The Presidential Debates

The first of three Presidential debates was aired on GMA and featured Binay, Santiago, Duterte, Poe and Roxas. The next one is scheduled for March on TV5 and in April on ABS.CBN.

This is how the candidates rated in my opinion for  impression, message, strength, weakness and scope for improvement:


Impression: The Vice-President came across as a battle hardened campaigner who would take care of business.

Message: He is a decisive leader who will do for the Philippines what he claims he accomplished in Makati.

Strength: He projected calm and confidence, a President who would get things done.

Weakness: He flunked the Anti-Dynasty question. Strangely, his opponents did not challenge him on corruption, his biggest vulnerability.

Room to improve: The VP came away unscathed from potential attacks on his integrity. Knowing this, in the coming debates he can go on the offensive, focusing on his track record in Makati.


Impression: She appeared tired. One wonders how long she can continue her campaign both physically and financially.

Message: She is running on a rehash of sound bites on good governance.

Strength: She was best when donning her legal hat even if people were not interested.

Weakness: Miriam is a candidate whose time has passed, a case of too little, too late. She deserves to be put out to stud.

Room to improve: None.


Impression: The man is always one smirk away from either cussing or saying the most outrageous thing; which is endearing. He often seems more interested in entertaining you than delivering a message. When serious, however, he is passionate and determined especially on familiar issues like criminality. He makes you feel safe.

Message: In 3-6 months he will eradicate crime and corruption.

Strengths: He is a man you want on your side, a goon perhaps, but your goon. He provides simple answers to complex questions.With drugs so ubiquitous, his message on crime works. As the only candidate who is not Manila-based, he articulates best the concerns of the rural folk.

Weakness: He is still uncomfortable on economic policy. His health is an open question. Unlike his opponents (three for each of Binay, Poe and Roxas, one for Miriam), he did not air any ads so he may be short on funds.

Room to improve: With funding and organization Duterte has the biggest potential to improve. His simplicity, candor and charisma resound with voters. He should expand his message of returning more of the budget to the provinces.


Impression: Grace had the best aura. She was bright-eyed, fresh and eager to be on stage. She had visibly prepared to counter criticisms of her inexperience.

Message: Hers is a message of promise that speaks from the heart.

Strengths: Like a big sister, she appears the most caring and the least “trapo”. She wants to get better at who she is, does her homework assiduously and is a quick study.

Weakness: Black ops are saying a Supreme Court decision disqualifying her (8-6) has been bought and paid for. The uncertainty has affected her poll numbers, funding and organization. Her DQ would benefit Binay and Duterte.

Room to improve: She has much scope to grow once her SC case is settled.


Impression: After a nervous start, Mar came onto his own. He was best in the rare case when he expressed passion.

Message: He is the “honest and experienced driver” you would want to take your children to school.

Strengths: He is honest and predictable.

Weakness: He does not think like the common man (His allusion to “an experienced driver” forgets most Filipinos do not have cars, much less drivers).

Room to improve: He needs to take risks if he is to re-invigorate his stalled campaign. This means going on the offensive with aggressive advertising and a populist platform even to the point of over-reaching.

How did the candidates rate over-all? This depends on what I imagine their objectives were going to the debate and how they met these goals:

Binay’s objective was not to be blind-sided by the corruption issue. He succeeded: B

Santiago’s goal was to be competitive and stay in the game. The spirit was there but the flesh was wanting: C

Duterte’s aim was to project his image and name recall nationwide. He did: B+

Poe needed to bolster her popularity thereby putting pressure on the SC to qualify her. Mission accomplished: A-

Roxas hoped his performance would bump his numbers to within striking distance of Binay and Poe. He did fine but probably not enough: B

Conclusion: Poe and Duterte benefitted most from the debate. Binary was happy he did not lose ground. Roxas did not get the boost he needs. Santiago was not there and should really go home.

The real winner in the Debate was GMA Channel who made a killing on the ads. The losers were we, the audience.

Time To Go On The Offensive

“Our Brand Is Crisis” is a film about a political consultant (played by Sandra Bullock) who is asked to advise the failing campaign of a wealthy and supposedly honest Latin American Presidential candidate. Bullock’s only recommendation: “ Go negative, sir.”

Like Bullock’s client, despite his positives Mar is consistently trailing the leading contenders -be it Binay or Grace Poe- by double-digit margins. Mar’s advisers have unsuccessfully tried every initiative from being the alter ego of the President, to chest pumping with Billy Crawford, to verbally dueling with Duterte, to inviting Leni Robredo as his partner. In the latest attempt at defining their man Mar is now being portrayed as Mr. Nice Guy, an honest, hard worker who just goes about his business: ”Basta indi ako magnanakaw. “

This, in the eyes of the Mar campaign, is going negative on Binay. Actually as negativity goes, it is the equivalent of using a goose-feathered pillow when a bludgeon is required: It may lead to a slight blip in the polls but certainly not enough to overcome a double-digit gap. It is too politically correct. It does not go far enough in saying what Mar really wants to say but is disinclined to say in his ads namely: “Mr. Binay, you are a crook who deserves to be in jail. Why are you fooling the people? Shame on you.”

By taking the Vice-President full-on Mar risks the fallout should he lose but that is politics. He may also simply shift Binay’s supporters to either Grace or Duterte both of whom are seemingly honest and polling better than he is. That is Mar’s limitation: He is running almost exclusively on a Daang Matuwid platform but he is sharing the honesty space with two others who have a wider identity. He needs to distinguish himself from Grace and Rody by broadening his appeal.

He was given three opportunities to do this but he defaulted on all of them: The first is the Government Salary Standardization proposal to increase the compensation of public employees. Two, was the initiative to reduce income taxes. Three, was the bill to raise pensions. All three were watered down or rejected by the Administration not for bad reasons. However, Mar should have developed alternatives which would have combined increases in benefits with responsible fiscal measures. Instead his advisers chose to do nothing either for lack of imagination, absence of care or fear of offending P-Noy. They also hoped the issues would disappear with the next news cycle but they are wrong. We may not hear of them now but they will be remembered by government workers, income earning Filipinos and pensioners on election day.

Based on metrics, most Silicon Valley companies are more highly valued as start-ups than they are as experienced, operating entities; because they offer promise more than actual earnings. Ditto in politics. That is the magic of Grace Poe, she is the political start-up who offers possibilities, Mar the operating company who offers years in office. The former, incidentally, was also the magic of Mar when he bested the Senatorial race with a record 19 million votes as a neophyte in 2004. In this sense, ironically, Mar’s “experience” is hurting more than helping. Thus he is accused of having little to show for 12 years in public office. Our urban congestion and poor infrastructure are being laid at his doorstep.

Mar must return to the message of hope but not as an empty, motherhood, macro-economic statement. His principal themes -more of the same, basta trabaho lang or indi ako magnanakaw- are laudable but voters want to know, in detail, how this betters their lives in the immediate. He needs to put forth populist proposals even if somewhat over-reaching. On the economy he needs to present a wider safety net, on security he should advocate extreme measures against drugs and heinous crimes like the death penalty. He must convince people he understands and cares for them not in some abstract, intellectual fashion but in very real, human ways.

Mar is operating in an environment that does not play to his strength. He has chosen to run on an anti-corruption theme at a time when corruption is not the issue it used to be. The public has become numb to the problem: They believe – and this was partly supported by a recent statement of Ombudsman Morales- that most high Government officials are corrupt so they are looking for leaders who can at least deliver some of the goods. This explains Binay’s continuing popularity despite the charges against him.

With only 90 days to go Mar has few options: He is treading water and is seemingly not even people’s second choice (The drop in Grace’s numbers mainly went to Binay). Mar needs to dispense with the fluff, go negative in his attacks and go populist in his proposals. He must go on the offensive with a combination of P-Noys honesty, Duterte’s toughness, Poe’s populism and Binay’s single-mindedness. He does not like to take risks, nor be pointed, nor be aggressive policy-wise; but to win this election as far back as he is, he may just have to.