What can they offer?

Greg MacabentaBy Greg Macabenta

SAN FRANCISCO – It looks like the race is on. Manilans have begun to see spots on TV extolling the virtues of “presidentiables.” If Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her DDT strategists have any plans of derailing this stampede for Malacanang, she’ll have to deal with some extremely irate would-be candidates. I doubt if Arroyo can buy them out of running at this point. Too much has already been invested by many of them.
I can also see my media and advertising friends looking like the Cheshire cat with a big smile on their faces. I can’t blame them. What’s a presidential candidate without a promotions and communications brigade to back him (or her) up? And, of course, media, particularly TV, have begun to see the revenue stream rising with spot buys already being negotiated.

Many of the creative and media brains being recruited are colleagues of mine from my old Manila advertising days. These guys are good. Of course, none of them – with due respect – has applied the kind of hit-them-in-cojones tactics that are SOP in America.

If you’d like to see dirty campaign tactics, try the USA. Back here, the first thing that a candidate’s political strategists do is conduct a thorough research on the life of the opponents – going all the way back to birth and even before. Then every single skeleton in that person’s history is unearthed and fed to the media.
What is remarkable about US media is that they are equal opportunity exploiters. They don’t show any bias. They’ll expose everyone’s dirty linen and even have panels of experts analyzing the dirt (remember how they spent hours and hours of TV time analyzing Monica Lewinsky’s alleged blood on Bill Clinton’s alleged clothes?).
One more thing that can be said about US media is that, if anyone is on the payroll of a candidate, that organization or media person will also be as gleefully exposed as the candidates themselves.

In Manila, there is a self-preservation society among media men on the take – which is too bad for those who are not, because they have to vigorously deny those meaningful dirty looks from people. Sadly, media practitioners in the Philippines are developing as bad a reputation as politicians. Sad, because this is a profession I dearly love.

But to go back to the presidential candidates, both declared and considering, they should not overlook the overseas Filipino community, especially those of us who live in the United States.
The past two elections, after the passage of the Dual Citizenship and Overseas Absentee Voting acts, saw a scandalously low turnout of overseas Pinoys registering to vote and an even more scandalous few who actually voted.
For this coming elections, the situation appears to be dramatically different. The past few years have seen a larger number of naturalized US citizens reclaiming their Philippine citizenship (I was with the very first batch in the US that did so and became dual citizens). There has also been a bigger turnout of registrants among those who are still immigrants and Filipino citizens.

In a demented sort of way, we have Arroyo and her administration to thank for this. The horror stories about the Arroyo incumbency have literally flooded TV and print media in America. I can imagine the same thing in Europe, around Asia and the Middle East – after all, the principal source of news for overseas Pinoy media are the Manila papers and TV networks.

The recession has also impacted the pocketbooks of those who have to send money to the Philippines. Many of those who have lost their jobs or homes or both have begun to seriously consider returning to the Philippines. There, their social security pensions can buy them a comfortable life. In this regard, they want to go home to a well-run country and would like to get involved in choosing its leaders.

There has also been greater militancy among Filipino community organizations, a greater realization among the members that they cannot simply turn their backs on the Motherland. There is no lack of affection among us for the Old Country and, where before, we had reason to say we could do nothing about the situation there, now we can actually participate in the process of electing those who will either continue the ruin or save the Philippines. We want to save it.

Which brings us to the question: Who will?
Is it anyone among the many “presidentiables”? Frankly, we can only guess. We take such a dim view of political advertising (both among US candidates and Philippine candidates) that it takes a series of debates among American presidential candidates to convince us of our choices. That’s largely absent for us, as far as Philippine candidates are concerned.

But we are sincerely anxiously to know what it is each one has to offer by way of solving the problems of the country and bringing it back on its feet. So far, what we’ve heard from the candidates (those who have appeared on TV forums in Manila, telecast in the US) have been nothing more than Motherhood statements. They’re not even original.

Everyone has a stock answer concerning the cause of the problem (Arroyo) – except Bayani Fernando who declined to criticize his boss for fear that he could get into trouble. Everyone has a stock solution: Honesty and dedication, a fight against poverty and corruption, a focus on economic recovery, a revival of the Filipino Spirit.

Yeah, sure, okay. But HOW?
No one has come forward with a clear explanation of his or her program of government. No one has been willing to acknowledge that some problems will take more than the most rosy promises to solve.
So we all sit here, waiting to understand what the circus is all about and who the heroes, the villains and the clowns are – and we end up making the wrong choices or end up deciding not to vote at all, because “They’re all the same.” That is sad.

Perhaps the candidates want it that way. On the other hand, perhaps those with an eye on the overseas vote will take advantage of the situation and do what the rivals are not doing – which is to get the overseas Filipinos, especially those of us in America, on their side.

The candidates cannot underestimate the influence that we have on the relatives whom we support with our money remittances. And, if we are convinced that a certain candidate is really, truly worth campaigning for, you can expect a good number of us going home to do so.

The question we want so badly to be answered by each candidate is this: What have they got to offer?
Just remember, singing and dancing, which works in Philippine elections, won’t do them any good, even if Pinoys in America like to sing and dance.

Perhaps, Philippine media would also like to redeem themselves and demand that the candidates explain their programs of government. That should result in more intelligent voters.

It’s not enough for the media to tell the voters to “guard their votes.” Guard their votes against cheats and then waste their votes on incompetents? That’s jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Like us in America, Philippine media should ask: What have you got to offer? That should help to separate the grain from the chaff.

(gregmacabenta@hotmail.com mc/compose?to=gregmacabenta@hotmail.com)

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