AS EARLY AS 3 A.M. last Thursday, 46-year-old balut vendor Josie Magtangub and her daughter were lining up for the popular noontime show ?Eat Bulaga? at Broadway Centrum in Quezon City.
Magtangub said she wanted to win P25,000 in cash given in the segment ?Stop My Hirap? to help her sustain her small business and send her 8-year-old child to school.
?I was told the lines were long so I came early,? she told the Inquirer in Filipino.
The 10-hour wait was worth it. Shortly past noon, Magtangub and her daughter were on stage with hosts Michael V. and Ruby Rodriguez, jumping up and down while orange and white confetti rained on them.
Magtangub won P25,000 and P10,000 worth of groceries courtesy of Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer, Sen. Manuel Villar, who sponsors ?Stop My Hirap.?
While signing up celebrity endorsers has always been a norm in election campaigns, a game show segment?never mind if it?s aired for less than 5 minutes?is a trailblazing campaign strategy.
As if his television and radio advertisements were not enough, Villar has conquered the popular Filipino noontime shows aired on the two biggest networks, winning the hearts and minds of voters. He has maximized all possible campaign platforms, which reflects Villar?s marketing genius that has made him one of the richest Filipinos in the country.
The strategy must have helped Villar?s latest surge in the presidential surveys, putting him neck and neck with Liberal Party standard-bearer and perennial front-runner, Sen. Benigno ?Noynoy? Aquino III.
Willie and Michael V
Among Villar?s celebrity endorsers are hosts of noontime shows?Michael V. from ?Eat Bulaga? aired on GMA 7 and Willie Revillame of ABS-CBN?s ?Wowowee.? The senator was a guest on ?Wowowee? when Revillame celebrated his birthday a few weeks ago.
For political analyst Ramon Casiple, Villar?s pre-election campaign spending, was ?scandalous? by democratic terms.
Hinged on Villar?s antipoverty advocacy, ?Stop My Hirap? aimed right at the gut of the hungry masses as well as the middle class, he said.
Why they joined
For instance, Wilson Ng, 25, and Drid de Castro, 24, who were not exactly poor as they were working in their families? respective businesses also joined ?Stop My Hirap.?
Ng said he wanted to win the cash money so he could share it with his family and friends.
De Castro, for his part, said he would use the money to treat his youngest sister who celebrated her birthday Friday.
Since it started last Jan. 19, some 14 studio contestants have each won the jackpot consisting of P25,000 in cash and P10,000 worth of grocery items. Two others?including an Army private who said she needed money to pay for the medicines of her mother and sibling?won P10,000 each.
The winners were either teachers, overseas Filipino workers, househelp or laborers.
The mechanics of the contest, which ends its two-and-a-half-week run today, or two days before the formal election campaign begins, are simple: Audience members write on orange sheets of paper what they would do if they win P25,000. The pieces of paper go into a fish bowl where the hosts, who are dressed in orange, pick one lucky contestant?but not before egging the audience to dance to an upbeat jingle composed by Michael V. The dance ends with Villar?s signature hand sign where the thumb and forefinger form a check sign just under the chin.
The lucky contestant gets to spin an orange electronic wheel and depending on where the needle stops, the contestant could win P10,000, P15,000 cash, groceries, or the jackpot.
At the end of the segment, the story of a poor, struggling citizen is aired, recalling Villar?s own rags-to-riches tale. The candidate?s image and slogan, ?Sipag at Tiyaga? is flashed on screen.
Malou Choa-Fagar, senior vice president and chief operations officer of TAPE Inc. and producer of ?Eat Bulaga? told the Inquirer that ?Stop My Hirap? was a ?portion buy? on the noontime show by the Villar campaign team.
Fagar, however, declined to say how much the segment cost, saying the information was confidential.
An industry insider told the Inquirer that depending on a segment?s concept, a portion buy such as ?Stop My Hirap? could cost from P700,000 to P1 million per episode. The amount did not include the prizes given away and the talent fees of hosts.
A show producer like TAPE could also offer package deals to its clients to lower costs, the source added.
Fagar clarified that TAPE did not look at ?Stop My Hirap? as a campaign vehicle.
?To us, [the Villar team] is a client coming into our show,? she said.
Asked if this was a brilliant strategy on Villar?s part, Fagar replied: ?I think so; it is the first time something like this was placed within a show. Usually, spots [or political advertisements] are aired outside the shows.?
Casiple, executive director of the Institute of Political and Electoral Reform (IPER), said Villar?s ?Stop My Hirap? was an interesting ?development? in campaign strategy.
Villar, whose net worth reportedly totals P25 billion according to Forbes Magazine, had changed the political landscape with ?that level of spending.?
?He?s spending around ten times as much as his nearest rival,? Casiple said, referring to Aquino.
Casiple described Villar?s campaign expenses as nearly ?scandalous.?
?By democratic rules, everybody but everybody is qualified to run but with Villar?s spending, it shows that only those with money can run. But should we allow money to rule?? he said.
?All is fair in love and politics,? Casiple concluded.