LET ME just zero in on two presidential candidates, not because they’re my favorite subjects but because their campaign approaches and communications efforts thus far are such polar opposites. These are Mar Roxas and Grace Poe. Roxas’ messaging attempts to use the Daang Matuwid platform of President Benigno S. Aquino III and the Liberal Party. He has no choice. He has to. To deny its successes and highlight its failure would be admitting that he himself has failed us in these past five years and thus would make a lousy president, given the chance.
So being stuck with that Roxas tries to work on two weaknesses: his connection with the masses and the justification of his idea of governance. First, Roxas tries to constantly communicate in Pilipino. He sounds pretty good at it. He also tried hard at being in places and sending out images of being one with ordinary folk with photos of doing menial jobs and trading pleasantries with kids.
In his latest ads he tries to appeal to the public that government’s job is to ensure that everybody is in a level playing field, that governance is about making sure that whatever your status in life your chances for survival or even success in life is equal to the guy next to you.
Unfortunately, Roxas lacks one very important ingredient in his effort: empathy. This is the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” according to most dictionaries. This has been his problem all his life, having led a life of privilege not only as a rich kid, but a kid who grew up from a family whose roots as encomienderos (those given by the King of Spain the rights to claim and exploit large tracts of land in the islands in exchange for his share or their tributes) for centuries. They always had to have political cover as part of their family survival equation, and have been conditioned that they are entitled to this thing called “public service”. The cacique in them has been passed down through generations. They know no other way to live.
This is very apparent in Roxas’ action and attitude towards the Yolanda/ Hayian disaster. Yes, indeed he was there before, while and after the storm struck. And he reminds us of this in his campaign, that he was there, suffering through it all.
But rather than cutting an emphatic figure Roxas stood on top of the heap of storm surge debris and dead bodies like a conquering hero. In that first CNN interview with Andrew Stevens he argued with the newsman’s observation on dead bodies littering the streets. Roxas pointedly told him that he was wrong, that the dead bodies were different dead bodies, much to Stevens’ dismay and the people who were on the ground with the same observation.
In a subsequent interview with TV5, he insisted that the Leyte police officers should be taken to task for their absence from duty even as it was so obvious – and the news reports bear it – that these policemen themselves were victims of the devastation: searching for lost family members; physically, mentally, and spiritually drained.
What would Mar have lost if he humbled himself and admitted to the damage that the storm brought, that what hit them was so overwhelming that quick action was next to impossible, that he was himself tired and depressed? Nothing, really. In fact, he would have gained a lot of respect and even help.
But no. For Mar Roxas it was an opportunity for veni, vidi, vici.
And in his current campaign it’s still the same. He presents himself as the savior of the masses who knows better than anybody else how to do it, even as the net effects of the past five years of Daang Matuwid which he is very much a part of flogs the ordinary citizenry every minute.
And everyone cannot help but agree. At its shallowest, Grace Poe’s campaign is the Cinderella story, bullied by the ones in power but later redeemed and triumphant, every bit appealing to the aspirations of the masses.
Poe’s communications speaks directly to what people want and what they need, not with authority but as one of the people who feeds on the hope that they will be led to the Promised Land. Yes, she has also lived a rich and privileged life. But not as a haciendero from a long line of hacienderos, but as a product of a family who worked hard at their craft and made it big.
And the more Roxas or any other candidate hits at Poe for whatever reason, the more her campaign grows. Nobody wants a bully, and certainly sympathy grows for the underdog, if not empathy.
I don’t know who will emerge victorious, but I see this pattern emerging as clear as day. But who knows? If Rody Duterte finally decides to run as President we’ll see a whole new show.