The political coalition assembled by Vice President Jejomar Binay delivered the first blow even before the opening bell in the May 13 senatorial election.
In a high-budget, 60-second TV ad, his United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) went straight for President Aquino, chief endorser of the administration ticket, questioning his “daang matuwid” (righteous path) advocacy.
“Habang tinatahak ang daang matuwid, marami ang nagtatanong, bakit ganun pa rin ang buhay? Bakit dumarami ang mga walang trabaho? Bakit patuloy ang pagtaas ng presyo (While treading the righteous path, many are asking, why is life like this. Why is there growing unemployment. Why do prices continue to rise)?” the ad asks.
What’s needed is good governance and, taking a cue from Binay’s successful campaign slogan in 2010, it ends: “Sa UNA, gaganda ang buhay (At UNA, life will be better).”
It clearly got the administration’s attention. In its own TV campaign ad, the President no less responded in kind. “Sa daang matuwid, marami ang gustong sumali. Pero meron ding nagpapanggap lamang (Many want to tread the righteous path. But there are also pretenders),” he said.
The gloves are off, the game is on
The strategy is clear for the Aquino ticket called Team PNoy: Stay away from pretenders, from political freeloaders seeking to ride on the President’s popularity and high trust rating.
UNA officials swear they’re not doing so—they don’t have to—what with the combined endorsement power of its Big 3: Binay, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and ousted President Joseph Estrada.
“It’s three against one, do the math,” Estrada told the Inquirer.
But UNA strategists know too well not to antagonize a popular president and his legion of followers, especially in a campaign where the line between opposition and administration is blurred by alliances and fallouts in the past. It thus calls itself a “constructive opposition.”
Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, UNA’s campaign manager, questioned the logic of an administration opting to drive away supporters from the other side of the fence.
“This is the only time I’ve seen a government that wants to isolate people and does not want to attract people who are willing to support them (This is the only time I’ve seen a government that is pushing away those who want to support its program, instead of trying to win them),” he told the Inquirer in an interview.
Tiangco’s verbal attack was carefully crafted. It spared the President and zeroed in on the likes of Sen. Franklin Drilon, his Team PNoy counterpart, and other leaders of the ruling Liberal Party.
Eye on 2016
Tiangco’s theory is that Drilon and company are throwing the President into the fray and sowing intrigue with the Vice President.
The context, he said, is the 2016 election where Binay is expected to go up against Interior Secretary Mar Roxas in a rematch of their bitter vice presidential bout three years ago.
Tiangco said Roxas’ camp might be entertaining the possibility that Aquino might end up endorsing the candidacy of Binay, not of Roxas, three years from now. So placing Binay clearly on the side of the opposition would ensure the endorsement of Roxas, he pointed out.
Tiangco recalled that the President’s mother, then President Corazon Aquino, ended up backing the presidential run of Fidel Ramos in 1992, not that of House Speaker Ramon Mitra.
“It’s very clear that they want to sow intrigue between the President and the Vice President,” Tiangco said, referring to Drilon’s statement that UNA was trying to make Aquino a “lame duck” president.
Whether there’s a grain of truth in Tiangco’s theory remains to be seen. What’s certain is the two major political coalitions for the May senatorial election could not produce a complete 12-man lineup.
That explains the raging tug-of-war between UNA and Team PNoy over Senators Loren Legarda and Francis Escudero, and Grace Poe. All three candidates appear in the administration ticket’s inaugural TV ad.
Tiangco said he decided to leave them out of the first UNA commercial. He said the 60-second ad was too short to accommodate all 12 candidates. It allowed the nine purely UNA candidates to deliver one-liners on their respective campaign platforms.
The 42-year-old Tiangco is running the first nationwide political campaign, aware that the outcome would clearly affect Binay’s presidential ambition three years from now.
He considers himself more of a “coordinator” than a strategist. It’s still the Big 3 that call the shots because of their vast experience and political savvy.
With no prior experience on a national campaign, Tiangco so far relies on his political instincts and his experience as a longtime local executive and a businessman. When in doubt, he goes to the Big 3.
According to him, he prefers to run the UNA machinery like a “professional company,” meaning “everything is done business-like.” “So instead of running it like a traditional political campaign, I’m willing to listen to all ideas and I delegate,” he said.
Tiangco is at the center of a well-defined organization that includes sections like sortie planning, creative, media bureau, media buyer, and secretariat. Staffers are relatively young, but those in the creative department are industry veterans.
The goal is for all 12 UNA candidates to win, but Tiangco said “you have to be realistic enough to realize that it’s difficult.” So far, he’s confronted by the problem of towing Ernesto Maceda, Mitos Magsaysay, and Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco into the Magic 12.
In the last Pulse Asia survey, Maceda was tied with Team PNoy’s Risa Hontiveros at 18th to 19th places. Magsaysay and Cojuangco were at 20th to 23rd places.
Magsaysay said she was not disheartened. “I don’t believe in surveys. The reception I get on the ground is what’s real,” she said.
Like Team PNoy, the UNA ticket is confronted with issues like political dynasty and consistency of political stand and advocacies.
UNA, for instance, includes Binay’s own daughter Nancy, Enrile’s son Jack, Estrada’s son JV, and Aquino’s aunt Tingting. Also in the mix are Magsaysay and Juan Miguel Zubiri, former allies of ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is the subject of both UNA and Team PNoy attacks.
Team PNoy appears to be condoning political dynasties as well. It has Rep. Sonny Angara, son of outgoing Sen. Edgardo Angara; Rep. Cynthia Villar, wife of outgoing Sen. Manny Villar; Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, brother of incumbent Sen. Pia Cayetano; and Bam Aquino, the President’s cousin.
In short, the Senate in the 16th Congress would likely end up as a chamber of relatives in politics.
But any good strategist knows that warts and all, a campaign is all about perception and delivering a well-crafted message.
Tiangco said this year’s campaign would still be “media-driven,” meaning candidates would have to invest heavily on TV and radio ads to generate awareness.
“It’s about messaging, it’s really about mass media, learning the political demand and delivering the message to the people,” he said.
But whether they believe life would indeed be better with UNA in government will be up to voters on May 13.