Imagine a public debate among presidential candidates that does not include administration presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos. That debate will essentially be between a bunch of vacuous politicians — Leni Roredo, Manny Pacquiao, and Isko Moreno. The only other presidential candidate is Ping Lacson who would stand out as the most intelligent, most articulate, and most seasoned among them. He’ll come up on top of any debate participated in by the other morons hands down. What would that mean for Bongbong Marcos (not considering for now the obvious cost of being labelled “coward” by his critics for declining to participate)? Very likely nothing much. Lacson will end up taking votes away from Robredo, Moreno, and Pacquiao but probably not enough for him to win that second place slot in the race he and his fellow Opposition candidates covet.
Most of the Opposition candidates, after all, have been campaigning for national leadership only over the last couple of months. Robredo could be an exception — because she has been campaigning for the Opposition since 2016 over much of her term as President Rodrigo Duterte’s “vice president”. However, it is evident that all that campaigning did not serve Robredo well seeing that her popularity and trust rating numbers confirmed by several reputable polling firms over the last year or two have not been moved by that campaign. Marcos, on the other hand, has been steadily building his profile and political brand for years, mostly under the radar, mostly dismissed as an unlikely force to contend with until now. Three months of campaign to go does not stack up as significant within the frame of the decades Marcos and his family have invested in building political capital. As such, it is likely that most of his committed supporters — a formidable number that the Opposition have yet to come to terms with — have also been on board with him over similar timeframes.
In short, Marcos’s support base is not composed of casual newly-acquired followers. They are likely long-term followers who have come to know him and what he stands for over time frames measured in years, even decades. In contrast, it is likely that a bigger chunk of the support base of other presidential hopefuls are recent acquisitions who were sold on their candidates’ relatively short-sighted campaigns within the context of just these specific elections. There seems to be no reason for the average Marcos supporter to switch sides on the basis of whether or not their candidate participates in a debate or any other media circus. Indeed, as long-term Marcos supporters, most will by now have thoroughly thought through their support for Marcos. Considering that Marcos’s long-term followers will have, over those periods, followed the routine demonisation Marcos and his family have copped for decades, stood up to the social stigma of being a Marcos supporter, and still remained committed supporters, the likelihood of the emergence over the next three months of any further information or behaviours that would be cause for them to seriously consider changing their minds about Marcos is quite slim. What’s three months in the context of years of long-term committed support, right?
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Of course this does not mean debates have no benefit even to a candidate such as Marcos who enjoys a massive lead over the rest of his rival candidates combined. Declining every media event in the next three months is really more an extreme worst-case-scenario on top of which everything else is essentially a bonus to the Marcos campaign. The bottom line is that the Opposition need Marcos more than he needs them. The Media need the ad revenue his presence can pull in and the Opposition need him to be a whipping boy to serve as a smokescreen to their substance-deficited campaigns. Indeed, Robredo in particular needs him the most because she had described her run for the presidency as one that aims to “prevent the return of the Marcoses to Malacañang”. Marcos is actually a major pillar of the Yellowtard ideology that underpins Robredo’s campaign rhetoric.
From hereon, Bongbong Marcos has the luxury to choose his media appearances. It is pure luxury because he already enjoys mass communication channels independent of Big Corporate Media — a network of social media users, a YouTube channel with a massive following, and an alternative community of media and social media personalities who are “friendly” to his cause to whom he could extend the privilege of his presence. Indeed, with today’s technology, even a debate can be organised by any citizen media organisation and this is what is likely behind the defensiveness of traditional media personalities and executives and their continued beholdenness to traditional credentials bestowed top-down by central “committees” (as opposed to credibility built from the grassroots up as what today’s technology allows). The irony here is that the status quo — of central committees, big institutions that monopolise power over information, and public personalities who block dissent — is within the interests of mainly Opposition members, their leaders, and their allies to continue to prop up and sustain. This contradicts much of what they espouse and it is likely that the public have come to realise this.
Does Bongbong Marcos need to go to any further media events such as a public debate? He does not need to but he can if there’s something in it form him. Big Corporate Media personalities can no longer act like gods who presume to summon politicians to their lairs. The Filipino public have taken back that power from them and they only have themselves to blame for abusing the public’s trust for many decades.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.