It’s entertainment, my dear boy!

Published December 6, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Brion (ret.) Justice Art D.

THE LEGAL FRONT

Justice Art D. Brion (ret.)

“It’s the economy, stupid!” is a campaign slogan coined during the 1992 Clinton presidential run to keep his campaign in focus. In our local setting, an early counterpart mantra could very well be – “It’s entertainment, my dear boy!” – to remind the candidates early on of their immediate need in our upcoming electoral exercise – to urgently catch the attention of voters and the lead in the early surveys. (I did not use “stupid” in deference to sensitive readers who may find this word insulting or who may feel alluded to).

But the reality is that the candidates whose early focus is on important, but not entertaining or generally-felt national issues, run the risk of becoming almost invisible; their chosen issues are hardly used or are not given media emphasis as these are not alluring news that attract the reading/viewing (and buying) public.

For example, our educational situation is already very alarming. According to published reports:

  • Around 80 percent of Filipino students fall below the minimum level of proficiency for their grade levels;
  • We rated last in reading, and second to the last in science and mathematics, among 79 countries that participated in the Program for International Student Assessment;
  • In the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, we placed last in both mathematics and science among 58 countries in the fourth-grade assessment;
  • We were also in the bottom half of six countries in reading, mathematics and writing literacy in the 2019 Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics.

The significance of these statistics may be lost on many, simply because they might have failed to grasp education’s long term impact. On the other hand, many candidates may have so far been silent on the issue for their own personal reasons, while the media may not have taken any initiative, thinking perhaps that this issue will surface in due time.

China’s WPS claim intrudes into our sovereignty; it can also weaken us economically because of our potential gas and oil losses in the Chinese-claimed areas. But this is a hardly-touched campaign issue, except superficially. I am tempted to believe that many candidates do not want to publicly contradict the administration’s WPS position, or to publicly counter declared Chinese interests, for fear of loss of precious election support. Worse, some candidates may not have understood the issue at all.

Others, of course, may have fully grasped the WPS issue for its practical effects – it is a depressing and impractical issue, funds-wise, survey-wise, and vote-wise. Thus, they would simply mumble that even the Duterte administration has been soft in dealing with China’s repeated violations of our sovereignty and economic rights, focusing their comments thereafter on who is to blame for the mess.

Bongbong Marcos is now a favorite front-page whipping boy, but he still leads the early surveys, due perhaps to his continuous media presence, albeit in a negative way – his father’s alleged corruption and the Marcos family’s hidden wealth and excesses. These negative issues lead me to ask – why are his oppositors afraid of young Marcos?

Perhaps some stand fazed by the early Marcos survey lead; they do not trust the electorate and fear that this lead could become insurmountable if not immediately halted. On the other hand, Marcos supporters (whose fingers could have been in the cookie jar when a survey scheme was planned) may now also believe their own propaganda and may fear that high early results could be counterproductive; thus, they do not mind if these early results are now gradually tempered to more realistic levels.

Others may also still remember our 2010 and 2016 election experiences when early survey leads did not significantly help the early frontrunners. Jockeying for positions and candidate-pairing, as well as the negative issues against targeted leading candidates, affected the results. In both elections, these personal issues (for example, business issues vs. Manny Villar; corruption vs. VP Binay; citizenship vs. Grace Poe; and Aquino administration performance vs. Roxas) exacted their toll, and many times, spelled the difference in the ultimate results.

All these lead me to a follow-up thought: is muckraking or negative publicity the weapon of choice or alternative to entertainment? Where do positions on grave national issues come in… only as mid- or late campaign issues? Note that early Marcos detractors even quote the Bible, citing the “iniquity of the fathers:” Bongbong is a Marcos and is no less guilty of the imputed Marcos family sins. These detractors perhaps hope that older voters (and even some younger ones) may appreciate and reflect this thinking in their survey responses.

Due to the number of, and to be fair to all, presidential candidates, I reserve the discussion (and the potential fun or pun) of this sub-topic to a future column.

To get back to where I started, it seems that the best stance to take, to catch early media/voter attention and to lead in the early surveys, is to attract people through entertainment – a neutral method that does not beget bitter enemies. Sing, dance, or play the clown as needed, or identify with the greater mass of voters by raising issues that voters already know or already strongly feel about. Keep all other issues for later or as post-election concerns that can be addressed at the proper time. Play the game – bahala na ang bukas. This may sound stupid, but the name of the May 2022 game is entertainment!

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