One would say it is a tried-and-tested set of platitudes that serves as no-brainer fodder for a political campaign in the Philippines. But the whole narrative of “sacrificing”, “pro-poor”, and “championing the weak” personas has lately been taking a beating in the public debate. Recent polls indicate that the methods being applied by the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte remain acceptable to the broader Philippine public despite the Opposition’s efforts to paint his administration as anti-poor, tyrannical, and oppressive.
In the September 2018 survey, the belief that the country is in the ‘right direction’ rises in all areas and stays highest in Mindanao, which is President Rodrigo Duterte’s bailiwick, at 89%, followed by Balance Luzon at 73%, Visayas at 69%, and Metro Manila at 65%.
Compared to June 2018, the proportion of those who said the country is in the ‘right direction’ increased by 8 points in Metro Manila from 57%, by 5 points in Balance Luzon from 68%, by 3 points in the Visayas from 66%, and by 2 points in Mindanao from 87%.
It seems that an opposition platform hinged on all things “good”, according to the Liberal playbook, no longer resonates with Filipinos. Indeed, if one actually does take the time to step back and regard the cliché rhetoric of the Opposition, one will find that the ideas that underpin their pitch to the Filipino voters are too abstract to hang any tangible prospectus upon.
Like the idea that having the Yellow narrative and the Aquino pedigree behind one’s political campaign guarantees winnability, the idea that pandering to the goodness of “human rights” as a means to appeal to voters is likely to have been worn irreparably thin. I attributed this to a case of “human rights fatigue” in Philippine politics in a previous article where I wrote…
Filipinos are suffering from a weariness and abject cynicism after spending the last 30 years watching as successive governments — and the Catholic-educated elites who backed them — paid mere lip service to the notion of “human rights”. Indeed, ask the ordinary Filipino whether theirs is a society that enjoys more “human rights” today than it did back in 1986 and you’d likely get no more than a shrug or a bit of head-scratching in response.
This failure in sloganeering is most pronounced with regard to the abject failure of the Opposition to convince Filipinos that democracy is “under threat”. Indeed, it is a safe bet that an objective appraisal of the situation in the Philippines will show that democracy there is alive and kicking. Rambunctious debate, a free-wheeling news media industry, and frequent activist rallies will attest to the reality that dissent is not just tolerated but encouraged and even heeded by the current administration.
The short of it is that the Opposition need simply step up to the challenge to compete on messaging over the rest of the campaign period. To do this, they will need to be creative and think outside the square to come up with an original pitch to the Filipino voter. Staying within script of a narrative that has long gone past its use-by date will obviously no longer work.
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