With boxing-champ-turned-Senator Manny Pacquiao now getting more aggressive in his bid for the Philippine Government’s top job in 2022, the political landscape gets more fluid. The administration camp of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and its bid for continuity beyond 2022 in fielding Inday Sara “Daughterte” is at stake despite Pacquiao being a member — and an officer — of ruling party PDP-Laban.
The Duterte camp need to be careful lest they make the same mistake the Yellowtards (the leading bloc within the Opposition loyal to the Aquino-Cojuangco clan) made in 2016 and 2019 when they all but underestimated the power of the “populist” vote. Long regarded as the “populist” president, Duterte now stands at risk of having that label stripped off his political brand with Pacquiao very likely out-populisting the national Tatay. Pacquiao, after all, makes a strong value proposition being the Ninong ng Bayan. Most Filipinos would have grown up in a household where the Tatay and Nanay try to balance the household budget and rely on the Ninongs and Ninangs to indulge the kids’ appetite for nice things outside of that budget. As such, they’d catch that drift.
Not surprising is how a lot of “blogging” and “media” operations are being reactivated or are coming back from the dead now that a cast of characters performing in the coming circus that will be in town over the next 12 months leading to May 2022 is emerging. Many of these “media” operators will likely be providing the audience their bit of “insight” on the emerging campaign. The risk here is that the tendency of these competing media jobs will be to frame narratives around their respective favoured candidates (or worse, candidates sponsoring their operations).
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In such a landscape, it is all too easy to lose sight of the big picture from an objective outsider’s perspective. When various operators see the landscape from their respective patrons’ lenses (to a hammer, everything looks like a nail), signals will emerge broadcasting outside of the spectrum or bandwidth these various lenses were designed to capture. This is pretty much how, back in 2016, Duterte all but blindsided the Yellowtards and their henchwomen operators in Big Corporate Media organisations like ABS-CBN, Rappler, and the Inquirer. He “came out of nowhere” because Imperial Manila, until then, regarded Mindanao as Nowhere Land. They had narrow-angle lenses focused on their chi chi circles and, worse, on the politics of their Republic of Twitter.
Until now, the battle for 2022 had been regarded as an emerging fight between “Daughterte” and whatever schmoe will be put up by Yellowtard-rebranded bloc 1Sambayan. The only other significantly winnable personality in Philippine politics is Pacquiao. Thus, it is really a three-way battle emerging — the Duterte clan, Pacquiao, and the still-to-be-decided Yellowtard Whoever (supposedly to be announced in June 12). Seeing the on-going turmoil within Duterte’s PDP-Laban election winning machine, a separate Pacquiao bloc may just happen.
Opposition “thought leaders” are already expecting the Duterte social media machine to turn against Pacquiao if that happens to ensure that the Duterte camp and its fandom remain solid in its bid for 2022. Let’s be specific here — we are already seeing RJ “Thinking Pinoy” Nieto and his former chum Sass Rogando Sasot cranking it up again after a period over which they were mysteriously dormant. There will also likely be other “media” operators coming back out casting their fishing hooks into the muck to angle for politicians swimming around with their mouths agape hungry for broadcast, print, and social media mileage. If they are out to grab a piece of the comms budgets of these various camps, they will have to consider Pacquiao as a third motherlode of “consulting” fees, right?
For now, the cards are stacked against Pacquiao in terms of a much-needed electioneering machine (seeing that PDP-Laban will likely be a no-go for him) and his coming into the comms and PR game relatively late. The parallels with the situation in 2016 abound. Consider too that, though Duterte’s popularity remains formidable, he has six years of debatable governance quality behind him that contributes some degree of risk to his campaign. Pacquiao, on the other hand, comes into the picture relatively clean as a whistle, enjoys a powerful personal brand, and offers a simple ultra-conservative pitch owing a lot to his comparatively unquestioned devotion to God — something that still resonates with the Filipino masses, despite years of woke liberal anti-religion propaganda espousing tolerance for “diverse” lifestyles and life choices.
The potential Pacquiao pitch can be summarised thus: Filipinos need to get back to basics: God, country, and family. Pacquiao’s personal brand is unsullied across all three. He is one of the few (if not the only) true Filipino conservative(s) and a branded fighter who could, if he wanted to, send willing Filipino boys out to the South China Sea to fight China to the death and to the last ship. Duterte, though a populist, is not a conservative. He had, over his six year term, insulted the religious establishment, continued the dithering on the South China Sea started by his predecessors, and not presented himself as a paragon of old-fashioned family virtue. PR, branding, and comms professionals should consider that ordinary Filipinos many of whom live in the real world not covered by the Republic of Twitter may actually be missing those good old-fashioned and simple values that Pacquiao’s personal brand embodies. He is to be discounted only at great risk, so best to beware. The road to 2022 may not be as straight as traditional “influencers” will have us believe.
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