“ Abilidad: A Tagalog/Spanish noun; the ability to accomplish things often under difficult conditions. “
In what would normally be a media frenzy in the final stages of what is the existential election of our time, the political headline of the week was – I kid you not – the “dramatic’ announcement by four presidentiables that, well, they are still in the race. Not of course that anybody was asking nor cared but, yeah, fellas, thanks for letting us know you are still around. The money spent on the press conference might have been better used feeding a few hundred indigents.
The four candidates were Isko Moreno, Manny Pacquiao, Ping Lacson and Norberto Gonzales (huh?) which speaks as much of the heft of the candidates as it does of their message. When you have to include Gonzales in the proceedings to make up the numbers you know you are in political trouble. Manny Pacquiao eventually was a no-show so give him some credit for political instinct.
Sensing that the group’s message was about as flat as their collective numbers at the polls, Isko proceeded to suggest that VP Leni who just happens to be polling twice stronger than him; should opt out of the race to make things more competitive with BBM. The other presidentiables quickly denied this was ever part of the agenda. The move raised Leni’s popularity a notch. Isko did retract but by then was too late. It was an act of frustration from a promising political player who has not scored and is in danger of fouling out.
Meanwhile back in the campaign trail the polls seem unchanged with BBM looking comfortable. Leni recently experienced a surge but with three weeks to go can’t seem to breach the 25% threshold which incidentally is where Mar and Grace got stuck in 2016. Duterte won that race with 40% of the final tally.
The post mortem will show that whatever the outcome, this will have been one of the most ho-hum of presidential elections even as the race will define this nation for ages. The absence of presidential debates contributed to this as has the early and large BBM poll lead. There were controversies enough like the reported failure by BBM to file tax returns or his unpaid estate tax bill of some PHP 200 billion or the President’s allegations of cocaine use; but nothing seemed to perturb the public. The COMELEC just dismissed the last challenge to his candidacy. Short of confirmed cannibalism in the family they look to be in.
The Leni camp is looking for a game changer that could make up 20 points in the vote count but has seemingly run out of ideas. She is banking on the momentum that took her from 16% to 24% in the polls since the beginning of the year but even that linear progression would fall short. Our economic crisis and COVID could in another time been fertile ground to arouse public outrage. However Leni is unable to tie BBM to the failures of the current Administration because Duterte is not on the ballot. In this strange way BBM actually represents the change that voters want.
Instead Leni chose to link BBM to the legacy of his Dad’s Government, a 35 year gap that is historically hard to bridge particularly for our young. She might have focused rather on what she will do for the present generation.
The final sprint to May 9 will be largely driven by campaign spend with BBM flush with cash. Some weeks ago there was a noticeable uptick in the peso which could be dollars imported for the final electoral push. Leni’s only hope is the Marcos’ underspend following the Ilocanos’ propensity for frugality but that would be a BBM mistake. Considering this is for all the marbles I would nail this sucker down and not leave anything to chance.
There is also the matter of turn-out, of converting the polls into votes. For BBM there is the danger of complacency because of his lead. For Leni it is getting her base to vote but this means money and organization.
Democracy can be like a woman one goes to bed with in a drunken stupor and wake up the next morning asking, “Was that the person I slept with?”. We believe in democracy so we are frustrated when it does not deliver the best product as advertised. Some ascribe the failures of democracy to poverty, to voter education, to money but even the US democratic process delivered Trump when Americans are not necessarily poor, corrupt or uneducated.
The flaw of the democratic thesis is it assumes all voters are rational which evidence has often disproven. My take is voters look to their prospective leaders not necessarily for values nor intelligence nor vision nor policy but for what I term “abilidad”, the skill to make things happen be it by force of personality, political acumen, ruthlessness, money or all of the above.
There is a political saying that goes: “Voters forget what you say, they only remember how they felt when you said it.” If you believe the polls, despite all her pronouncements Leni cannot seemingly convince enough voters she has the “abilidad” to deliver on what she pledges, to bring home the bacon. Her choice of campaign color, I believe, did not help.. Pink is pretty, delicate and in-between. She might have chosen a primary color that denotes strength and decisiveness.
Admittedly BBM has arguably never delivered anything either but his family did and he is the embodiment of that. His father ruled us for over 20 uninterrupted years. After over 30 years the Marcos’ have made a comeback unprecedented in world history, going from possibly the most reviled name in politics to a competitive VP race in 2016 and now a possible landslide in 2022. You may not like it but that is “abilidad”.
So that is our political tragedy, that voters will lean into candidates who they perceive can effect change not distinguishing whether the change is for the good or for the bad.