elevate the campaign to engage with voters on relevant issues show too much confidence and arrogance in their capacity to win,” said Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines (UP).

She also cited social media efforts by his supporters to revise history about his father’s martial rule.

His lawyer Victor D. Rodriguez did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

Mr. Marcos and his running mate Sara Duterte-Caprio on Monday night held a campaign rally in the vote-rich central Philippine province of Cebu, whose governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia vowed a landslide victory for the tandem.

At the rally, Mr. Marcos reiterated his message of unity, which has been criticized for lack of substance. “We are not adversaries here. We love each other as Filipinos,” he said in Filipino, as he promised jobs and food on the table of every Filipino family.

“We have here two children of supposed strongmen capitalizing on their family names, local traditional allies and vast resources,” Ms. Atienza said.

She added that the lack of effort on his part to engage voters on key issues “underestimates Filipinos’ capacity to discern motives of candidates and make informed decisions.”

Their refusal to participate in debates organized by the Commission on Elections and answer questions from journalists “shows a low regard for institutions and democratic processes.”

Ms. Atienza said it might be difficult for the Marcos camp to change their tactics. “They can be expected to resort to traditional means of patronage by attacking the opposition instead of clarifying their programs and engaging with voters.”

The Marcos camp has deliberately kept their narrative “vague yet simple enough to resonate with voters,” said Julio C. Teehankee, a political science professor at De La Salle University.

“They have demonstrated a strong discipline in messaging and maintained the supposed “positivity” of their candidate, while allowing their online army to attack and defend,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“Time is on BBM’s side,” he said, referring to Bongbong Marcos’s initials. “The challenge for him is to maintain his numbers or shed just enough until he reaches the finish line.”

But voters might still notice that the “positivity” in his campaign is not genuine because his camp has repeatedly attacked opposition candidates, Mr. Teehankee said.

“If you already have the votes without any clear agenda or simply giving vague promises, why bother?” said Jan Robert R. Go, an assistant political science professor at UP.

“As much as we want the elections to be issue-based and centered on programs, the discourse has been focused on personalities,” he said in Messenger chat. “If they are already satisfied with ‘unity’ there is no incentive to add more.”

Rivals Vice President Maria “Leni” G. Robredo and Senator Panfilo “Ping” M. Lacson have been holding townhall fora to discuss their platforms. Manila City Mayor Francisco “Isko” M. Domagoso has also been meeting with various sectors nationwide.

Mr. Marcos and his running mate, who have appeared in vlogs of social media personalities, have refused to participate in debates organized by the Commission on Elections. Both of them are leading in opinion polls.

Victims of his father’s martial rule are seeking to get him disqualified from the presidential race after he was convicted by a court in the 1990s for tax evasion. The lawsuit is pending at the Commission on Elections.

Critics have also pressed the government to collect unpaid taxes worth more than P200 billion from the estate of the late dictator.

“They were initially confident of their lead and they did not want to risk exposing BBM and Duterte-Carpio to too much public scrutiny because the candidates may commit very public mistakes that may be costly to his campaign,” Ms. Atienza said.

Meanwhile, former officials and members of Mr. Domagoso’s presidential campaign were disappointed in his remarks against Ms. Robredo.

In a statement, the officials said his call for Ms. Robredo to quit the race was uncalled for. The mayor’s actions have reinforced their view that Ms. Robredo is the “only candidate with high integrity, composure, and expertise.”

“We initially believed it was Isko Moreno who could deliver effective and decisive action and bring about a new kind of politics in our country,” they said. “That vision of ours for the country has never changed. Mayor Isko Moreno, however, has already fallen far from what he thought he was.”

Mr. Domagoso has called the public flak he got “social injustice.”